Fashion Meets Function
Part two in the series explores the distinct looks of the 1940s and ’50s.
text by Mallory Boykin • photos by Toni Riales • styling by Andrew McDonough • hair by Jessica Price • makeup by Courtney Matthews • models: Bradley King, Paige Malone and Claire Wilson Bennett and Frances Katz • Location: Washington Square Park • Production Assistants: Monica Daffin, Natalie Closelter and Daniel Walters
With the addition of Brookley Army Air Field and the country’s reliance on our shipbuilding companies during World War II, Mobile prospered during the mid-20th century. As with all aspects of life, however, the war placed restraints on the fashions of the 1940s. Textiles, such as nylon needed for parachutes, were rationed and designs were more streamlined and solemn than the elaborate creations seen in previous decades. Women had to “make do and mend” garments they already had at home and began to dress practically when they took over what were traditionally men’s jobs. To retain her womanliness, the modern lady turned to innovative hairstyles, ruby red lips and doe-eyed makeup.
But, when the men returned home, so did the feminine fashion: Designs accented curves with fitted tops and crinoline-filled skirts. Television, soon in every household, broadcast stylish pictures for women, now back in more domestic roles, to mimic. Ready-to-wear clothing and the standardization of sizes made achieving the idyllic June Cleaver lifestyle all the more possible.
Rosie the Riveter
It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Many women answered Uncle Sam’s call and signed on for well-paying war work. For example, 2,500 women pulled back their hair and got their hands dirty at Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Co. (which even had a preschool for the children of their lady laborers). Whether they were fixing a leaky sink at home or firing up a blowtorch in a shipyard, women wore fashions that served a purpose. They sported bandanas over updos to keep their hair out of the way and to protect it from getting caught in machinery. In lieu of dresses, pants, shorts, dungarees and even coveralls were on trend in and out of the workplace because of their ease of mobility.
Right On Bradley: Blue and white striped crop top and pink shorts (Lunatix & Co.). Plaid scarf (Papillon).
Sealed With A Kiss
Silhouettes were kept simple in the 1940s; the fewer stitches the better. Red was a popular shade in civilian clothes because green and brown dyes were used for military uniforms. Without their nylons, some women dared to go bare, while others camouflaged their legs with makeup, even rouging on a seam down the back. Women turned to soft hairstyles like victory rolls to show off their femininity. Attending one of the numerous bond drives around Mobile or penning letters to soldiers overseas were ways dollfaces demonstrated their patriotism.
Left On Paige: Red floral print dress (Lunatix & Co.). Pearls (Very Vintage).
A Fashionable Lady
By the end of the decade, designers like Christian Dior were sculpting an hourglass figure with intricate detail. This was a stark contrast to the minimalist fashions that were popular during the War. The trend soon became a fad with glitterati like Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and Princess Margaret. A mid-calf, full skirt, paired with a broad-shouldered jacket, would have been an oh-so-chic traveling ensemble for any dame journeying on the bus to New Orleans or Charleston.
Right On Bradley: Nikki Burkett jacket (Lunatix & Co.). Tweed skirt and cream blouse (Chickasaw Civic Theatre). Floral earrings and gold bracelet (Very Vintage). Red robin fascinator (Jessica Price Couture). Luggage (Papillon).
Fun with Dick and Jane
In the 1950s, local shops like Calagaz Photo and inexpensive cameras like Kodak’s Brownie Reflex encouraged families to capture their precious moments. One traditional Mobile setting was, and still is, on the deer statue at Washington Square. During the baby boom, comfortable, casual shirtdresses allowed women to chase after little ones with ease. Accessories such as hats, belts and pearls kept the looks polished.
Left On Claire: Navy polka dot dress (Chickasaw Civic Theatre). Yellow hat and pearls (Very Vintage). On Frances: red hand-sewn apron dress (her own). On Bennett: navy striped shirt (his own).
Casual in the Park
The proliferation of washing machines and durable fabrics like polyester made it easier for the growing housewife population to care for expanding broods and still look picture perfect. Fashions were then mass-produced, which opened up women’s wardrobes to a variety of styles of dresses, skirts, shirts and shorts. Bright, bold patterns like gingham, polka dots and florals were peachy keen for an impromptu get-together with the girls. On an outing such as this, Mobilians would certainly be listening to music from WABB on their AM radios.
Right On Bradley: Gingham top, with pink shorts (Lunatix & Co.). Bangles (Very Vintage). On Claire: Red polka dot dress (Chickasaw Civic Theatre). Large pearl necklace (Very Vintage). On Paige: Yellow floral dress (Lunatix & Co.). Floral broach (Very Vintage). Thermos, picnic basket and radio (Papillon).
The Social Scene
In an effort to mirror sophisticated style icons of the day like Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, women of the 1950s dressed to the nines in fantabulous strapless and bateau dresses made from duchess satin and chiffon. Lace accents, intricate ruffles and crinoline petticoats created ultra- feminine frocks for cocktail hour at home or evenings out on the town or at the country club. No Mobile lady would have been caught dead leaving the house without her stiletto heels, gloves and matching necklace and earring set.
Left On Paige: Pink, ruffled spaghetti-strap dress (Timeless Bride). Floral pink earrings, necklace and bracelet set (Very Vintage). Gloves (her own). Sunglasses (her own). On Claire: Cream duchess satin dress (Timeless Bride). Green rhinestone earrings and bracelet (Very Vintage).
Chickasaw Civic Theatre • 801 Iroquois St. 457-8887. cctshows.com Lunatix & Co. • 662 Springhill Ave. lunatixandco.com Jessica Price Couture • 508-0177. email@example.com Also available at Lunatix & Co. Papillon • 9 S. Joachim St. 405-5877. Timeless Bride • 754 Government St. 432-8420. thetimelessbride.com Very Vintage • 4513 Old Shell Road, Suite 204. 340-6610. Also available at Urban Emporium
Washington Square Park has been a place for Mobile families to enjoy the fresh air since 1850. For the past 10 years, members of the Oakleigh Garden District have been raising funds to restore the park’s fountain.
Jim and Nancy Henderson, of Mobile Lumber, loaned their 1940 Packard, above, which was built for “Casablanca” producer B.M. Curtis. The film’s star, Humphrey Bogart, rode in it on his way to the Academy Awards. Cream & Sugar • 351 George St., Suite B. 405-0003. creamandsugarmobile.com