WWII Sparks Frog Fashion

World War II was a war for freedom, but many women were constantly bartered with inequality. The war gave women some opportunities at independence, but women continued to face many expectations in beauty and fashion. Wartime rationing changed the clothing options available to women. There was a cultural emphasis on women’s appearance for the sake of men’s morale in order to counter women’s entry into formerly male occupations. TCU students noticed these changes in women’s fashion due to the war and even noted them in the Skiff and yearbooks during wartime.

Skiff photo
TCU students Lorna and Margaret joined the women’s branch of the Ferry Command.
Image from The Skiff, July 23, 1943

WWII caused many of the nation’s men to leave, thus jobs needed to be fulfilled. Increased job opportunities gave women more freedom, but women in factories contradicted the feminine ideals that women were supposed to possess. TCU women conformed to feminine expectations, looking presentable, and historians have described that ““these expectations of beauty were sometimes called a “wartime face.””[1] Many women felt obligated to contribute to the war effort, but they also feared that contradicting femininity by working would lead them to not find suitable husbands. Women in wartime jobs consequently led to a renewed focus on beauty and fashion.

WWII led to the rationing of fabrics such as silk, wool, and cotton. Rationing led to women wearing many different fabrics, indicating a change in fashion due to the war. In TCU’s 1944 yearbook, The Horned Frog, an image of female students in shorts is captioned “Joyce shows off her legs.”[2] Prior to the war, women were expected to only wear skirts and dresses due to it being feminine, yet still modest. Both women were not part of an athletics team or in an occasion where shorts were necessary. The more accepted view of shorts on women at TCU indicated influence from the war and even the sexualization of women during this time period. The TCU women believed that their femininity needed to be emphasized to greater extents if they were in a masculine obligation.[3] TCU’s Skiff in 1943 stated that “the war has even showed its influence in the dress.”[4] This entry from the Skiff described how war rationing changed organizations on campus, how students traveled, and how students dressed. The entry also states how the change in the dress is especially significant in women in the workforce. Influence in the dress was caused by war rationing, as well as the need to look desirable for men. 

yearbook photo
TCU students are seen in more revealing clothing than prior to the war.
Image from the 1944 Horned Frog yearbook

Many TCU women joined the war effort through organizations such as the Ferry Command, a wartime workforce responsible for improving aircraft deliveries to Britain from factories in the United States. TCU women in the workforce emphasized their beauty through makeup and fashion. A historian analyzes women in the workforce by stating that women in uniform were “glamorous sirens who could turn on their sex appeal after working hours to excite male lust despite their formidable demeanor.”[5] This analysis can be depicted through TCU women in the Ferry Command because although these women were working, they presented themselves more femininely through fashion. TCU’s 1943 Skiff showstwo TCU women in the Ferry Command in dresses on the job. The dresses being part of the uniform depicts how women’s fashion became more important due to women being in masculine job roles. Even if dresses were not practical for work, clothing emphasized women’s sex appeal and femininity which thus supported the pre-existing gender roles in the nation.

Beauty and fashion took on heightened significance because of gender role concerns brought on by the war. TCU newspapers describe rationing causing the availability of less fabrics. The importance of fashion is also seen through TCU women in the workforce, like the Ferry Command, due to these women emphasizing their femininity through their clothing. TCU women thus depicted their femininity to great extents, and it is seen through historical collections such as The Horned Frog and Skiff.

[1] Melissa McEuen, Making War, Making Women: Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941-1945 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2011), 8.

[2] Pictures of students having fun on campus, The Horned Frog, 1944, 96, Special Collections, Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University.

[3] Leila Rupp, Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945. (Princeton University Press, 2016), 4.

[4] “Frog Campus Feels Effects of War, Joins List of Colleges Clad in Armor,” The Skiff, March 5th, 1943, Special Collections, Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University.

[5] Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II. (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), 114.

For Further Reading

McEuen, Melissa A. Making War, Making Women: Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941-1945 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).

Melissa McEuen discusses how women’s expectations in beauty and fashion as a result of World War II. These expectations consist of looking presentable due to women having more opportunities in “masculine” jobs. She argues that women were led to believe that the success of the war partly depended on how they presented their femininity. It is a great source to better understand how the United States attempted to preserve women’s femininity during the war years.

Honey, Maureen. Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).

Maureen Honey describes how women joining the workforce threatened the masculinity of men because it was going against the traditional gender roles of women being homemakers. She discusses how these gender roles were challenged during the war. Specifically, Honey discusses propaganda that encouraged the Homefront to contribute to the war effort and why women who depicted strength in wartime propaganda was not popular. It is a great source due to her analysis on women in the workforce and how the nation compensated for women in masculine jobs through beauty and fashion.

Rupp, Leila J. Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945 (Princeton University Press, 2016).

Leila Rupp describes how WWII propaganda influenced how women presented themselves. Rupp analyzes propaganda from World War II and the effects that the propaganda had on the nation. She goes into detail on the changes in women’s status and how their status is depicted through wartime propaganda. Specifically, how women prior to the war were only considered homemakers and the war gave them more status and independence through more job opportunities. The source is beneficial because of her thorough analysis on how women were depicted in propaganda. She discusses in great detail how women were challenging gender roles through contributing to the war effort.