Vintage Fashion on View at Morris Museum

A collection of jewelry, purses, shoes and headwear from the 1940s – 1960s is open to the public until July 22.

Remember when pillbox hats were all the rage? How about when everybody who was anybody sported a stole? Whether you are a Millennial or a Baby Boomer, the Morris Museum exhibit, “Fashion Forwards, a Survey of Post-WWII Fashion Accessories,” will bring out the fashionista in you. The show, which runs through July 22, offers a style-savvy visual tour through history via a compilation of accessories, dresses and shoes from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

The curators of the Morris County exhibit put the purpose of the collection into a timeless perspective: “Fashion is more than personal taste and style. It is a reflection of a moment in time… Something as trivial as the outfit you pick out each morning is ultimately determined by things as monumental as world war and social revolution.”

The show poses these questions: “What is your favorite accessory?” and “What does it say about you?”


The 1940s. "Fashion Forwards: A Survey of Post WWII Fashion Accessories" at Morris Museum.

The 1940s. “Fashion Forwards: A Survey of Post WWII Fashion Accessories” at Morris Museum.

The 1940s section focuses on World War II, when many materials were rationed in the United States. Shoes were in short supply because leather and rubber were needed for the war effort. In these days of closets dedicated to shoes, it’s hard to imagine a time when ladies could purchase only three pairs of shoes a year! And there were only four color choices: black, white, town brown and army russet.

Fabric was also limited because much of it was used for soldiers’ uniforms. Although the early 1940s were characterized by plain and dark colors, boxy suits, small handbags, patriotic metal pins, and understated beaded jewelry, the fashion of the time managed a simplistic glamour.

The era’s saving grace came in the form of hats made of cotton or wool. One of the museum show’s standout accessories is a round, French-designed, black velvet hat complete with feather trim. It’s reminiscent of something Gene Tierney’s character would’ve donned in the classic 1944 noir film, Laura. There’s even something stylishly practical about the bandanas and rugged overalls of the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” uniform. Minimalist as it may be, this period of the exhibit shows that women were still fashionable while taking up war-essential professions that were left behind when American men were drafted.

1947 – 1955

1947-1955. "Fashion Forwards: A Survey of Post WWII Fashion Accessories" at Morris Museum.

1947-1955. “Fashion Forwards: A Survey of Post WWII Fashion Accessories” at Morris Museum.

Allied victory in the war ushered a resurgence of ultra-feminine, high fashion in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Rationing ended and consumerism increased. Spring colors—pink, red, purple and yellow—made comebacks. Thanks to the rebound of France’s fashion cues, which had been stifled during the war, box shoulders became sloped shoulders, pin skirts became voluminous and crinoline-shaped, waists were cinched to create hourglass silhouettes and a lavish look replaced frugality. Juxtaposed with the early-1940s section of the show, a stark contrast between eras is evident.

It’s clear that World War II had a pervasive effect on style. The shoes and hats of the ‘50s show more elaborate designs. One constant across the ‘40s and ‘50s: the importance of hats. Feathers and veils and rhinestones, oh my! Pearls, flowery pins and cutesy handbags with feminine embellishments characterized the pretty-chic era of the fifties. Through that exhibit glass, spectators are staring into some modest version of Princess Grace Kelly’s 1950’s wardrobe (think Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thieffrom 1955).

1960 – 1967

1960-1967. “Fashion Forwards: A Survey of Post WWII Fashion Accessories” at Morris Museum.

The bulk of the Morris Museum exhibit is dedicated to the 1960s, a decade of tremendous social, cultural and political unrest. This era saw a change in the way people viewed themselves and nuances in the way clothes were marketed to the masses. Young people became central to fashion as they were granted access to affordable and modern trends. Funky color designs, shortened hems and flagrant textures, along with bigger hair, reigned supreme. (The Supremes, pun intended!)

The exhibit represents more freedom and experimentation in the way women dressed than in previous decades. Hats, which were essential accessories for many 1940s and 1950s outfits, became optional. One of the more popular aspects of the typical 1960s fashion accessory was the generous use of plastic and other manmade materials. Boots, jewelry and handbags made with plastic and leather assured stylishness without the hefty prices of expensive fabrics and European haute couture. Evidence of the mass production pioneered in 60s fashion can still be seen in today’s trends.

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