by Tegan Kehoe and Camille Myers Breeze
In last week's post, Jen Nason introduced you to the American Women’s Voluntary Services and the collection of WWII uniforms and accessories we are conserving for Wheaton College. Today we will take a closer look at the garments themselves, and what we they tell us about fashion and rationing during WWII.
1940’s women’s fashions for daily wear were heavily influenced by the war, even outside of the armed forces and support organizations. Women favored tailored blouses, jackets, and knee-length skirts. They were practical, sturdy, and used relatively little fabric, but had feminine details such as shoulder pads and higher hemlines than 1930’s styles. These fashions were sometimes called utility fashion, named after the Utility Clothing Scheme, one of the rationing schemes used in the UK. An exhibit on this topic, entitled “Beauty as Duty,” came to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2011.
An indication not only of the war-time economy but also of the long duration of the conflict is the variety of fabrics found in the Wheaton AWVS collection. Among the collection, we find two pocketbooks, two ties, one belt, five garrison caps, two hats, three skirts, three jackets, and one dress. There are no fewer than 5 different fabrics represented, from 100% cotton plain weave to different styles or types of rayon.
The light-blue cotton skirt, belt, and hat could perhaps be the earliest in the collection. Sgt. Burgess Scott's 1945 article Clothing and the War states that cotton was extremely difficult to come by and rayon was the most common substitute. A manufactured cellulosic fiber, rayon is neither a synthetic nor truly a natural fiber. It can mimic the characteristics of silk, linen, and cotton but rayon has poor elastic regain and was best dry cleaned.
Another interesting feature of this collection is that two of the three jackets have wooden buttons that are painted a gold color to look like metal. During WWII, metal was in short supply, so it was considered patriotic to use substitutes whenever possible and donate metal to scrap drives to be recycled for military purposes. The Wheaton College collection has extra sets of buttons, apparently salvaged from other garments.
Wheaton's AWVS collection is in very good condition and had probably been dry cleaned before going into storage decades ago. Stay tuned for our final AWVS blog, a show-and-tell of the uniforms before and after conservation.
by Courtney Jason
When this WWI Army jacket came to Museum Textile Services, we did not know too much about it. According to the client, it had belonged to their grandfather, who was an Irish immigrant who enlisted to escape the orphanage he was living in. Beyond that, the rest was unclear. In the intervening weeks, much has come to light about Alexander G. McLean, his uniform, and his service in the Great War for Civilization.
McLean's WWI jacket before conservation.
McLean's army jacket is a 1917 pattern jacket, which is distin- guishable from the earlier 1912 pattern by a single line of stitching around the sleeve cuffs. Details like this can be found on the US Army's website in an extensive PDF by David Cole.
Recently the client returned with more items belonging to their grandfather. The buttons, pins, business cards, and books have inspired us to begin our research anew, and while we still do not know a lot about the life of Alexander McLean, we are developing a more complete picture. We know he joined the Army with the Yankee Division, and that he likely spent the majority of his time abroad fighting in France.
The first step of the project is to mount the jacket for display. It has been carefully vacuumed and an archival support pillow has been constructed. Next it will be mount it to a fabric-covered solid-support panel and covered with a UV filtering acrylic shadow box. When the jacket is complete, additional shadow boxes will be constructed for the other items.
While there are still a lot of unanswered questions, we are looking forward to learning more about the life of Alexander McLean. Be sure to check our Facebook page for updates as we continue to work on this project.
by Michelle Drummey
Sometimes a big mystery can come in a small package. Museum Textile Services recently acquired a jar of 20th-century buttons to aid in conservation treatments, such as replacing missing buttons from garments. Of all the buttons, a single one has inspired curiosity in the MTS team.
Crafted from what appears to be thin brass-colored metal, the stamped face of the hollow button bears an image of two figures surrounding a crown atop a crest or shield. Circling the image is text reading, “LUDOVICUS REX PLURES NON CAPIT ORBIS,” which translates as, “There is no room in the world for more than one King Ludovicus.” While this button is clearly modern, I wondered if it is a reproduction of an older design. As it turns out, these buttons are popping up throughout Europe, as well as in in Russia and the United States. The internet is abuzz with button collectors and even numismatists trying to figure out who King Ludovicus was.
The challenge is that the Latin name Ludovicus can translate into a number of names, including Louis, Ludwig, or even Luigi. Ironically, while the button states that there can only be one King Ludovicus, history says otherwise, as Kings bearing various forms of the name Louis reigned across Europe, as far back as the time of Charlemagne.
Although I’m no expert on buttons or European heraldry, the image encircled by the text may be the key. At the very center of the button are three cross-like shapes within an emblem resembling a crest, topped by a crown. After comparing our button to other examples, it seems that those three shapes may actually be fleurs-de-lis. I discovered that our button actually looks a lot like the insignia of French monarchy during the 17th and 18th centuries. An almost identical motif can be seen in this photograph of a carved ceiling at Versailles.
It appears, therefore, that Ludovicus Rex may refer to King Louis of France...but there was more than one King Louis, of course. The Palace of Versailles, where the above image above was taken, was the official residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until 1790, included Louis XIII through Louis XVI.
Still, some researchers claim that the King referred to on our button was King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who notably built the castle which stood as inspiration for the iconic Sleeping Beauty castle of Disney fame. Will we ever know who King Ludovicus is? Perhaps one day, with the help of specialists, we may.