Tag Archives: sexual orientation

When The US Government Told Us What to Wear

During World War 2, in an effort to save precious materials needed for the war, The War Production Board (WPB) was in charge of rationing civilian goods. The first to be rationed was sugar and gasoline. Gradually other items were added like rubber, coffee and meat (somehow poultry didn’t count as meat so it wasn’t rationed). You couldn’t buy a refrigerator or a Bendix washer during the war, but these companies regularly advertised in the popular magazines, reminding customers of all they were giving to the war effort.
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The WPB came out with Limitation Order L-85, which dictated how much cloth could be used to make clothing. Although clothing wasn’t rationed in the US (except shoes*) as it was in Great Britain the WPB made regulations on how much cloth could be used to make any one outfit. The sleeves of dresses now had to be 3/4 length, dresses with no collars were favored. Double breasted suits for both men and women became single breasted. There were no more women’s pleated skirts. (Stanton, 2009a) The WPB’s slogan was,”Control without regimentation,” meaning they didn’t want to tell designers how to initiate their regulations, but they did expect them to be followed. After all, this was being done “for the boys.” Everyone was behind it. Muriel Johnstone, a dress designer, advertising her new regulation dresses used the slogan: “Conserving material for victory.” (OldMagazineArticles.com)

In the interest of following the mandate to use less material—or so they claimed—designers started raising women’s skirts from the mid-calf to just below the knee. The amount of clothes women wore during this time became less and less, especially in Hollywood. Watch the films made during the war. First, you’ll see a lot of those collarless dresses along with the shorter lengths. Also, you’ll note how scanty many of the women are dressed, lots of bare legs, bare arms, cleavage. Compare these outfits with the clothing worn in films made before the war and after. It was “all for the boys.” (Stanton, 2009b)

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*Each individual was allowed 3 pairs of shoe a year, which doesn’t sound terribly harsh to me. Stage Door volunteers were permitted and extra pair of shoes because their shoes wore out quickly from all that dancing.

Stanton, S.L.(2009a) Limitation Order L-85: General restrictions. The United States in War and Peace (PDF)

Stanton, S.L.(2009b) Limitation Order L-85: Fashion and Morale, The United States in War and Peace

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Filed under 1940's history, 1940s Fashion, clothing 1940s, gay, Juliana the Novel, Lesbian, Uncategorized, World War II

US Armed Services and Purple Discharges for Homosexuals

imgres-2World War II was the first war in which the Armed Services established rules against allowing homosexuals to serve.  However, the kinds of questions psychiatrists devised to detect homosexuals were pretty silly.  They would ask a male inductee things like, “Do you like girls?” and this man could answer quite honestly “yes,”  because he didn’t know what the shrink was really getting at.  One woman was asked, “Why  haven’t you slept with a man?” She answered, “Because I was brought up to believe that girls didn’t do that until they were married.”  That was the prevailing belief of the forties so the young woman wasn’t saying anything unusual.  As a result, hundreds of homosexuals, male and female, courageously served in World War II. In some units their sexual orientation was quite open without anyone bothering about it.  However, toward the end of the war things started to change.  As one of the male characters in my novel says, “You didn’t have to do anything homosexual to get thrown out for being homosexual.  You didn’t have to do something like sodomy for them to go after you.  That way they could go after the women too.  Showing any “signs” of homosexuality was enough for them to harass you.”

If someone saw one of those “signs” the soldier was arrested and taken to a hospital, the ward for the mentally ill. (Sometimes soldiers were locked up in makeshift  holding cells–Queer Stockades–until they were sent back to the States.) In the hospital they were put under observation.  During this time period soldiers were pumped  to name the names of other homosexuals. When they were finally released they were given cheap clothing from a discount store and the blue discharge.

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This blue discharge announced to the world that the army considered you undesirable.  These discharges were given without benefit of any kind of hearing or trial.  It wasn’t exactly a dishonorable discharge.  You hadn’t done anything to warrant that, but it  meant that you could not qualify for any of the benefits that went with the best GI Bill the country had ever passed.  While other veterans were remaking their lives with free college educations, VA home mortgages and other government loans, those with blue discharges had trouble even getting a job. (Berube, 1990)

Reference:  Berube, A, (1990). Coming out under fire: The history of gay mean and women in World War II, Chapel Hill, NC:  University of North Carolina Press.

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