Brown Print Cold Rayon Dress – 1940’s
A gorgeous historically significant 1940’s Cold Rayon Dress from WWII Era. With Iconic multi-directional print of nosegays, doilies, flowers, and bows.
During the war fabrics were rationed and prints were cleverly designed to be multi-directional so that laying out and cutting pattern pieces could utilize as much of the yardage as possible. Rationed yardage allowed no more than 4yds for a dress. And it was usually only 36” – 39”.wide. Every inch of precious fabric was utilized in these clever dress designs.
Rationing dictated the wartime silhouette and influenced the fashions. Dresses were narrow and featured short sleeves, high necklines and “short” skirts. Clever cutting and seaming was utilized to embellish this basic shape. Bodices were closely fitted and the waistline was often slightly dropped below the natural waist to create a long waisted line through the torso. This mades a woman look taller and narrower.
Examples of embellishments used are peplums skirts, curved seams, ruching, shirred seams, hip flounces, draped skirts and extended shoulders with the use of shoulder pads. A-line or straight skirts with peplums applied over the top created the illusion of a jacket without using the extra fabric required to make one.
Sleeves were short and often cut in one piece with the bodice. These little sleeves were called kimono sleeves. Long feminine gloves were often worn with these short sleeves.
Fabric rationing required that hemlines be less than 2″, and in accordance with the regulations this one is a mere 3/4″ then faced with hem tape. Because of the lightweight fabric this actually looks nice and adds to the flowy effect of the skirt.
This brown print dress has shirred gathering at the side seams and one shoulder, moderate shoulder pads extend the shoulders and make the wearer’s waistline appear smaller. The high jewel neckline was the style of the times. One shoulder, the Left one, is gathered creating a draped effect across the fitted bodice. Clever pattern construction creates a diagonal seam across the bodice from L shoulder to R hip and a flouncy ultra-feminine gathered drape over the Right hip. The narrow skirt is attractively draped, appearing long and lean, but is actually gently flared and reaches to mid-calf in length. The short sleeves are set in. A metal zipper in the center back seam of the dress is 21” long allowing for easy in and out.
The shoulder pads are of modest size to achieve the wartime silhouette, but not extreme such as those worn by Joan Crawford. They are basted into position so that they could be easily adjusted if required.
This dress has been freshly dry-cleaned by a cleaner specializing in vintage clothing. It appears not to have been worn much because it is still in excellent condition. Amazing for a garment that is 80 years old! This dress is very well made, but there are no labels in it. It could possibly be a homemade dress or custom made dress made by an exceptionally skilled seamstress.
Size and measurements: Shoulders: natural shoulders are 16”,across the back measured side to side at seam, but are only 15.25” across the front . They are extended to be about 1” wider with the shoulder pads. As mentioned above shoulder pads are basted into place and their position could be changed or they could be removed entirely if desired. People’s shoulders are uniquely shaped so it was common to insert shoulder pads is such a way that they could be repositioned easily to best flatter the wearer.
Bust : 17″ x 2 = 34″ maximum – because of the design fabric drape is required across the bodice. I recommend a bust size of no more than 32” to allow for adequate drape, comfort, freedom of movement and proper fit. A smaller bust size will work just fine because of the drape.
Waist is 12.75″ x 2 = 25.5 ” at most – again, some space should be allowed for the waist to fit comfortably and allow for movement. I recommend a wearer’s waist size up to 24″ so dress is not too tight.
Hips: measured 7” below waistline : skirt measures 20″ x 2 = 40 ” in circumference, but I recommend a looser fit to allow for the proper drape and comfort. Wearer’s hips should not be more than 38″ to allow for a graceful drape. Anything less will also be fine.
Sleeves: From top of shoulder to hem are 8.5″ in length. They are loosely cut to flutter gently around the upper arm.
Back length of bodice from center of neckline to slightly dropped waist is 16.25″ . Waistlines were positioned a bit below the natural waistline to create long-lined look through the torso.
Skirt length from waist to hem is 30″ long.
Care: This type of Rayon should be dry-cleaned only. If it needs ironing use a cool iron and press on the back side of fabric only. I recommend pressing over a pressing cloth.
Modern sizing is equivalent to a size 2 – my recommended best fit for this dress is modern sizes 0 – 2.
Fitting Note: My mannequin is a well endowed size 6 and this dress does not come together in her bodice back.
Wartime Fashion Facts:
An interesting historical note : Food was also rationed during WWII and many people did not get enough to eat so were very thin and often malnourished. This historical fact explains why many of the clothes from the period are such small sizes. These women just did not have any fat stored on their figures. A woman who was a nurse in England during this time period explained this to me. She said the girls looked fragile and waif like and very pretty in their clothes but this was the result of not having enough to eat. It was easy to be slim if there was not enough to eat! Audrey Hepburn was an example of this. She grew up in Holland during the German occupation and they could not get enough food. She was malnourished after the war and it caused her lifelong health problems. That delicate gamine look came at a price!
