Fashion in the Cold War
FASHION IN THE COLD WAR By Imani Jones Analyze how and why the cold war affected both sides’ fashion styles. The Cold War traumatically affected the lifestyles of the United States, Soviet Union, China and Europe; however, the Cold War played a major role in fashion history. Fashion during the Cold War gave people the opportunity to express themselves through what they wore. Due to Communism in other countries such as China, people were neither able to wear what they wanted nor embrace themselves in the latest fashion trend of that season or even year.
In a Communist world, people lived in very basic conditions and cared little about luxuries such as fashion (Fashion Encyclopedia, 2012). Those West of the iron curtain, Americans and Europeans to be specific, did not have to encounter these restrictions as severely as Communists countries did. At the end of the war the fashion industry happened to be one of the biggest industries to benefit from the rise of consumerism.
During the Cold War, clothing was rationed and limited when worn by men and women in the United States. Women wore long, plain skirts paired usually with a white or pink type of top while men wore green or black trousers with a white or green shirt. People grew tired of clothing restrictions that governments had enacted during wartime, and soon returned to wearing luxurious and expressive clothing. Western economies boomed and people had access to a range of consumer goods, including fashionable clothes and shoes.
In contrast, people of Communist China, were required to wear simple clothing to show that there were no differences in social class (Fashion Encyclopedia, 2012). However, postwar world fashion attire was only made in Capitalist countries therefore the West was bound to be the center of fashion between 1946 and 1960. Political and social changes of 1946 through 1960 had an absolute affect on the fashion people wore. From women wearing the billowy New Look dresses of 1947 the designer Christian Dior created to the bold and sharpness of grey lannel suited businessmen of the early 1950’s to the hair slicked back, leather jacket, plain white tee and jeans, dangerously-looking “greasers” of the late 1950’s, the way people dressed reflected their attitudes about the social changing and political climate of the period. As the Cold War brought several changes to the American society and social attitudes of the nation, it changed people’s thoughts. In the 1950’s people, for the most part, were patriotic and believed Communism was the root of all evil.
Historically, Americans have always been unwilling to entering war. Once the step to active and official participation is taken, the country rallies to support either the cause or the troops, and where it was usually both. However, after each declaration of war, the United States in most cases enthusiastically supported the mobilization of manpower and industry. The women’s attitude of the political climate was quite powerful as they were considered some type of leader where there were women serving at the highest level of government as Secretary of State.
As for the teens of the 1950’s this was a rebellious stage for them where directly their attitudes on the social change and political climate of the Cold War was expressed throughout their everyday appearance as the Greasers. At the end of the 1950’s postwar fashion had developed its own voice. Fashion in the Cold War determined people’s social status and work field. For example, the fashion looks modeled by George Peck in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was the perfect example of the new civilian uniform as it represented the American search for purpose in a world dominated by business especially for those who had been in war.
Seen in Images 1 and 2 in the index, businessmen were proud to have a uniform. The grey flannel suit was daily work attire as it symbolized being a provider and a man of business in America, and as for women they embraced mixed-and-matched fashions such as sportswear and clingy sweaters which was symbolic to youth and the future (Dior). This was a dominant look for women in the late 1940’s and well throughout the 1950’s. Those of both high and middle class were usually the ones to wear fashions as such as these especially since it was now affordable for people of the growing middle class.
The 1950s, often categorized as a time of great conformity was when everybody wanted to act, think and dress the same. Seen in Image 3 in the index, conformity was an action from people in correspondence with socially accepted standards, conventions, rules, or laws. The men and women, who had broken from social norms in regards to gender roles during World War II, were now following back into more traditional roles such as…. (3-5) According to Sun Xi, in Communist China, the clothing of the 1950s symbolized political and friendly ties between them and Soviet Union.
The Lenin coat, tan khaki material, double-breasted with a belt attached, seen in Image 4 in the index, was highly popular around this time in China and had come to China from Russia. It was suitable for both sexes, but more flattering to feminine curves and was considered high revolutionary fashion. Simplicity and thrift were the main objectives in Chinese fashion of the 1950s. Clothing in the colors of green, blue, black, or grey, preferably patched were the most admired.
The Lenin coat reflected what they truly believed in which was, labor is beautiful. In the Communistic mind, labor is beautiful would be explained as the people of China and the Soviet Union who follow, obey and are committed to their leader/dictator are pushed to work for any and everything. The people of Communist country feel strongly about labor and see it as a beautiful thing in life. For women of the Soviet Union, the colorful, floral, plaid or boldly printed daily attire for them was the Bragi dress, seen in Image 5 in the index.
This dress became a symbol of revolution and progress after heroine Zoya Anatolyvna Kosmodemyanskaya was executed for championing her cause in the dress. The Soviet Union featured women in the dress on posters, periodicals and movies to encourage women of all ages to wear the styles. The style of the dresses were very baggy and were only in selected colors and styles; floral, stripes and/or plaid. This disguised rather than accentuated womanly figures due to a basic rule of Communism as for everyone to be on the same page as one.
