The Textile Industry Goes to War

Bette (left) and Lois Rathburn of Lincoln in dresses typical of the 1940s celebrate the end of World War II. NSHS R234-173

How did the 1930s and 1940s affect feminine fashions? Muriel R. Wilkins, who attended high school in Washington County, Nebraska, during the late 1930s, decades later recalled the effect that World War II had upon her clothing styles and that of other young women of that era. Wilkins had learned to sew and crochet as a child and developed a lifelong interest in fashion.

“The principal fabrics for better dresses in the late 1930s as I was in the last years of high school,” she said, “were rayon, linen and cotton. Cotton was rather sheer in summer. I liked percale, seersucker, dimity or organdy. Linen was used in more expensive clothing, came in different weights and ironed up crisp and tailored well.” Wilkins recalled that most fabrics wrinkled if the wearer sat down or it was a warm day.

In the early 1940s as the United States became involved in World War II, women rediscovered their sewing talents. One unusual fabric in the 1940s came from chicken feed companies, which sold their products in percale sacks in attractive prints as a promotion to farm wives. Wilkins recalled: “The chicken feed made the fabric very smelly so they had to be pre-soaked before laundering and sometimes were processed several times to become suitable for sewing.”

Learn more here about the way World War II affected women’s fashions and the types of dress materials available to them. Two special issues of Nebraska History dealing with the war (Winter 1991 and Summer/Fall 1995) are on the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Sewing the Flag

Sewing the Flag

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

Marker Monday: The Seedling Mile

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.