Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fashion and Propaganda

I recently came across an excellent book called "Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States" by Jacqueline Atkins. Peppered with gorgeous images of fabric, clothing, and advertisements from the 30s and 40s, the author shows how fashion was used to elicit feelings of patriotism  during the Asia-Pacific War. 

My favorite examples from the book are the instances in which the patriotic elements emerge subtly from playful and dainty decorative forms. Take this printed fabric from Great Britain, for instance, on page 225:

On the left is a detail from a blouse. The print reads "The Navy's Here!" I imagine the dancing sailors from afar could be mistaken for a floral motif . On the right, parachuting soldiers land among grazing cattle in "The Home Guard." Both prints were designed by Arnold Lever and now reside in London's Target Gallery.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

In the fabric design "66 Coupons," the designer Arnold Lever lists items that were either rationed or in shortage during WWII. According to Atkins, such lighthearted allusions to wartime sacrifice was part of a larger effort to keep up morale on the Home Front.

Here, the Textile Color Association, Inc.lists colors for the 1942 fall season with patriotic names like "Independence Blue," "Valor Red," and "Victory Gold."

From Japan on page 295, a child's kimono from the 1930s, now in the collection of Mahoroba Oito Antiques, Kyushu.

I found these so interesting, and I'm trying to think of contemporary examples of fashion colliding with propaganda. Has anyone seen any such cases lately?


  1. Fascinating! I think you're right, those prints would look like floral or abstract designs from afar. I can't think of any contemporary examples - I wonder if that's because we only label something propaganda retrospectively? In the UK we wear paper poppies on Remembrance Day and I've seen some people wear really nice fabric or jewellery poppies instead - perhaps that's an example.

  2. This post was really interesting! Maybe we'll see some examples around the time of the royal wedding?
    From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

  3. Hello, just discovered your bog via Tilly's. Oh, I've been hankering after that book for a while, now. I'm trying to wait until its out on paperback, but I think your wonderful post might have just pushed me over the edge!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

    Glad you found the book as interesting as I did. The copy I have in my hands is library owned. I've already renewed it twice, which means I'll have to part with it soon. So, like Ms Sew-n-Sew, I'm also wondering if I can hold out for it to come out in paperback. It really is a beautiful book.

    Love the poppies example, Tilly. I wonder if the advent of the t-shirt has curtailed the appearance of propaganda in other avenues of fashion. Propaganda on t-shirts is fairly plentiful and much less subtle than the propaganda I saw in the Atkins book. Much less interesting, too, in my opinion!