Science Service, Up Close: Making Do

In 1940, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, exhibited clothing styles designed to accommodate new roles for women in the industrial workplace. Coverettes and one-piece suits were intended to provide modest covering, adaptable for all climates, and with plenty of pockets. Emily C. Davis’s article for "Science News Letter" (July 19, 1941) even included a pattern for the hat shown on the model. Record Unit 7091, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2015-003211.

In 1940, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, exhibited clothing styles designed to accommodate new roles for women in the industrial workplace. Coverettes and one-piece suits were intended to provide modest covering, adaptable for all climates, and with plenty of pockets. Record Unit 7091, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2015-003212.

In 1940, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, exhibited clothing styles designed to accommodate new roles for women in the industrial workplace. Coverettes and one-piece suits were intended to provide modest covering, adaptable for all climates, and with plenty of pockets. Record Unit 7091, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2015-003213.

In 1941, as the United States began to gear up for wartime production, government planners realized that expanding the industrial and farm workforce to include more women would create new challenges. Factory jobs, for example, would be hazardous if female workers wore full skirts or loose sleeves. In response, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), designed a line of clothing to accommodate these situations. Coveralls, slacks, and one-piece suits aimed to preserve modesty, adapt to a range of climate conditions, and include plenty of pockets.

In June 1941, USDA designers Clarice Louisba Scott (b. 1899) and Margaret Smith presented their designs for "defense fashions" at a meeting of the American Home Economics Association in Chicago. Trouser cuffs were redesigned so they would be less likely to catch in machinery, and pockets were pleated so they could hold items normally stowed in a purse. Contemporary fashion was not ignored altogether, however. One of the sample one-piece "coverettes" had been sewn in pink and white striped cotton.

Pattern manufacturers were enlisted and young seamstresses were encouraged to make their own garments.

Emily C. Davis's article for Science News Letter (July 19, 1941) even included a pattern for a conical hat constructed from pie-shaped fabric casings stiffened with cardboard:

Cut two circles of fabric about 21 inches in diameter. Pin together and mark into 14 pie-shaped segments, placing one segment line on the straight of the goods. Cut out two segments. Stitch through the dividing lines of the remaining segments seam the pie together, forming a broad cone with 12 triangular casings into which cardboard casings may be placed for stiffening. To hold the cardboard in place, attach enameled snap fasteners near the rim of each segment. Inside, fasten tie strings, half an inch wide, at the peak of the crown and about three inches on each side.

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