Rayon fabric is made from wood pulp and as such is considered a semi-synthetic. Its properties are akin to a natural fiber. Rayon is breathable, takes pressing quite well, is absorbent and can hold in body heat.
Cold rayon is made via a cold process. It is smooth, has a subtle sheen and drapes beautifully. It initially feels cool to the touch. During the World War II era it was a popular, more affordable and more available than silk and was used to produce women’s dresses, blouses and lingerie. Fabric artists cleverly developed multi-directional prints so that pattern pieces could be cut and seamed facing any direction instead of just one – way. This allowed for the maximum use of every inch of rationed fabric.
Rayon takes dye very well so prints were often quite colorful. Whimsical floral patterns were popular as well as unusual atomic prints…. The multi-directional prints developed by clever artists allowed you to use all the fabric without concern for which way the print was running.
Rayon fabrics in solid colors were used for summer weight military uniforms for men and women as well.
Rayon was economical. The established American rayon industry was positioned with raw materials and manufacturing capacity to produce goods for the war effort and civilian use. In 1940, the average price for a pound of rayon yarn was $0.53, while wool was $1.34 and silk was $2.79.
Silk was allocated to the military for parachutes. Soldiers would sometimes send damaged parachutes home for their women to make into dresses, blouses, nightgowns, slips and other lingerie. A few girls even made their wedding dresses out of damaged parachutes. Parachute silk was highly prized!
Most women sewed and sewing skills improved during the war as you had to keep your old clothes in decent shape, mend and remake things into other things, and make what new items you could out of rationed fabrics. You got more value for your ration coupons in sewing fabric than in ready made clothing.
A woman’s skirt could utilize no more than 2.5 yds of fabric. The number of pleats allowed in a skirt was also restricted. Remember this fabric was also narrow! By 1945 each woman was allowed only 36 clothing coupons per year. A woman’s ready-made tweed suit cost 18 coupons and a pair of shoes cost 5. Be aware that people had to pay money as well as present coupons to buy the rationed articles of clothing. By 1946 the number of coupons issued was reduced to 26 per person per year.
All silk came from Japan. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 silk was completely banned because it came from Japan! That put an end to luxurious silk stockings, lingerie and dresses! Rayon was the substitute and they began to call it “artificial silk.”
Fabric artists, clothing designers and the women who sewed and wore rayon during WWII became clever and resourceful resulting in some very attractive prints and clothing designs and styling options resulting from the limitations of rationing.
After the war, more synthetic fabrics were developed and manufactured. Then cold rayon the distinctive WWII era rayon prints were replaced in the marketplace by something newer. Rayon gradually disappeared from the marketplace and now is practically impossible to find! The type of cold rayon in the prints used in these Iconic WWII Dresses is now rare, expensive and highly sought after.
If you find a dress in good condition that fits you should acquire it! If you come across a 4 yard piece of Cold Rayon fabric from WWII era that has not yet been made up you should acquire it! And if you find a lovely dress pattern from that period you should also acquire it. Either make your own dress or find a seamstress to do so. The styles of this era are unabashedly feminine and charming!
This Cold Rayon Print Dress and and other rare and beautiful historic clothes and accessories are for sale in my online shops.
Note the high round neckline, the shirred gathers on the left shoulder, the short sleeves, the below natural waist dropped waistline, the flounce on the right hip, and the non-directional print.
Note the curved seams, the ultra-feminine hip flounce, the softly gathered skirt, the mid-calf skirt length, the shallow hem giving lightness to the skirt; and, again, the multi-directional print that could be cut and assembled in any direction.
Note the curved seam, the waistline which is dropped below the natural waist to elongate wearers torso and the hip flounce which creates the illusion of a jacket with very little material being used.
Note: A Closeup of the multi-directional print and the fact that only four colors were used: brown, white, green and yellow. Also of note are the brightness of the colors since rayon absorbs dye very well.
Note: the high round neckline, the small shoulder pads, short soft kimono sleeve with a bit of billowing drape, the figure flattering fitted waistline and the gentle bust shaping.
Note: how the waistline dropped below the natural waist lengthens the torso adding to the illusion of length and slimness
Note: The ultra-feminine shape of the torso achieved when all the elements of the design come together. There is skill in the design and construction of these dresses which results in feminine flattering results.
Note: The long metal back zipper ( 21″) in length which facilitates getting in and out of such a fitted dress with ease.
Note: how all the features of the WWII Wartime Era Cold Rayon Dress come together in this Iconic Example of the feminine beauty and ingenuity of design during an historic time of adversity.