Decadence and Utility After WWII

At Grapefruit Moon Gallery, we are always certain that one can never own the past, just care for it. Such is the case with accessories, often more durable than clothing and changing caretakers with frequency, like incredible Lucite and other unique mid-Century purses. These purses are a testament to the post-war years of mid century America, the tension between utility and decadence.

After World War II, the second major world war in as many decades, global restrictions and rationing led to a moment that would forever change fashion. In 1947, in spite of, or perhaps to spite, the deprivation of reconstruction, Christian Dior created a collection that celebrated both a woman’s figure and the end of war in a decadent swathe of fabric. Dubbed the ‘New Look,’ Dior’s creations, named after graceful flowers, used an extravagant twenty yards of only the finest fabrics in long, wide skirts, when post-war dresses were using three total. And thus the luxurious fate was sealed, with women the world over looking to France for the New Look to combat post-war fatigue and to help forget the deprivations and losses of the 1940s. 

Christian Dior 'Bar' suit and jacket, spring/summer 1947 © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christian Dior 'Bar' suit and jacket, spring/summer 1947
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Across the ocean from the ravaged and rebuilding continent, America was facing its own post war efforts at returning to ‘normalcy.’ With the war having wrought changes on a social and fashion level, opening up gender roles and allowing women more freedom in dress, the New Look faced some resistance. Anti-New Look clubs sprang up around the country, committed to short hemlines and wielding scissors. For a country dedicated to the idea of equality, feminizations of dress were not readily accepted. However, in a uniquely American twist on decadence, the craze that hit the US in the late 1940s was Lucite purses. An American creation, the new plastic purses were produced by noted designers such as Rialto, Llewellyn, Patricia of Miami, Wilardy, Miami Handbags, and Myles Originals. Available in a variety of eccentric shapes, colors, and styles, these inventive and practical carryalls were used by women of all ages and income levels all over the country, in an American response to the desire to move past the war. 

machine age 1940 lucite purse with strapped metal case

machine age 1940 lucite purse with strapped metal case



 

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