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Women at War: Work Clothes for Women

DATES May 28, 1943 through July 05, 1943
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  • May 23, 1943 “Women at War”, an exhibition of work clothes for women in the factories, on the farms and in the uniformed services, will open at the Brooklyn Museum on Friday, May 28, to remain current through Monday, July 5. Installed by the Museum’s Industrial Division, this will be the third major exhibition of the season in the Museum’s War Services Program.

    Because of the need for women workers in industry, in agriculture and in the services, the Museum’s Industrial Division presents this exhibition as the first comprehensive demonstration for the general public of what the properly and well dressed woman war worker wears.

    The material in this exhibition will not be projected patterns, but rather all material ACTUALLY IN USE--materials which are meeting the demands for safety, utility, health and appearance created by the entrance of women in to all branches of war work and the services.

    There will be seven sections to the exhibition:

    1) Fabrics and finishes manufactured to meet specific requirements, such as the costume for powder plant workers.

    2) Cosmetics and coiffeurs for the woman in industry.

    3) Survey of safety headgear and shoes, underclothes, stockings and other accessories.

    4) Work clothes for women in industrial plants, complete from head to feet, and shown in terms of the type of work: machine operators, assembly line workers, inspectors, indoor workers, outdoor workers, etc.

    5) Clothes for agricultural workers.

    6) Uniforms of the armed services: WAVES, SPARS, Women Marines, etc.

    7) Uniforms for the volunteer women’s services: Red Cross, CDVO, etc.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1942 - 1956. 04-06/1943, 058.
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  • May 28, 1943 To-day (Friday, May 28) the Brooklyn Museum opens to the public the third major exhibition of the season in its War Services Program. Entitled “Women at War,” this exhibition is the first comprehensive showing of clothing and accessories designed to meet the needs of women employed in Industry and agriculture and those in the uniformed services.

    The exhibition is installed in the Entrance and Special Exhibition galleries, first floor, and will be current through Monday, July 5.

    (PRESS PREVIEW of the exhibition Thursday, May 27, from 3 until 5)

    The material in this exhibition was gathered together over a period of three months by the Museum’s industrial department’s curator, Michelle Murphy, and all the items are those actually in use. There are NO mere projected patterns in the show.

    “Women at War” is presented by the Museum to demonstrate to the general public what the properly and well-dressed woman war worker is wearing, and to emphasize the importance and the number of women’s roles in wartime.

    The exhibits are divided into nine groups: 1) clothes for industrial workers (indoor and out); 2) for agricultural workers (garden and farm); 3)plant office workers; 4) uniforms of armed Services (WAAC, WAVE, SPAR, Women Marines); 5)uniforms of the volunteer services (Red Cross, CD); 6) samples of fabrics and finishes manufactured to meet specific requirements; 7) safety headgear, shoes, breast protectors; 8) underclothes, corsets, stockings and other accessories; 9) cosmetics, coiffeurs and pharmaceutical preparations.

    Being in actual use, the clothing and accessories in the exhibition have all had to meet the standards, established by experience, of safety, utility, health and appearance. Each costume has been designed to meet the hazards of the particular job; each must protect the health of the wearer while doing her job; and all must be comfortable and as attractive as is possible under the other set standards.

    The major portion of the exhibition is concerned with the clothing and accessories in the first three groups (industrial, agricultural and plant office workers). Shown on mannequins completely dressed from head to feet for specific jobs, the exhibits include costumes for welders, machine operators, shipyard workers, mill workers, assemblers, expediters, machinist’s mate, dispatchers, coordinators, precision workers, timekeepers, powder plant workers, home gardeners, drivers of farm machinery, field workers.

    The powder plant worker wears a simple, smooth and tightly woven garment which can be washed every day, without any metal fasteners of any sort. She also wears her hair confined in a snug, simple covering which, too, is washable. Her shoes are without nails or any metal accessories. Even her hair pins have been discarded before she starts her work. Her underwear and stockings are also washable cotton, the only fastenings being of plastic, as must be those of her washable cotton brassier and corset.

    The welders wear garments of specially selected chrome tanned cowhide, light in weight but affording positive protection from the effects of light rays and heat, as well as from sparks and fire. All parts of the welder’s body are covered, and there are special leather accessories, such as spats and capes, for special types of molding. On her head she wears a comfortable form of snoodlike covering which will take over it the welders’ mask.

    As in the industrial section, the farm costumes cover a wide variety, depending on type of labor: culottes, overalls, coveralls, slacks. The tractor driver wears overalls and a jacket of heavy denim; the chicken farmer a coverall of searsucker. Skirts are worn for light gardening, just as they are worn in the plants by office workers, messengers, etc.

    The case of special fabrics and finishes includes oil and chemical resistant aprons and arm covers, pre-shrunken fabrics which will stand up against daily washing, lint proof fabrics for makers of precision instruments, materials so treated as to be fire resistant, etc.

    Shoes for women war workers must be sturdy, with "sensible" heels, and must thoroughly enclose the feet. For especially hazardous jobs there is the shoe with the so-called iron toe: a toe reinforced with metal, plastic or fiber-board, covered with leather and capable of withstanding great weights. Several variations of these shoes are shown, both in a case and on the mannequins.

    A great variety of headgear is exhibited, but all follow the basic safety demand that the woman’s hair be entirely covered. In general, the cap-form headcoverings, in addition to the snood-style backs, are supplied with a peak or visor which, should the wearer put her head too close to a machine, will warn head of danger. The headcoverings are designed so that they are loose enough to come off easily should they become entangled in moving machinery. Also shown are various styles of turbans, and there are “hard hats” for shipyard workers and for workers in other jobs in which there is danger of objects falling on the head.

    The most unusual thing about the underwear in the exhibition is its bright color. Since the outer garments must be, of necessity, rather dull in color in most cases, the manufacturers offer the women workers bright colors in underclothes which, again, are designed to be worn for work at specific jobs. Included with the underwear is a breast protector of plastic to be worn over a brassier, and a corset without garters and with a special built-up support for the upper back.

    Though the cosmetic and coiffeur exhibits are related to their previous peacetime functions, their main purpose for the war worker is safety. All hair arrangements are such that they can easily be covered by the necessary form of headgear, while at the same time being attractive for non-working hours. The cosmetics and pharmaceutical preparations play an important part in the woman war worker’s life for they offer to her skin protection from infections, blemishes and toughening.

    Woman and her accessories are truly all at war.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1942 - 1946. 4-6/1943, 078-80.
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