Monday, November 11, 2013

The Fashionable WAVES

Barb Cerny (L) with Joan Braddock (R). Joan is
examining a WAVES havelock (hat raincover)
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We never know what to expect when someone shows up and announces that they have a donation for the museum. From traffic lights to old fur coats to a spark plug tester, each piece has an interesting story behind it.

I was definitely curious when Joan Braddock offered to give us her mother's World War II WAVES uniforms, as I had never heard of the WAVES, and we had nothing like these garments in our collection. My intrigue only grew when I later discovered that the uniforms had a connection to a well-known haute couture designer.

WAVES stands for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services. The WAVES were an all-women division of the United State Navy, created in 1942 to free up trained Naval men for overseas combat. Although women had served during World War I in the WAACs, or Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, the WAVES represented the first time women performed the same duties and received the same pay and rank as their male counterparts. The WAVES performed many non-combat jobs, including secretarial work, packing parachutes, teaching flight navigation skills to men, driving trucks, and decoding German messages. Approximately 86,000 women served in the WAVES until peace was declared and the WAVES units were demobilized in 1945.

Noted fashion designer Main Rousseau Bocher created the WAVES uniforms at the request of the wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Known simply as Mainbocher, he was an American couturier who designed simple but elegant dresses and gowns for exclusive clientele, including Wallis Simpson, Claudette Colbert, and Gloria Vanderbilt. He donated his designs for the “functional yet feminine” WAVES uniforms. Each enlistee was given four stylish outfits: dress blues, working blue, summer grays and summer dress whites. We now have three of these on display.
Joan in her mother's "dress whites"

Not surprisingly, the Navy used the fashionable WAVES dress uniforms as a recruitment tool, pointing out the specifics of the design as well as its couture pedigree. One recruiter described one of her job duties as walking around downtown areas in her uniform and simply talking to people who asked about it. The outfits were so trendy that in 1943 the WAVES and other women in uniform were named as Vogue’s “Best Dressed Women in the World Today.” The WAVES took great pride in the comfort, quality make and fashion of their garments. As Mainbocher’s clothing was beyond what many of them could afford, their uniforms became prized possessions.

Joan's mother, Helen (Boettcher) Forshaug, served in the WAVES from 1943 to 1944. Following the war, Helen earned her Master's degree in Home Economics from Cornell University. In 1950 she was teaching food and nutrition courses at the University of California at Santa Barbara when a summer vacation lured her to Alaska. During a week-long trip with Sig Wien by airplane, she met a teacher from King Cove named Jens Forshaug, and within ten days they were married. Their careers took them to King Cove, Minto, Fairbanks, Douglas, and Portland, Oregon. Following retirement they lived at Lake Minchumina, where Helen resided until her death in 1991. She clearly treasured her WAVES uniforms and preserved them well. We are pleased to be the stewards of these garments and hope you will come see our WAVES display soon.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

To view a video of our Waves uniform display, please visit our Fountainhead Museum YouTube Channel!

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