“Keep it Under Your Hat”: Safety Campaigns and Fashion in the World War II Factory

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Maryanna Mays, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on organized labour and occupational safety in fashion during WWI by Stephen R. Patnode and Nan Turner

During World War II, the workforce took a dramatic turn after introducing women into it, influencing fashion and safety. The article “Organized Labor and the Origins of the Occupational Safety and Health Act” by Stephen R. Patnode and Nan Turner’s “Clothing Goes to War: Creatively Inspired by Scarcity in World War II” provides insight on how fashion trends came about from the safety campaigns implemented.                                                                             

During this era, when wartime production was at its peak, ensuring the safety of workers was essential. Robert Asher’s “Organized Labor and the Origins of the Occupational Safety and Health Act” emphasizes the role of a safety campaign called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (Asher 2014). This act created a millstone for all workers since it is still in place today, ensuring the safety of labor workers.                                                            

Patnode’s research emphasizes the importance of the cultural shift, with men and women coming together in the work environment. Women and men were both in competition for jobs, making this intimidating for the women who were unfamiliar with the workforce (Patnode 2012). The women were assigned a uniform that meshed with masculine working-class clothing they had to pay for themselves (Patnode 2012). Some trends that became popular within the workforce at this time were refurbishing men’s clothing for women’s wear. Some women repurposed accessories into headscarves and turbans.                                                                           

Patnode and Turner’s perspective on fashion takes an unexpected twist. Resources started to become scarce, preventing creativity from flourishing. For example, rubber became scarce for use in corsets and girdles, bringing the production of these to a halt (Patnode 2023). Fashion trends were less emphasized on aesthetics but focused on their purpose. The most recognizable work that came from this would be the Rosie the Riveter jumpsuit. This jumpsuit is symbolic of female empowerment and the work women put in during this period. Turner interviewed 50 women born in the generational period of 1920–1933, asking if they preferred “pants or slacks” (Patnode 2023). The answers between the women that were interviewed varied with how they perceived comfort in clothing, signifying that not all women were pleased with the uniform. Analyzing these articles not only helps us understand the connection between fashion and safety but also helps us gain an understanding of the trends that came about during this time. The CommsWomen Initiative will help promote knowledge of this within the professional and academic environments.       

In conclusion, we gain a deeper understanding of how fashion and safety are intertwined. The trends created during the time of World War II have created a long-lasting legacy that is inspiring to others. Understanding the work of Patnode and Turner’s makes us understand the impact of these events and their importance. Using scholarly work and the CommsWomen Initiative can help us grow in our knowledge of fashion-related fields.

 The full article can be downloaded using this link.


Asher R, Dunn ML. Organized Labor and the Origins of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 2014; 24(3):279-301. doi:10.2190/NS.24.3.d

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