Picturehouse Central has teamed up with Danielle Morgan, Content Executive from Rokit Vintage, our local partner, for a fantastic guest blog on fashion on film. Following our latest releases with a particular, strong sartorial angle, and continuing with Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, Danielle offers an in-depth, insightful and fun analysis of all that you always wanted to know on fashion and film and never thought to ask.
The next in our Rokit Reel series looks at the beautiful wartime trends of the 1940s. In association with Picturehouse Central, we popped down to the exclusive preview screening of Their Finest, followed by a Q&A with Bill Nighy and producer Steven Wooley.
Employed primarily to write the ‘slop’, the rather derogatorily coined women’s dialogue, Catrin (Gemma Arterton) joins Buckley (Sam Claflin) to script propagandist shorts distributed by the Department of Information during WWII. Only twenty years previously, women had gained the vote, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting an easy time of it. With costume design by Charlotte Walter (Pride, This is England), it’s the clothing throughout this feature that lends itself to a commentary on key social changes of the period. Original 1940s vintage lends authenticity to the design; directed by Lone Scherfig, Their Finest is essentially a movie about making movies.
Unmistakably the rapid nature of war forced women out of their homes and into the fray. The feminist agenda being key to the plot, when all was said and done, there were fears the freedom women had gained during the war would all but disappear, ‘There are a lot of men who are worried that when all of this is over we won’t go back into our boxes.’ No chance!
On 8th January 1940, rationing was introduced in an attempt to fairly distribute goods among the public. Not only were there food shortages, textiles were limited, so the government devised a points system based on the amount of materials and labour that went into manufacturing each garment. Originally, each adult received a 66 coupon annual allowance. By September 1945, this was reduced to a meagre 3 per month. A pair of stockings alone would set you back 2. Of course, the plan was flawed; clothing wasn’t only bought in exchange for coupons; all goods carried a monetary value. With better quality clothing weighing in at the same coupon value as poor quality items, higher price points were allocated, meaning poorer households could only afford badly manufactured garments that did not last as long as those wealthier families could afford.
Fashion on the ration was no pick nick; to encourage women to use fewer coupons and repair what they already had, the government launched the Make Do and Mend campaign. As war placed pressure on factories to supply the military, people mainly wore the same clothes over again until they were worn or threadbare, by which point they would dig out the needle and thread and patch up. Catrin and the rest of the crew are seen in only a handful of different outfits throughout the film; as war raged on, rationing became stricter. A limited wardrobe was not uncommon.
As women were encouraged to make the best of what they had, resourcefulness was fundamental in making pounds, shilling and coupons stretch. Rationing meant women had to be frugal with their coupons and imaginative with their dressmaking and repairs; parachute silk, no less, was highly favoured to make underwear and wedding dresses. Whilst you won’t catch a glimpse of any tighty whitey’s in the film, outerwear is just as important. The Tweed suits Buckley or Ambrose (Bill Nighy) wear are made of stiff, coarse wool, making for a durable garment with little need for repair, whilst shirts of lightweight rayon or starched cotton eliminate the need to replace as often as fragile fabrics.
Where dropped waists and sweeping skirts were all the rage in the 1930s, times of austerity seriously impacted on women’s fashion. Similar rayon and cottons were used to make lightweight shirts and day dresses that were cheap and easy to manufacture, whilst fabric shortages meant cropped knitwear and knee length skirts to save on waste material. To compensate, shoulder pads were added and waists cinched to create the feminine hourglass frame; Catrin’s wardrobe throughout emulates these archetypal features of wartime dress.
Meanwhile, Phyl (Rachel Stirling) has something revolutionary lurking in her wardrobe. Shunning traditional ‘feminine’ dress, she opts for trouser suits and ties. Trousers were primarily deemed menswear up until the 1940s. During wartime, practicality required land girls working in the fields and munitions factories wear comfortable clothing that would allow free movement. Although not a choice of practicality or necessity, Phyl’s style is a commentary on the changing roles of women during the period. As men were drafted to fight, women were required to take their place on the home front. Women were no longer confined to housewife status; they were vital; just as capable of ‘men’s work’, and this fed into all aspects of life. Even if a woman didn’t need to wear trousers for practical reasons, who was to say she couldn’t; just because she wanted to?
To raise morale, everyone was encouraged to keep up appearances. When Catrin goes to the movies at the end of the film, she’s noticeably dressed up and, untypically, wearing make-up. Although it was expensive, the production of make-up, despite the enormous strain placed on manufacture in Britain throughout the war, was not halted. If all else failed, a smear of rouge and a stiff upper lip on the home front would keep Jerry at bay.
Our partnership with Rokit Vintage gives Picturehouse Central Members an exclusive 10% discount in-store at the Covent Garden Rokit shop. Please present your Picturehouse Central membership card at the till to claim your offer. This discount is not valid in conjunction with any other offer.