Therefore, no woman is standing out more than another woman based on her body. Additionally, women of China took part in wearing the Bragi in showing solidarity and the friendship between China and the Soviet Union as this shows how these two Communist countries partnered together in trying to build through the social and political destruction of the Cold War. In the United States, during the middle of 1960’s, the movement of conformity began to sway away as the regularity of adult culture developed in both the United States and Europe.
The Cold War reflected in so much more than just fashion. It was reflected through culture: through music, movies, books and other media. New music such as rock ‘n’ roll was in affect as teens of Europe and the United States began to reject the values of their parents and rebelled, along with adopting new rebellious trends as you would see “The Fonz” from the mid 1970’s hit show Happy Days model. (2-4) By the late 1950s the Western world saw a definable movement of the youth that was still rebellious, but also still wanting to stand out and get the attention of people politically.
In the 1960s that movement would begin to dominate fashion. Clothes that stood out throughout that decade were hot pants (extremely short shorts), mini skirts, no hats or gloves for day wear, space age fashions in vinyl and other synthetics, bold, solid color contrasts from Op Art and Pop Art’s movements, preppy fashions, madras, plaids, oversized hairy sweaters, painstakingly matched accessories and etc. In comparison to the previous decade, the 1950’s, people wore more clothes and were more conservative especially women.
As the years went on in the 1950’s, the skirts, dresses and shorts got shorter. The Space Race played its role in fashion with the odd, yet popular fashion trend of the 1960’s called the Space Age seen in Image 6 in the index. Everything in the 1960’s became less, shorter and freely versus the 1950’s where the clothing covered women, conservative and lengthening. However, towards the late 1960’s, 1968 to be exact, fashion began to go backwards and skirts began to get longer again which is when the Hippie and Bohemian look began to produce.
Clothing manufacturers who had made millions of military uniforms for soldiers of World War II figured out how to produce mass-produce clothing. After the war well-made and stylish clothing began to sell to common people of the middle class. Before stylish clothing was only for the rich, however after World War II people of the growing middle class were able to afford good clothes. Fashion magazines, Esquire for men and Vogue for women promoted these new fashions just as large market retailers Sears and J. C. Penney did as they sold them.
The two large marketers most likely benefited from Capitalism and its philosophical economical system that complimented private ownerships of production, profit or income which is probably why J. C. Penney and Sears are still here today. In comparison, the Cold War affected both China and the Soviet Union’s fashion style based on revolutionary purposes and their loyalty to their leader and Communism. It was not a matter of who had what nor was it superficial. The clothing stood for something and required true discipline which was to always obey what was ordered from their leader or dictator.
Although, the Cold War helped Europe and the United State’s economy and the postwar happened to affect the fashion of those cultures, the war affected the Chinese and Soviets more. They had legitimate reasons as to why they wore what they did which was the partnership/ friendship China and the Soviet Union had with each other and how it affected them as people. For example, the Lenin coat and how it stood for the hard work of Communists and the rest of their clothing stood for nothing else than labor and discipline because that is how strong they felt about that subject.
These two countries wanted to get to the top and build their way out of the problems that had already occurred, were already occurring and were about to occur. I believe the fashion trends of the United States and Europe reflected the economy and wealth of them. As for the Americans and Europeans the only legitimate thing I could say where fashion styles were affected by the Cold War, was the businessmen’s grey flannel suits which could have stood for corporate America, provider or just flat out businessman, and the Hippie look that stood for the youth movement in the United States.
To me the fashion of the United States and Europe became semi-superficial and was not reflecting so much of what was occurring in the war and what had affected them there was a lot that was based off the media. However, the Space Age inspired by the Space Race, the Hippie look inspired by those against the Cold War as for this look went well on in to the peak of violence of Vietnam War as well, the Military look and college kids wearing World War I doughboy jackets was inspired by standing out to make a point that they do not want o follow trends, but set them once the Military look became popular. Why the Cold War affected these countries fashion styles? The Cold War affected Cold War countries, America and Europe due to the late 1940’s through the early 1970’s where mostly everything people politically disagreed upon was what they felt they needed express through their clothing and lifestyle. In a way it was almost a silent war on the public’s behalf because they were entitled to their opinion, where as the China and the Soviet Union were not.
China and the Soviet Union were affected because they were also a part of the war as the two partnered up and formed a genuine friendship since they both were in the same boat on the same page. This was their way of showing to the Western part of the globe that no one is different here or excluded because of their social class and that they are going to build their way to the top and take over. As a Communist country it was that everyone is one, they look and dress the same and that they work just as hard as the next person. Therefore, each country has its different views and interpreted fashion during the Cold War in their own way.