Setting II – Historical fiction and the details that make it real: Fashion

When writing my historical fiction novel Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me?? I needed to make sure that the fashion of each particular year was accurate. Honey was very involved in fashion and leaving it out wouldn’t have been possible (whenever Honey begins a story, she usually starts out with what she was wearing!) Given that the novel takes place between 1939-1945, I couldn’t very well attribute certain attire to the wrong year or even season. Also, the rationing of WWII played a big part in what was fashionable. One must also take into account the fashion icons of the day, including (but limited to) Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, and Diana Barrymore. Though she died in 1937, Jean Harlow was one of Honey’s favorite movie stars and modeled her platinum blonde hair after the bombshell.

In order to perform accurate research, I used a detailed WWII timeline and the newspaper archives for St. Augustine, FL (also, the Library of Congress has an excellent collection here: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ ). I perused articles relating to the war in addition to movie information and local fashion ads. I reviewed the different seasons in addition to fashions for both men and women. Here is an example:

1942 – Silk ration: girls put makeup on their legs to cover up freckles. Wool ration: NO WOOL or wool evening coats. Quilted velveteen became popular, 4 inch lace-up bootie heels with patterns, blunt front closed-toe heels to emphasize tiny feet. Appliquéd bows. Square necklines, culottes. For dresses: tissue paper taffeta, breezy chiffon, printed sheers. Hair half up with ribbon ties, pompadour bangs, gloves with bracelets over. Off the shoulder tops of dresses. Puff (overflowing) skirts. Bloomer dresses with blouse tips, hits just below the knee, in gingham. For Men, lapel-less suits, cuff-less trousers, colorful shirts.

Making sure that your research is reliable allows you to put trust in you work, but serves another purpose for the reader: if you assume that your reader is knowledgeable about your time period, you can immerse them in their history. As such, you will not antagonize them with unrealistic details that pull them from the narrative.

Notable Hollywood stars of the early 1940s:

Carole Lombard

Bette Davis made smoking fashionable in movies

Diana Barrymore

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