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Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 (Paperback)

Ready for Action

Colour Books P&S History > Clothing & Fashion P&S History > Social History Photographic Books WWII Women of History

By Lucy Adlington
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 296
ISBN: 9781526766465
Published: 17th June 2020



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What would you wear to war?

How would you dress for a winter mission in the open cockpit of a Russian bomber plane? At a fashion show in Occupied Paris? Singing in Harlem, or on fire watch in Tokyo..?

Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 is a unique, illustrated insight into the experiences of women worldwide during World War Two and its aftermath. The history of ten tumultuous years is reflected in clothes, fashion, accessories and uniforms. As housewives, fighters, fashion designers or spies, women dressed the part when they took up their wartime roles.

Attractive to a general reader as well as interesting to a specialist, Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 focuses on the experiences of British women, then expands to encompass every continent affected by war. Woven through all cultures and countries are common threads of service, survival, resistance and emotion. Historian Lucy Adlington draws on interviews with wartime women, as well as her own archives and costume collection. Well-known names and famous exploits are featured…and many never-before-told stories of quiet heroism.

You’ll indulge in luxury fashion, bridal ensembles and enticing lingerie, as well as thrifty make-do-and-mend. You’ll learn which essential garments to wear when enduring a bomb raid…and how a few scraps of clothing will keep you feeling human in a concentration camp.

Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 is richly illustrated throughout, with many previously unpublished photographs, 1940s costumes and fabulous fashion images.

History has never been better dressed.

This book clearly and comprehensively introduces women's lives across nations during the Second World War through the perspectives of fashion. The book is strongly recommended for all dress historians.

The Journal of Dress History - Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring 2021

Review by David Brown

Extremely well written with a real understanding of the textiles used and design aspects, it makes for a good read that is further enhanced by an incredible selection of drawings... For those who look for authentic clothes and accessories when dressing up for the ever-popular wartime events, this book will prove great boon.

Best of British, February 2021

At £30, a well-researched and presented book which provides a colourful insight into the life, exploits and heroism of the British and other women in diverse roles during WW2.

Essex Family Historian, December 2020

This fantastic book, published by Pen & Sword is a mine of beautiful photos, both of the time and current, which illustrate the fashion of the war period, but above all it is a journey to discover the life of women, of every latitude (and this is a merit), of every social class, of every condition, struggling with a tragedy to which they responded with the usual desire to live and with the hope of normality.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

The book is heavily illustrated and it offers a wonderful insight into the lives of real women, as there are also lots of quotes mentioned in the book. I just loved it! It is a fascinating book and, because of the subject and the way is written, it actually reads like a novel. 5/5 stars

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Coffee and Books

Again another fresh and interesting work in relation to the important performance of women during the Second World War.

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Miniaturas JM

Women’s Lives and Clothes in WW2: Ready for Action by Lucy Adlington is a fantastic book. I really enjoyed it.

I’m a sucker for these types of books anyway (everyday life in different times in history) but Adlington’s colorful and diverse book includes stories from real women, adding a very personal theme to many chapters. Readers are also gifted with many full color images from the era as well as a glimpse into the author’s extensive collection of WWII outfits.

Read the full review here

The Lazy Historian

Lucy Adlington's lavishly-illustrated and well-researched book goes some way to redressing the balance.

Read the full review here

Lost Cousins

What speaks so loudly through these snippets of individual history is, firstly, a huge sense of the dignity, grittiness and resourcefullness of women generally - something that comes across hugely poignantly. And secondly, just how much research Lucy Adlington has put into it. The level of detail is absorbing and delightful.

Family Tree, March 2020

This delightful book sheds light on the impact of war on women. The lives of most women in Britain changed significantly during WWII, but there are very few books that are dedicated to the lives and clothes. – Most Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here


It makes an absolute treasure trove for re-enactors and historians of the Home Front.

The Armourer, March 2020

As featured by

Antiques Diary, March/April 2020

Lucy has a style where it's like she's talking to you, just having a lovely chat and I really like that! If you're after a book on fashion during WW2 pick this up, you don't need anything else. It's just amazing!

Watch the full video review here

Lil's Vintage World

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I thought that this was an absolutely fascinating book!

The layout was great, I loved how the images dominated the pages as sometimes in books of this nature there tends to be more text than images - and for me pictures really do tell the story, this is a brilliant reference book and I was already recommending it before I had finished it - and I don't do that too often!

The captions were great and I loved being able to image what it would have been like during the period, and it makes you wonder what the personalities of the previous owners of some if the items would have been like - what did they witness and go through during the period of war too. I liked that the book covered the way that clothes were rationed as the focus for this does really seem to be on food items.

The sections on the different services that women took part in was great too - and I loved the detail regarding their uniforms. The book also showed just how ingenious women can be when needed and the images of the items made from silk parachutes was lovely.

