Why Hats Kept Fashionistas Sane in WWII

8 Jun

Hats are the greatest, most obvious statement of personal style, but during the 1940s it was the predominant form of expression women had.

{Why Hats Kept Fashionistas Sane in WWII }

Across the world, it didn’t matter if you were in Asia, Europe or North America, rationing during World War II was a way of life for nearly a decade (including the years leading up and following the official global conflict).

For fashionistas, this put a major cramp in their style as fabrics were in short supply — so couture garment designs went by the wayside — as well as the ability to have new wardrobe options every season.

Some women went years maintaining the same dresses in their closets — just making do with what was had. But, there was one small silver lining — hats!

Because the materials used in most hats were not on the rationing list, milliners kept right on creating adorning head pieces. And it was through hats that women found ways to reinvent their look with the same old dress by adding a new bold accessory.

“So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaiety into a world burdened with problems,” Grace Margaret Morton, author & professor, 1943.

Despite utilitarian styles and leaner silhouettes, hats were lush, fanciful and all-together delicious! At the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Commemorative Weekend, I found a bevy of hats.

A few examples of the types of millinery masterpieces the 1940s created:

I still have a crush on this hat!

A 1940s Felt Fedora -- classic!

The iconic 1940s "Picture" hat.

A "Peter Pan" hat.

The famed 1940s "turban". (Personally, not a huge fan)

A beautiful 1940s "Fascinator" w/ great details.

This matched my outfit too perfectly, it's now mine!

How could I resist not getting this hat?

What’s the Take-Away

Never underestimate the power of a hat.

For the women of the 1940s, hats were a source of fashion solace, a morale booster. For the veterans of WWII, hats signify the beauty and grace of the way women were.

As I was eating my breakfast in the French village, I sat on a bench along a building and a veteran and his family approached. His eyes glistened with the sparkle of a youthful boy, yet his voice wavered barely above a crackled whisper. His daughter explained:

“He was just talking about how all the French women had lovely hats and how you are just the picture of what they used to look like.”

He smiled deeply and the connection was powerful.

For some, reenacting a war where veterans of it are still alive may seem premature, but this experience proves otherwise. By being a living history reenactor, I was a conduit for this veteran to share with his family an experience he never, ever could have explained.

I represented a small keyhole into the past where his daughter could begin to see her father’s war experience in a vivid and tangible way.

For the veteran personally, I was a connection to who he was in his prime, where life was never more real than with the imminent threat of the unknown and the promise of endless possibilities.

We shared a moment of unspeakable gratitude, and then they went on. It was moment that made a powerful difference in three lives. And, it was all because of a hat.

Which of these hats would you wear?

For more 1940s fashion insights, click here!


9 Responses to “Why Hats Kept Fashionistas Sane in WWII”

  1. Laurie June 8, 2011 at 7:42 AM #

    I love all of them! I like the one with the feather you thought was a bug on your face. Ha ha ha ha.


  2. David Navarre June 8, 2011 at 4:16 PM #

    Fantastic post. The story at the end brought a tear to my eye.


    • Thrifty Vintage Chic June 8, 2011 at 7:18 PM #

      David, thank you. To know that you really felt the heart of this post and were moved … well, that simply fulfills my purpose (and makes my day)!


  3. JodaLee Anne March 16, 2012 at 7:01 PM #

    I am beginning a collection of vintage hats just like these! Only problem… I cant find very many at a cheap price! I am planning on putting them on shelves and occationaly wearing them. I am redecorating my room and I am on a budget of $250 for decorations. If anyone knows where I can find hats like these for a cheap price would be great! I am also looking for hat boxes! Thanks for your help!


    • keripeardon April 4, 2012 at 12:42 PM #

      If you are willing to take a new hat box as opposed to an antique one, go to a Hobby Lobby store. They sell decorative hat boxes cheaply all the time. I bought one which I actually keep mine and my husband’s medieval hats in to keep them from getting crushed.


      • Thrifty Vintage Chic April 4, 2012 at 12:52 PM #

        Keri, this is a fabulous tip! I don’t have many Hobby Lobbies around me … but now, I will be on the hunt to make it a place to stop along a road trip here or there! Thanks for this info!! SO, SO helpful. Of course, I prefer original hat boxes, but really my greater concern is keeping my 30 to 70+ year old hats looking good by being aptly protected!


    • Thrifty Vintage Chic April 4, 2012 at 12:49 PM #

      JodaLee Anne! I love hearing that you are starting a hat collection. Mostly where I’ve gotten my hats (cheaply) has been at Salvation Army. And, it’s been the SalVal locations where there are a lot of old ladies who got to church on Sundays and still are in the practice of wearing hats. That is where the gold mines are found! 😀 Let me know how you do! I just gave you the keys to the kingdom in that tip!!


  4. keripeardon April 4, 2012 at 12:48 PM #

    I love hats and I try to wear them as much as I can (I currently have two for summer).

    My problem is that my head is large for a woman (it’s only 1/4″ smaller than my husband’s! I wear his old military beret in the winter) and it’s hard to find a modern hat that fits my head, much less a vintage hat. And either because of that or the shape of my face (oval), there are many styles of hat that don’t look good on me. My mother has a round face and she looks great in everything. She can even wear a cloche (I look ridiculous in one).

    I really like hats which are worn to one side or wide-brimmed hats which angle to one side. I think they work well for my head/face.

    I have a book on historic millinery, but making my own hats is one more project out of dozens that I have on my plate!


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