Today I shall be imparting my views on a recent book purchase of mine.
The particular book in question is The 1940s Look: Recreating the Fashions, Hairstyles and Make-up of the Second World War.
It’s not often I part with money for a book. I’m a member of the library and that combined with the fact that they are so expensive and I have no room to keep any more new books in my house means I’m fairly picky on how I part with my money.
I have to confess to mixed feelings about having parted with £11 for this one. I really love the book, and I’m glad I now own it, but it’s not quite what I expected in terms of content (I already own it’s sister book “The 1950s Look” as well, which I will review at a later date)
Essentially my disappointment stems from the fact that the books title is a little misleading. If you want to know how to recreate 1940s fashion looks then you’ll probably be quite disappointed. I wasn’t expecting a “how to” text book of 40s hair, I’ve seen those cost a fortune, but I was secretly hoping for a few setting patterns, maybe some tips on places and ways to get modern 40s style clothes. Maybe a top to toe talk through of a “typical” 1940s outfit. I don’t really know exactly what I expected, but I didn’t really find it!
What I did find, however, was a pretty comprehensive history of fashion, clothing and rationing in the 1940s that covered not only women’s style, but men’s and children’s as well.
Men’s style can be less well covered in the world of the Internet, at least the bits of it I read (though The Fedora Lounge is an excellent resource). Mr Chick also has an interest in the world of vintage dressing, if not on a day to day basis then at least for events, and it’s handy to have a reference for popular men’s styles.
The book does provide a few hints that may be useful to reenactors, including the observation that where most people go wrong is looking too well turned out as war time clothing would have been worn and patched many times. Generally, though, I would buy this as a fashion and social history book, rather than a how to guide.
The books coverage of rationing and it’s effect on the fashions of the era is good and although I knew a fair bit about it already I still learnt things. I didn’t know, for instance, that unused margarine coupons were used as clothing coupons as the secret introduction meant that it was impossible to print new ration books for everyone.
The book draws heavily on contemporary sources. Quoting often from magazines, particularly Home Companion and this is particularly effective in the hair and make up section where differences in modern formulations and techniques become very apparent in advice like this
“Oily hair needs washing once a week, so does hair exposed to much dust in offices and factories. Normal hair, if you live at home, needs washing once every 10 days; and dry hair, if not exposed to dusty air, can be washed once a fortnight”
Suddenly those elaborate sets become achievable if you’re only doing it once a week, and the excuse “Not tonight, I’m washing my hair” makes complete sense.
The book has fascinating insights into the world of make do and mend, and the lengths people went to to keep looking smart and substitute used and irreplaceable cosmetics.
Essentially I would heartily recommend The 1940s Look as a purchase. It’s a fascinating read packed with information, contemporary photos and illustrations and quotations from contemporary magazines.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, decade specific, easy to read, comprehensive fashion history book then it’s really a very good buy. If you want to recreate 1940s hair styles then you should probably look elsewhere.
This book, and others I’ve reviewed are available in my book shop
Note: I am an Amazon affiliate, if you buy the book through one of my links I’ll earn a few pennies. It costs you nothing and in no way affects my opinions on this book!