“War is an act of force to compel our enemy do our will”, this is how the famous Clausewitz defines war. It is the continuation of the policy with other means, as he later supplemented. It is an act which is distinguished from violence, in which the rules and authorities are elected and replaced by violence. One would wonder how, in such an expression of extreme hostility, the whole aspect of fashion can be put as a point of reference. On the face of it, such a combination seems meaningless and somewhat inept, but after a broader and more substantial analysis, it is obvious that as in all multifactorial issues, so in war, the element of fashion is present. First, one can identify modern war clothing as a first point of identification, but due to the usefulness they perform as means of protection and resilience, the aforementioned analysis will focus on another. One case in which the clothes were used as a means of imposing the will and deterrence of the opponent was in that of the Samurai in Japan. The Samurai, whose name means “those who serve”, were noble warriors who mobilized and acted under a strong code of honor and at the same time were faithful and attached to a ruler whom they served blindly, obediently, and selflessly. As members of the aristocratic order, they wore ornate fabrics, and their armor was made of metals, hard and especially expensive for the time. But the most modern characteristic was the mask they wore. Not only was it special among those of their time, but it was also distinguished by a unique feature: it was decorated and painted with ugly and violent characteristics to terrorize the opponent, making them believe that the Samurai were not people but something else, more hostile, and dangerous.
War as an absolute and limitless act affects and has an impact on all aspects of human existence and everyday life, and by analogy in the field of clothing. The wartime economy, the change in population demographics, the expansion of the domestic economy (with more workers) and the shift towards women in the workforce have had a huge impact on fashion. Styles, because of the needs of each era, are always influenced by the function that clothes should serve, economic factors, the availability of goods, social expression, social ambition and by what the armed forces wear. These influences influence fashion, and fashion influences and reflects culture and society. Before the First World War, the center of fashion was Paris, where it was clothing norms that dictated social class, status, and wealth. Then, during The First World War, the orientation changed, and the center of fashion was moved to America, where the famous t-shirt was established. There, fashion imports from France were banned. And to further curb the fashion appeal, in 1942 the U.S. Production Council issued the 85 (L-85) Containment Order. The aim of this order was to save 15 percent of domestic textile production, as well as more than forty million pounds of woolen fabric. Another goal was to freeze fashion, making older clothes more attractive. In Britain during the Second World War, one of the first notable changes in dressing was the number of people – men and women – who wore a uniform. About a quarter of the British population had the right to wear some kind of uniform as part of the armed forces, women’s auxiliary forces or one of the numerous uniformed voluntary services and organizations. This increased demand for uniforms is putting enormous pressure on Britain’s textile and clothing industries. A new innovation was the imposition of the clothing share, which, as in the American case, was oriented towards the reduction of consumption of military garments, the protection of raw materials and the release of the workers of the factories for their participation in the war process. Its aim was to ensure a more equal distribution of clothing and to increase the availability in stores. Each clothing item had been given “point value” which differed according to how much fabric had been used or how long it took to manufacture. Characteristically, in order to buy a dress, one should have primarily gathered 11 cups, for a men’s shirt 8, for socks 2 etc. Thus, the buyer would have to give the seller the necessary coupons that had the value of a point along with a sum of money. With the establishment of this measure, all citizens were given 65 points, but then with the intensity of the war, the number of points given decreased.
So, we see that in a phenomenon as widening, acute, multifactorial, and extensive as war, all manifestations of political, social, and cultural existence are crystallized and influenced. The ramifications of war are of course not only political but ideological and social and of course the change in them results in the change in norms. So, fashion as the practical depiction of ideology is influenced and shaped accordingly, as Clausewitz notes: “War is an act of violence, and there is no limit to the manifestation of this violence. Each of the two adversaries follows the law of the other, and from this emerges an interaction that, as a concept, must go to extremes.” Thus, this interaction, the extent of violence and the new reality that is developing transforms the needs and desires, and with them the dictates of the style are transformed. Moreover, as in any volatile entity, fashion and style change, are renewed, requisitioned, and tamed.
Written by: Matilda Georgele, social and political sciences at Panteion University