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AS I WRITE THIS BLOG, THE WORLD – and especially France, the United States, Great Britain and Canada – is celebrating the 65th Anniversary of the Western Allies storming the beaches at Normandy.  It brings up vivid memories of that Great War, of the sacrifices that were made and victories that were won. 


For those who were alive during those years, it forces into clear focus deeply rooted memories of a more personal nature:  loved ones serving in the war itself, air raids, food rationing, victory gardens, and riveting theater films and radio announcements of battles, parallels, and soul-moving speeches from American and Allied leaders. 


“We shall never give up.”  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”  “The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is dead.”  On the morning of August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima.  Oh, the sadness, the terror, the horror of it all.


As one elderly woman said to me, “Unless you heard it yourself, you could never know the power of those statements, how they riled and shook you to the very core of your being.”


                                   Costume Jewelry Emerges


Nobody talked much about diamonds during those years.  But there was still a fascinating undercurrent of activity going on in the fashion and accessory world, one that prompted new looks and new appreciation for materials and objects formerly overlooked. 


For example, costume jewelry, created by fabled designer Coco Chanel in the early 1900s, began coming into its own, giving women the feeling of beauty and luxury they otherwise could not afford at a time they often desperately needed that kind of lift.


Costume jewelry was, in no small way, a fantastic morale booster. Designers began experimenting with inexpensive metals and stones, creating brand new looks for their clients.



  • Rhinestone bracelet in small cuff design with center set rhinestone heart.  Very 40s, yet still just right for today’s prom, bridal, or evening wear.




  • Bakelite bracelets.  Color!  Color!  Buy several and wear them all together for a trendy modern take on 40s designs.  Stunning!



                              New Materials, New Ingenuity


Hand crocheted and knitted hats began very popular in the 40s, along with homespun handbags, many of them of extraordinary craftsmanship and character.  Hermes marketed a handsome minimalist clutch handbag made out of panama straw, in place of more expensive materials like silk and leather, which were in short supply during the war years. 


A clever editorial in the October, 1943 issue of “Marie Claire” magazine said:


       “These days, an ingenious woman is an elegant woman.” 


Many added their own embellishments to plain accessories. Many items were re-invented, re-used, revitalized.  The end effect was often startling, even marvelous.


The look that evolved in the early Forties was called Retro Modern.  It had many of the elements of the Art Deco styles from the 30s, but was more refined.  Base metals were common, especially brass.  Silver was more commonly used than had been thought, but an item’s silver content was generally not enough to be called Sterling.


Dumand’s purple taffeta open-toed sandal, for example, with sling back was designed on a very high platform with swirl wooden design.  Fabulous!  And…just as fitting and timely to today’s market as to the 40s!







                                  Tools of the Resistance


ACCESSORIES OFTEN PLAYED an unexpected and vital role in the actual fight against Germany.  Many items – from simple, homemade accessories to expensive, elegant ones – were used as stratagems by the Resistance Movement, for such purposes as secret carryalls for drugs, explosives, money, and more.  Beautiful handbags were often designed with false bottoms to conceal propaganda documents.


In France, scarves were also designed to outwardly display the owner’s allegiance to the collaborationist Vichy government.  Many were even designed with portraits of the Vichy leader, Marshal Petain.  Such accoutrements often gave the owners freer movement with less surveillance from the Gestapo in occupied France.


Whether as “Resistance” tools or beauty gifts to stressed nations, jewelry and fashion accessories were as importance in the War years as they are today. 


    —It was a time when the Industry gave special service to the public, in many essential ways. 


Recognizing this is a new exhibition in Paris that gives special recognition to the fashion ingenuity during World War II.  The Accessories displays will cover two museums in Paris, both of which are dedicated to the history of the French Resistance and the liberation of France.  It will run through November 15th.

Comments (0) Posted by Mary McGarry on Friday, June 12th, 2009

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