Navy Haute Couture

An article about the creation of uniforms for the United States Navy’s WAVES program.

“The Waves’ Uniforms: “Womanly, Workmanlike,” pg.1 

“The Waves’ Uniforms: “Womanly, Workmanlike,” The New York Herald Tribune, August 29, 1942, page 1 and 6, article and illustrations. New-York Historical Society Library.

“The Waves’ Uniforms: “Womanly, Workmanlike,” pg. 6

“The Waves’ Uniforms: “Womanly, Workmanlike,” The New York Herald Tribune, August 29, 1942, page 1 and 6, article and illustrations. New-York Historical Society Library.

Document Text


The Waves’ Uniforms: ‘Womanly, Workmanlike’
Navy Discloses Designs, Mainbocher Tells What Influenced His Styling
By Katherine Vincent
Fashion Editor
Fashion designer Mainbocher designed uniforms for the WAVES, the Navy’s newly formed division for women.
This article was written by a fashion reporter.
Mainbocher has dressed the American Waves, and the Navy released the news to the press yesterday. He has passed exactly two months working out the problem, and his regulation collection, which will be presented to the press next week, was done in six weeks. Mainbocher designed the uniforms in less than two months. The uniforms will be shown to the press in two weeks.
“This is all awfully serious,” he said the other day. “Suitability in clothes has long been a formula of mine, but this time I thought of the dignity and tradition of the Navy as well. I thought of comfort, freedom and, of course, the lines of a woman’s body.” Mainbocher took the work seriously. He thought about the importance of the Navy and the work the women will do. He also wanted women to look and feel good in the uniforms.
The overcoat which he designed first was to have had a swinging back, but wisely he realized that a woman likes her waistline punctuated, so he put a trim back belt on it, with vague fullness below. He revised his design of the overcoat because he wanted women to be able to accentuate their waists with a belt.
He designed a soft, rounded collar over trim revers. In bad weather the collar on the raincoat curls high around the neck and buttons securely under the chin. He created a collar on the raincoat that can be pulled up high in bad weather.
A havelock made of matching navy blue wool is worn over the regulation hat and is planned for bad weather to protect the face and hair. The havelock was named for Sir Henry Havelock, nineteenth-century English general, but Mainbocher was inspired by the headgear of Civil war soldiers. He included a havelock – or neck cover – that can be attached the required hat in bad weather. Civil War solider used havelocks.
The regulation hat is trim and free of unnecessary touches. The brim rolls up softly on both sides and ducks forward. . . The required hat does not include unnecessary designs. It has a brim that can be rolled, depending on the occasion and the weather.
Further artistic juggling includes zipping out the warm lining of the raincoat. . . (There are three blouses with V for Victory in quiet seams on the front. They come in white cotton and in navy or reserve blue rayon.) Mainbocher paid attention to details. He included a warm lining that can be removed from the raincoat. The shirt’s seams are in the shape of the letter ‘V’ for ‘Victory.’ Shirts comes in white, navy, or light blue.
Low-heeled shoes, shoulder-strap bags and gloves are in soft black leather and pockets on jackets and overcoats are lined in black. The uniform also includes black shoes, bags, and gloves.
The regulation officers’ uniform has a semi-fitted jacket of navy blue wool, matching six-gored skirt, brass buttons and gold braid on the sleeves to denote rank. The regular enlisted women will wear the same suit but with bone buttons and no braid. The regular uniform is navy blue and the summer uniform is a duplicate in white.
. . .
There are differences between officer uniforms and non-officer uniforms. Officers wear gold buttons and a gold brain on their sleeves.
Uniforms come in navy blue and summer white.
Mainbocher, one of the world’s greatest designers, was in the armed forces of the last world war. An American by birth, he achieved fame in Parish as an important member of the haute couture. Mainbocher is one of the most famous designers in the world. He was in the army during World War I.
He told us that in the course of turning out this job for the Waves he weighed the quarter inches and the half inches. He wanted the costumes to be workmanlike, sturdy, and womanly. “These women, all American women, are going to do a fine, intelligent jobs but they do not have to look like men.” Mainbocher told reporters that he looked at every detail during this project. He wanted the uniforms to be workmanlike and womanly. Although the women will do great work usually done by men, they deserve uniforms designed specifically for women.
“You can make a mistake on one dress in a collection, but think of one mistake repeated 10,000 times. That was part of my responsibility.”  Mainbocher explained that designing a uniform for thousands of women is different than making a dress that might be worn by one woman.
Mainbocher has volunteered his services in designing the Waves informs and the general production will be handled by several manufacturers. Mainbocher volunteered to design the uniforms for free. Multiple factories will produce the uniforms.

“The Waves’ Uniforms: “Womanly, Workmanlike,” The New York Herald Tribune, August 29, 1942, page 1 and 6, article and illustrations. New-York Historical Society Library.