It was well researched and the author clearly knows her topic and it shone through in the book. It is 5 stars from me for this one, it was a pleasure to read and packed full of wonderful picture and detail - very highly recommended!!

NetGalley, Donna Maguire

Printed on glossy paper, almost every page contains a picture, many in full colour. The written contents are well structured and informative and cover many areas that I hadn't expected from the title.

This really is about all aspects of women's lives in that era and covers all areas of the world, not just Europe. The chapter about concentration camps was particularly moving but the whole book left me with a deep respect for that generation. This is a wonderful book that would make a lovely gift. Reviewed by Brenda Gull on behalf of For The Love of Books.

Read the full review here

For the Love of Books

Another fascinating book, this time looking at how women dressed during the Second World War Years. Crammed with photographs and magazine illustrations, and, most importantly, women in uniform, this wonderful book is a grtand source of information, education and entertainment. Priceless.

Books Monthly

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an absolutely incredible book. It is informative, detailed, creative, and respectful. It offers an innovative and incredible look at Women's Lives during WW2 by looking at textiles as a tactile object that holds memories, stories and meanings of herstory. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

NetGalley, Naomi Clarke

I really enjoyed reading this book. I learned a lot. The author has done a lot of research and presents it in a clear organized manner. Each chapter centers on one aspect of women's lives during World War II. The author draws on first hand accounts of life during the war. It was fascinating to read about the importance clothes during the war and how they made do during the trying times. This book is far more than just a fashion history. There are lots of wonderful illustrations and photographs that accompany the text. Enjoy this informative look at the lives of women during Wartime.

NetGalley, Kari Cook

An unusual approach to WW2 seen through the lives of Women and the part that clothing played in their identity and role in the war years.
Well researched and cleverly produced with a wide ranging text covering every aspect imaginable. I found each chapter interesting in itself, with the range of quotes and references well recorded in a comprehensively indexed notes... through the bright and intelligent writing with anecdotes and many unique photographs and images that makes this a special publication. It will please and appeal naturally to women but all readers will marvel at the way Lucy brings history alive and brings issues up to date.

NetGalley, Richard Latham

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book, it's well researched and well written.
I'm interested in women's history and this was a good example of historical analysis of women during the war.
I liked how the book is organised, the well written texts and the pictures.
It's highly recommended!

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

This was extremely well researched... This is a great addition for anyone looking to expand their knowledge or their own personal research library on the topic.

NetGalley, Ashley Reyes

It was interesting to read about 'mundane' stuff like fabric scarcity, gender norms and responsibility. With WWII we are used to reading about the male side of things. And usually, when female stories are told, they are the extraordinary ones like the Soviet snipers or the German pilots. But here, we get the story of the everyday women, a just as important story to tell as the rest.

NetGalley, Maja Hansen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2: ready for Action" by Lucy Adlington expansively details the lives of military and civilian women during World War II. Author Adlington presents a multitude of photos, posters and slogans documenting the wartime lives of women from many different countries. The British, Dutch and French flags are red,white and blue. "In occupied Holland, a Dutch woman showed her defiance by hanging her wash...she always had three garments pegged next to each other, one red, one white, one blue. Flying the actual flag was strictly forbidden...small acts of defiance concerning clothes..." Thank you Lucy Adlington for a very informative read based upon your vast knowledge of the "wartime woman".

NetGalley, Fran Eichenauer

Fantastic, thorough guide to women's clothing during WWII. I loved how this book goes into depth about the different ways women were involved during the war, many of which I wasn't aware of. Lots of great photos, too.

NetGalley, Courtney Rodgers

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Exhaustively researched and very comprehensive, author Adlington explores every aspect of life for women during World War II. Rather than focusing only one area e.g., British or American lives, the book explores many diverse and interesting cultures, from Japan to New Zealand, Alaska to India.

The book contains 20 chapters, each covering various aspects of 1940s life. Topics as diverse as rationing and couture houses, black market and industrial work, maritime and leisure activities, cosmetics and maternity wear, weddings and agricultural work are covered. Although fashion plays a large part of the book, it is only one aspect of women's lives discussed.

Every chapters is lavishly illustrated -whether a personal photograph, magazine cover, personal notebook, studio images of vintage items, advertisements, pamphlets, drawings, and more. There is so much to see, all coming from so many different cultures. There is clearly a lot of work put into the writing and presentation of this book and what could only be arising from a personal collection over many years by the author.

Great for research or for those curious about the lives of our relatives during World War II, this is an extremely well done and comprehensive study of the era.

NetGalley, Andrea joki

Well researched and fascinating overview on the topic of what women wore during ww2.
Covering topics such as rationing and the coupon numbers decreasing. People wee just trying to survive this hard time. There are photos and illustrations sewing patterns and advertisements from the time. Very interesting and informative book.

NetGalley, Deanne Patterson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A wonderful fascinating look women's lives clothes was so interesting a very fun interesting read.

