Wartime Fashion

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Emma Tanner, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article on Wartime and Fashion by  Daria Yu. Ermilova and colleagues.

During today’s fast-paced fashion industry, it’s crucial to reflect on how historical contexts, such as World War II, have profoundly shaped our relationship with clothing and consumption. A recent study led by Daria Yu. Ermilova and colleagues delves into how wartime conditions across nations like the Soviet Union, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, and France dramatically influenced fashion and consumer practices.

During World War II, rationing systems became paramount, using coupons or cards to strictly limit clothing purchases. This scarcity forced individuals to adopt resourceful practices like sewing their own garments, repurposing old clothes, and even using unconventional materials such as parachute silk or repurposed car tires for fashion items. What emerged was a distinctive era of “wartime fashion,” where necessity not only bred creativity but also became a symbol of consumer patriotism and resilience across various nations. In the Soviet Union and Germany, fashion development froze under the weight of military priorities. Soviet styles regressed to late 1930s aesthetics with sporadic nods to military-inspired attire for women, while Germany saw a drastic decline in fashion interest amid severe shortages and stringent social regulations. In contrast, countries like the United States and Great Britain used fashion as a morale booster, encouraging citizens to maintain a well-groomed appearance through propaganda efforts.

Britain’s utility plans, for instance, meticulously allocated annual clothing coupons, progressively reducing allowances to conserve fabric for military uniforms. Meanwhile, the United States enforced fabric reductions through the L-85 decree, prioritizing wartime needs over civilian fashion preferences. These measures not only managed scarcity but also fostered a culture of conscientious consumption and strategic planning among civilians.

The enduring legacy of wartime consumer practices extends beyond the 1940s, influencing modern-day trends like slow fashion and conscious consumption. By revisiting these historical experiences, contemporary designers and consumers alike draw valuable lessons in sustainability, customization, and the importance of extending garment lifespans. These principles are increasingly relevant amidst today’s environmental and economic challenges, encouraging a shift towards more mindful clothing consumption practices. Reflecting on the impact of World War II on fashion and consumer behavior highlights adaptive strategies born out of necessity, offering insights into managing contemporary fashion crises. As Sophie Johnson’s research underscores, the current fashion landscape grapples with new challenges—from ethical dilemmas in production to navigating consumer-driven social media scrutiny and brand crises. The evolution of digital communication has democratized brand awareness but also intensified competition, pushing fashion brands to take risks that sometimes backfire, such as controversial advertisements or supply chain issues.

Internal crises within the global fashion industry, exacerbated by the rise of fast fashion and ethical concerns, demand immediate attention. Issues like labor exploitation and supply chain transparency have sparked widespread consumer activism and reshaped consumer expectations. Brands are increasingly scrutinized not just for their products but for their ethical practices and social responsibility, a stark contrast to the wartime values of durability and frugality that once dominated. Looking ahead, addressing these complex issues requires concerted efforts from PR professionals and industry leaders to forge a more sustainable path forward. Developing a cohesive crisis management strategy that prioritizes transparency, ethical production, and consumer trust is essential. By embracing these principles, fashion brands can navigate the turbulent waters of modern consumerism while fostering a more responsible and resilient industry for generations to come.

In conclusion, World War II’s impact on fashion and consumer behavior serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of necessity and resilience. By learning from the past and embracing ethical and sustainable practices, the fashion industry can pave the way towards a more equitable and enduring future. This blog post synthesizes historical insights with contemporary challenges, offering a comprehensive view of how wartime experiences continue to shape and inform our approach to fashion and consumerism today.

The full article can be read using this link.


Ermilova, D.Y., Alibekova, M.I., Eryomkin, D. I., Lyakhova, N.B., & Sorokotyagina, E.N.  (2022). Analysis of the impact of second world war on fashion and consumer practices. New Design Ideas, 6(1), 71-85. 

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