Shippensburg University
Fashion Archives and Museum

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America Goes to War: Military and Civilian Fashion from Span-Am to Desert Storm
September 24, 2009 — December 16, 2009

America Goes to War: Military and Civilian Fashion from Span-Am to Desert Storm, features uniforms and civilian attire of both sexes from the United States' international conflicts, including the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam and Desert Storm.

The exhibit explores the interplay between current civilian fashions and the ways in which they influence military style and vice versa. The director of the Fashion Archives and Museum, Dr. Karin J. Bohleke, explains: "As far as women's uniforms are concerned, contemporary fashion determines the shape and style of their uniforms; in other words, function was subordinate to style. Designers were hired to create attractive uniforms as an enlistment incentive, and this holds particularly true through to the 1950s with the Korean War. One of the uniforms on display, a 1951 nurse's dress uniform is exquisitely tailored with bold pocket details that make it a stunning piece." Yet, at the same time, she explains, wartime situations have a profound influence on civilian fashions: for example, jewelry shows one's patriotism and support of the war effort through World War II. Additionally, wartime shortages resulted in dramatic shifts in civilian fashion. Women's dresses provide a striking illustration: hemlines abruptly rose from an average length of approximately nine inches from the floor to just below the knees in order to save fabric during World War II. The Viet Nam era ushered in a period in which multiple fashion influences are evident, but for the first time, anti-war fashions and protest jewelry enter the scene. "Visitors to the exhibit will see the evolution of fashion over the decades intertwined with the conflicts that helped determine those very fashions."

Left: Military-inspired wool bodice, ca. 1898. (S1984-03-008 Shippensburg High School)

Right: Officer's dress uniform with two hats worn by Samuel M. Strite. (Courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)