"Beauty on Duty": Constructions of Femininity and American Women's Uniforms in World War II.
Sheldon, Rachel L.
- Plenty of scholarly research has been dedicated to examining changes for women in the workplace during World War II, but there is a dearth of information about changes in women's apparel in relation to the workplace. In particular, the role that uniforms played for women in the war era has been neglected by researchers. For my Senior Honors Thesis, I am exploring the role that uniforms played for ... read moreAmerican women in World War II as women attempted to balance traditional ideas about femininity while navigating their new roles in society. World War II was a period of rapid change for women as they dove into the war effort and filled positions previously only open to men. As the men went to battle, women took their places in the military and on factory lines in unprecedented numbers. Subsequent changes in women's apparel created tensions between what women were expected to do and what they were actually doing. Women were asked to perform their patriotic duty, whether that be joining the volunteer armed forces or getting a job in an aeronautics factory, but were simultaneously expected to maintain a conventionally feminine appearance. Women's uniforms played a particularly crucial role here, conveying power and influence in traditionally masculine domains, but retaining elements of femininity. Military uniforms were carefully marketed to recruits as ladylike and fashionable. Women in factories emphasized their femininity by wearing lipstick and elaborate hairstyles, while they were often required to wear masculine slacks or overalls. The uniform, in its various iterations, negotiated women's presence in the war effort and traditional gender roles. The object of my research is to examine these uniforms and the societal changes they accompanied, how uniforms were presented to women by the media and the government, and how women themselves felt about their new uniforms.read less