Women in Uniform

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And why should we write about women in uniforms, you may ask?
Well, first and foremost uniforms and especially those related to WWII were synonymous with good quality - works of extreme finery mixed with the best technology available at the time, whilst also being the most practical wear for all types of weather.


You'd be surprised to know that the 'siren suit', a one piece designed to be worn in air raid shelters throughout the night and which simply was a suit with nothing more than a comfortable zip, was extremely popular in those days for the effective warmth it generated, and was often bought for children for this one specific quality. Rumour has it, that even Churchill loved his own 'siren suit' so much that he was often found wearing around his house on a regular basis.

The Women Voluntary Service (WVS)

At first, there was an armband with the role within the organisation written on it. Founded in 1938, it had over one million members by 1941.

During the Blitz, it was the WVS that provided a range of support for air raid victims. Wearing a full WVS uniform was regarded as a highly priced privilege and one which was accorded only to those undertaking certain responsibilities. Wearing the uniform was not compulsory, but women who wanted to wear it had to purchase it.

Designed by Digby Morton, there were a variety of uniform items available that could work in any combination. Most civilians chose to wear the armband with a hat when on duty.

Women of the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) stand alongside the mobile canteen donated to Britain by the people of Montserrat. The WVS are running the canteen on behalf of the Ministry of Food.

The WVS played an immense part in evacuation. It is estimated that they helped to move around 1.5 million people (mainly children) out of 'evacuation areas' in the early days of September 1939. They would be there in the evacuation areas, to help make sure the evacuees made it onto the right transports out of the cities. They would be there during the journey, to offer comfort and refreshment to evacuees too.

One evacuee remembered, 'A lady in a green uniform [WVS]] and large hat, leaned in the window and gave us all a little packet of nuts and raisins and an orange.'

Before the evacuation, the WVS had been responsible for carrying out surveys to identify possible accommodation in reception areas, making sure billets were available for incoming evacuees.

The Auxiliary Territorial Service Uniform (ATS)

People took great pride in their uniforms and appearance, however the ATS uniform was considered the most hideous of all uniforms, as opposed to Navy uniforms, which showed lots more people wanting to join that segment of the army, because of the uniform in itself. Talking about vanity! However, if you love military surplus clothing, make sure to take a look at our range!

The ATS uniform was a jacket with skirt, shirt, necktie, and a Sam Brown Equipment Belt.

One of the most admired element of the ATS was the officer's field service cap. Made of fine quality moleskin fabric with apple green piping and bronzed buttons, which could be bought and worn instead of the standard issue cap. Browse our military surplus range today and see if you can get yourself a gorgeous vintage cap!

The ATS uniform was a jacket with skirt, shirt, necktie, and a Sam Brown Equipment Belt.

One of the most admired element of the ATS was the officer's field service cap. Made of fine quality moleskin fabric with apple green piping and bronzed buttons, which could be bought and worn instead of the standard issue cap. Browse our military surplus range today and see if you can get yourself a gorgeous vintage cap!

More than 250.000 women served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), making it the largest of the women's services. Duties ranged from clerical work to manning anti-aircraft searchlights and batteries. The uniform was considered the least appealing of all the women's services.

One of these caps was worn by the figure known as The Blonde Bombshell" in the famous ATS Poster design by Abraham Game.

Women's Land Army (WLA)

The women who worked for the Women's Land Army (WLA) were commonly known as Land Girls. In forestry, Women's Timber Corps were known as Lumber Jills. At the height of the First World War the Land Army had a full-time membership of 23,000 members. The number exceeded 80,000 during the Second World War.

There was also an official magazine called 'The Land Girl' with its official song:

"Back to the Land, we must all lend a hand, To the farms and the fields we must go, There's a job to be done, Though we can't fire a gun, We can still do our bit with the hoe."

The Land Army uniform consisted of green jumpers, brown breeches or dungarees, brown felt hats and khaki overcoats.

Check out our authentic army surplus garments and dungarees to recreate the look! As the Land Army was not a military force, however, uniform was not compulsory. The WLA badge depicted a wheat sheaf as a symbol of their agricultural work.

By 1943, more than 80,000 women were working in the Land Army. The Land Girls did a wide range of jobs, including milking cows, lambing, managing poultry, ploughing, gathering crops, digging ditches, catching rats and carrying out farm maintenance work. Some 6,000 women worked in the Timber Corps, chopping down trees and running sawmills.

Initially, Land Girls were asked to join in volunteering, but later they earned £1.85 for a minimum of 50 hours work a week. In 1944, wages were increased by £1 to £2.85. However, as the wages were paid by the farmer, rather than directly by the state, it was difficult to ensure that everyone was paid properly.

The WLA came under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture, but its head was the formidable Lady Denman. Married to the former Governor General of Australia, Lady Denman was a leading figure in the Women's Institute movement, and also had a close interest in rural affairs. Her home, Balcombe Place in Sussex, became the WLA headquarters. Each district had its own WLA representative, who was expected to ensure the Land Girls were being treated well and were working effectively. The Land Army was disbanded in 1950.

The Work Uniform

But aside from the military element of uniforms - which were envied not only because of the institutionalised power they represented and because of the quality with which they were made - WWII uniforms meant a whole load of working uniforms too.

Because of the rationing on clothing and fabrics for instance, people who worked in factories had to be a lot more careful with their casual wear; it was common by 1941 that any job ad poster included a uniform as part of the position, which made it appealing for many women who struggled with their coupons; joining the working force was liberating in many ways, including the fact that it provided extra good quality shoes or overalls which they could wear to protect their own clothes.

Moreover, working uniforms allowed trousers to become further more accepted among women.


Distractions aside, we shall not forget another great function when it comes to uniforms (and military surplus clothes still today) - they were, and are, empowering, transformative and this can be said particularly in the case of women, who, let's not forget, at the turn of the XX century still didn't wear any type of trousers yet (unless they wanted to cause havoc). So how did these uniforms transform women and the military surplus fashion that we now wear without even thinking about it?

Well, let's have a look at some of these garments that make the history of the woman's military and work uniform in WWII interesting on more than just the aesthetic level.

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