Sunday, 3 May 2015

War and Peace

(Or, getting even further ahead.)

It’s strange; I’ve never made a hat in my life, and then two come along at once! The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for April (yes, I am running a little late - again) was War and Peace, defined as,“Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace”. As I was already booked on the course at Hat Works by then, it’s likely that hats were already on my mind, so I made an early 1940s hat.

Although in the 1930s hats were an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe, a number of books I’ve read suggest that the advent of World War II led to hat wearing being almost entirely abandoned, except as part of a uniform. Looking at photographs from the period though, it seems to me that while more women went bare-headed, hats were not discarded altogether. Press coverage of the upcoming anniversary of VE Day has included lots of photographs from May 1945, and there are always some women wearing hats.

VE Day in London, with a hat centre stage

An RAF officer, two members of the WRAF, and a civilian in an impressive hat

When clothes rationing was introduced in 1941 hats were not included, but they were classed as a luxury item, and subject to a high rate of tax. Clearly they were still being manufactured, as these cover illustrations from 1942 editions of the Hatters’ Gazette show.

Hatters' Gazette covers on display at Hat Works

As with so many items of clothing during the war years however, a certain amount of ingenuity and Make Do And Mend ensued. Hats were made at home from all sorts of materials; Forties Fashion by Jonathan Walford includes a hat crocheted from garden string!

I went for something slightly more straightforward. Vintage Vogue 7464 contains patterns for five hats based on styles from the 1930s and 1940s, and while most of them are made from felt, view C is made from taffeta. This seemed to me to be something which a home dressmaker could conceivably make.

Silk taffeta hat

Small, ‘percher’ style hats worn sloping over one eye seem to have been common in the early 1940s.

Women in a London street, 1941, © Imperial War Museum, London

1940s Fashion by Emmanuelle Dirix and Charlotte Fiell includes a number of examples, including a photograph of actress Vicki Lester wearing a silk hat very similar to that in the Vogue pattern.

Chartreuse, lavender and green silk taffeta hat, 1941

All the online reviews I read of the pattern suggested that it was, ahem, light on detail. Certainly compared to other Vintage Vogue patterns I have used, the instructions were very sketchy in places, and included one significant error. This may be down to its age: the pattern dates from 2000, and I think that Vogue have improved their vintage reissues a lot since then. The hat seemed to take forever to make, which is why I'm late posting about it. I’ll publish a step by step post separately, to save others some of the pain! (Now done, it's here.)

The (finally) completed hat

The small print:
The Challenge: War and Peace
Fabric: Synthetic taffeta and buckram
Pattern: Vogue 7464, view C
Year: Circa 1941/42
Notions: Millinery wire for brim
How historically accurate is it? In appearance very accurate. I’m not so sure about the fabric, so say 60%
Hours to complete: Far more than I even want to think about!
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Taffeta remnant £5.10, wire £1.49, buckram from stash and pattern already owned, so £6.59

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