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To begin a WWII impression, first decide civilian or military. Some things will carry over and some things you can certainly do without when you first start. What was so hard for me to realize when first starting a military impression, was that in the US army in WWII, women were recruited and then the government thought that maybe they should have some uniforms for these women. Lots of women went through part or all of the war with ersatz uniforms and equipment. This is especially true if you choose an overseas WAC or nurse impression. Stateside this may only have been true for the first few weeks or months of service. I can only mention the various branches of the service for women because I have only studied WAC and ANC so far.

To start: a little history of the WAC. The director and first commander was Col. Oveta Culp Hobby (remember that name when you get to dress uniforms), and a champion of women in service was Eleanor Roosevelt. There are a gazillion pictures of Mrs. Roosevelt and Col. Hobby with the "poster girl WACs" especially in the infancy of the WAC. And oh yeah, WAC stands for Women's Army Corp. This was shortened from WAAC in 1943 when the WAC was made officially part of the army and auxiliary was dropped from the name. The slogan of the WAC was "Free a Man to Fight," thus WACs were doing almost every job imaginable short of fighting-cooks and bakers, secretarial, motor pool, medical clinic workers, photographers, cartographers, drafters, just to name a few.

There were of course other branches of service for women in WWII. There were Women Marines, who were in existence in WWI and called Marinettes then. (I have talked to several vets who said they called the Women Marines BAMs - big assed marines). There were SPARS of the Coast Guard - Semper Paratus Always Ready, WAVES in the Navy - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service; WASPS and WAAFS if you've just gotta be a pilot and have the "where's my plane?" impression. These women pilots were not members of the armed forces; they were civilian employees and were used for ferrying planes back and forth, to England from the States for example.

OK, now for your stuff. And remember, you'll find 800 different methods for getting your things, depending on who you talk to, but I had no idea where to get anything when I first started, so here goes. We'll start from the feet and go up. A pair of penny loafers or saddle shoes is a good bet. These can be worn for your civilian impression and have been photographed on girls doing PT or KP in the WAC. Of course, there were issue shoes in the army and originals are available. However, they are harder to find unless you have a small size foot. Not impossible did I say and no reason not to have good shoes-it seems like people ignore this part of their uniform. When you first start, a pair of low heeled brown lace up shoes will work. You'll want some all cotton white fold over socks, again for military or civilian. These are especially handy when you're wearing a cotton civilian dress in the summertime with casual shoes and wouldn't want to wear nylons. Then you need some nylons in a natural color with a seam in the back, of the same color, not tan nylons with a black seam. Oh yeah, and a garter belt to hold them up. You'll need a slip for any impression-there were military issue under wonders but that's not of the utmost importance when you're just beginning. And now for your clothes: have a ball choosing a civilian dress. The most versatile choice is a cotton daytime dress. Think about this like modern day clothes - you can always dress up something plainer for going out somewhere, but would you ever wear your fanciest long sequined dress grocery shopping in the middle of the day?

And badda bing, you're dressed, unless you're portraying a WAC, then you'll need something else. The easiest to get is a field impression for army nurse or something other than an office job if you're WAC. This is just the simplest because they are being reproduced now. You can always get whatever impression you want, we're just going for easiest to begin with. These clothes are called HBTs because they are made of herringbone twill. And don't worry, they are not very flattering but guess what, the girls in WWII didn't like them either. So you're not the only one whose pants are too big or too short or your sleeves are too long or won't button right. They consist of pants and a shirt or occasionally coveralls (this would mainly be if you want to do a WAC mechanic or driver, etc…) And yep, you can wear a man's size if its available (you might find it cheaper and not uncommon, just not the norm.) You'll need plain white t-shirts to wear under the HBT shirt, scratchy scratchy if not. For a field nurse or WAC, get a "Daisy Mae" hat, it's the floppy round HBT material hat. Then you can get your accessories-dog tags, insignia - at least 2nd Lt if a nurse - stethoscope, etc…

So you want to be a little more dressed up? If you're a civilian, look over some catalogs of the 40's to find a good idea of the style and fit of clothes. That's not something you can really sum in a paragraph or two, and you'll be very surprised at some of the styles available. At most events, there's going to be a dance or so, and this is when you can go all out. The military dress uniform came in summer and winter weights, wool or cotton. This uniform was called Class A. For enlisted women it was a skirt (in different shades of brown/green depending on the manufacturer or the time during the war. For officers, the skirt was more a pink/light brown color, but then, you won't need to start right out as an officer, eh? Then you get a woolen shirt (this is for wintertime-which doesn't necessarily mean only the cold time of the year. Some WACs went to basic training in Florida with winter weight uniforms) and tie. The tie is really supposed to be that short. Your green wool fitted uniform coat will finish that off. Sometimes you'll get an original with insignia on it, otherwise, you'll need to add it yourself, and more on that later. Then to top it off, your hat, either a "overseas" hat which is the long squared off one you see most of the guys wearing, but it's tapered more. If you get lucky or rich, then you can get a "Hobby" hat - I told you to remember that name. These are perfectly round and don't fit and give you a headache unless you have a perfectly round head. This is something else that the girls in WWII didn't like and wasn't very popular. They didn't travel well and get squashed a lot. Don't waste your money… Then you've got the same uniform again for summer wear, this was a cotton khaki uniform, and very rarely do you see the jackets being worn with this uniform, they are out there, but don't worry about it, especially at first. And when you run out of things to spend your money on, get an army issue WAC purse. That is the thing to complete your impression but not vital to it.

There are lots of little things to remember: red lipstick, red lipstick, red lipstick. Women were encouraged to be women even in the military, light makeup and nail polish, hair done and feminine at all times. Get dressed from the outside in and first, then you can get a good period girdle, brassiere or other under wonders. There are a bazillion hairstyles just like today but there are a few basic ones to start with. There are countless doo dads to accessorize with, both civilian and military, and I'll just mention a few here. Civilian impressions will need hats, gloves, different shoes, suitcases, train cases, etc… And you can do as much or as little as you want - I imagine you'll catch the fever and be always on the lookout for some new material or pattern or original dress. You won't be able to help yourself. If you are military, you might use a Musette bag for toting your stuff around, the nurses in WWII did. You'll want a canteen and cup to drink out of, a mess kit to eat out of, a belt to carry stuff on. You get the picture, you'll always want something else to tote with you. And regarding insignia, remember this: rank on the right. Then if WAC, you want the Palaes Athena and if ANC the caduceus. And I'm sure I've forgotten something, but feel free to email me at jpgrl@mindspring.com or Robin Mead at robin@hardscrabblefarm.com

Related Links:

Paper Dolls - Women's WWII Living History Group

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