NetGalley, Abby Siverman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is delightful. The author provides solid references and stunning pictures from archives.

NetGalley, Jo M

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Adlington presents an interesting look on both civilian and military lives of women during the World War 2 in several different countries and what they wore, made do with what they had and how rationing of fabric and sewing material changed fashion. There are 20 chapters, each about a certain aspect of working women and situations one might find oneself in - both in military life and in a civilian life.

I had expected this to only cover the lives and fashion history of British women, but were happy to see all sort of countries on different continents being represented with in depth citations and discussions about the hardships everyone went through, whether fighting or not, during the five years (and onwards into the 50s for rationing). There were lots of photographs to help visualise the discussions in each chapter which made it interesting to read with a clear picture of what was being described.

NetGalley, Sarah Matsson-Klingzell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating look at WW2 through an unexpected lens - the clothes that women wore! It predominantly focusses on what women in the UK were wearing but touches on US, Europe & the Far East too

We follow see how fashion was influenced by military designs, and how practicality and availability overtook fashion in terms of what was available & suitable to wear. Aprons, which became a necessity to protect the clothes during housework rather than an accessory, were deliberately made colourful in order to boost morale and it was particularly interesting to read that the WVS greatcoat was specifically designed to be green-grey so as to not show the dirt & also to be loose enough & warm enough to be able to sleep in. When clothes were rationed, the average woman received 66 coupons a year (later reduced to 36) which were required for everything from coats to washcloths, yet the Queen (who we know better as the Queen Mother) received 1,277 coupons a year! It was particularly poignant to realise how few clothes people had in the 1940s compared to what people have now - "Gone are the days when any of us have either the money or the space to poses six of everything in our undies drawer but you should try to have three of everything, one set on your back, one in the wash and one clean and ready for any emergency" It is also interesting to see how the sort of embroidery I am familiar with from my Grandma/Mother's table cloths (mostly floral & often from transfers) became popular at this time as an easy way to revitalise faded or worn clothing, or as a way to disguise patches etc. We could learn a huge amount from the resourcefulness of these women though it is inconceivable today that a government order would be created to prohibit the use of elastic in all garments (except women's corsets & knickers) Elastic(Control of Use) Order 1943!

I really liked the pictures - from old sewing patterns & advertisements to photos of women from the time - as they really added huge value to the text, however I wasn't so keen on the photos of modern women wearing clothes from the era.

Overall, a fascinating read that I would heartily recommend to anyone with an interest in social history, WW2 or women's fashion.

NetGalley, Lucy Faulds

The topic really fascinated me. so when I was allowed to review this I was really excited. It was a well-researched and interesting book.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A wonderful book documenting the war from how it affects women’s lives, as the author says war is often seen from the male perspective and it’s so refreshing to see it from not just a female perspective, but the everyday perspectives of people living their lives, trying to survive and never being recognised as the heroes or thinking they made a difference. This book documents such interesting details from all different cultures of women affected from each side, how they were important, that their lives made a difference. I think it’s so important these lives are recorded and remembered, it’s a true perspective of lives at a certain point and what we were fighting for. The photos, illustrations, propaganda and adverts used are so wonderful and the book would be completely different without them. They are well placed and make it that little bit more special. Wonderful read, highly recommended.

NetGalley, Tara Keating

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I might be a little bit biased here, because my current research is in WWII history and in particular women's involvement, but this book is an excellent addition to what is admittedly a saturated market, and is exactly the type of information I was looking for. Lucy Adlington's Women's Lives and Clothes in WW2 is a thoughtful and concise history of the conditions faced by women on both the home front and in military life during one of the most harrowing periods of the twentieth century.

I found this book to be extremely accessible and both those knowledgeable about the period and the casual reader alike will enjoy it. Gorgeous illustrations, both black and white and full color, including advertisements, photographs, sewing patterns, etc., bring this subject to life. Among the topics covered are:
-shopping, rationing, and the black market
-spies and undercover work
-military work, including aviation and maritime
-internment and concentration camps

Another great part of this book is that Adlington doesn't focus on any one nationality, but she's included research across those globe: what women in the US, Europe (including England, Germany, Czechoslovakia), and Asia (including India, Hong Kong, Japan) were experiencing. This allows for a very well-rounded look at the contemporary conditions.

There is a generous source list and bibliography--very helpful for further research.

I'd definitely recommend this one. It's perfect for history fans of the war itself or of women's history.

NetGalley, Michelle Fohlin

About Lucy Adlington

Lucy Adlington is a dress historian with 20 years’ experience of lecturing and collecting. She runs the History Wardrobe company – a delightful series of costume-in-context presentations, which offer 100 shows across the UK each year. She is the author of Great War Fashion and Stitches in Time – the Story of the Clothes We Wear. She also writes history-inspired fiction, including The Red Ribbon, a novel inspired by the dressmakers of Auschwitz.

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