The Farmerette of World War One might not be well known, but Rosie the Riveter of World War Two is one of the most iconic American images of that conflict. Women streamed into all kinds of jobs during the war, from offices to railroads, but those who worked in shipyards and airplane factories caught the public imagination. While not all of these women were young, some of those who chose wartime industrial work as their first jobs are still alive today. These former Rosies were recently honored at a White House reception and a new museum in Richmond California, site of one of the biggest ship builders. Susan, who writes the must read blog Witness to Fashion, sent me the links.
What was unusual about the Rosies? Not that they were “one of the first to break the gender barrier in the American workplace,” as the author of the San Francisco Chronicle article states. Women had been breaking gender barriers for a long time, moving onto the staff at newspapers and into boardrooms. Instead it was that they were taking on high paying unionized industrial jobs that many people didn’t think they could do. The Rosies proved them wrong.
Looking at these women gives us a chance to reflect on changing dress codes since World War Two. Agnes Moore, pictured on the right, dressed up in a black suit, hat, and gloves to apply for her welding job. At the White House, she wore a vest, turtleneck, and pants. (Clearly all those honored dressed in a Rosie-like outfits for the occasion, including the colorful bandanas that they used cover their hair.) But this casual look is continued at the opening reception at the Richmond Museum.
What are the big changes? Older women weren’t the first to embrace pants, but now they wear pants most (if not all) the time; they have set aside their gloves, although a few still wear hats. Unlike the older women of previous generations, they are certainly not afraid of bright colors anymore. And today’s version of the sensible shoe might just be the gym shoe.