“Beauty as Duty” Exhibit at the MFA

A couple of days ago, I spent about three hours in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. While there, I walked through and read about the “Beauty as Duty” exhibit. These two rooms contained more information and humor than I could have ever guessed.

In response to World War II in Britain, clothing was used as propaganda for the war effort. Women and men alike experienced rationing throughout their daily life, and clothing was no exception. However, companies like Jacqmar decided to take advantage of the situation and use clothing rationing as a means for morale boosting and patriotic and nationalistic sentiment. Most notably, women’s scarves provided a perfect opportunity for carrying out this goal.

On a scarf designed by Arnold Lever for the company of Jacqmar, the following is inscribed on a silk plain weave scarf with printed text and sequins:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess who lived in a world of her own with a wicked stepmother who kept all her clothing coupons for herself and wouldn’t part with any of them not even one and so the poor little Princess hadn’t any clothes to wear and so couldn’t even accept dates for lunch at Pruniers nor dancing at Bagtelle and so she just sat on her little trundle bed weeping her lovely blue […] or grey/green eyes out which made her mascara run like absolute mad until one day she said dammit enough of this and went out into the sunshine which you don’t get much of in England and what do you think happened why she saw a terribly handsome Prince riding towards her on his Jeep with one of “those scarves” in his knapsack so now she can go anywhere at anytime unless she falls for it and gets married – the stupid little thing.

Scarves like the one shown below were most common during the fall of 1940 through the spring of 1941, a time in the war called ‘The Blitz’. However, British companies and even the British government saw the significance of this fashion movement. This spurred on the so called “democratization of fashion” in Britain, and as a result, textile quality was increased with time.

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