Puttin’ on the Blitz

If I’m to be totally honest, the 1940s have never been my favourite slice of the past. The excess of the 1920s, with all the sequins, beads and intrigue? That is definitely something that strikes my fancy. The austerity of the war years, with rations on everything from sugar and alcohol to nylons and zippers, never particularly appealed to me. But when I found out I would be going to a war-time themed birthday party, I decided I should give this decade the attention it deserves. And what I found was a creative spirit I didn’t appreciate until now.

Although women from this time period needed to dress for utility – often repurposing drop-waist dresses from the 1930s and lifting the waist for a newer style – a sleeker, stronger style emerged that reflected their entrance into the workforce. Though not as masculine as, say, the shoulder-padded blazers of the 1980s, this style put the delicateness of femininity on the shelf and made way for a rivet gun-toting, factory-working maven.

In order to get into character, I first focused on the hair. Unlike the shorter bobs of the 20s, which required expensive, frequent haircuts, hairstyles of the 40s were longer. They needed to be practical for a woman who worked during the day, but they also had to be glamorous by night. For my Friday night out, I decided to go for the Victory Roll – a hairstyle named after a fighter plane’s maneuver during WWII.

My "Land Girl" look at work

My “Land Girl” look at work

As I work a 9-to-5 job, I had to prepare my curls in the morning before work and keep them tied up with a bandana all day. Though my boss called me a Land Girl – as in, a member of the British Women’s Land Army during WWII – everyone thought my look was pretty chic. Now, this hairstyle isn’t the easiest to do, and given that I only had an hour to prepare once I arrived home, I was surprised by how well it turned out. There are many hair tutorials out there, but the one I used was by Cherry Dollface. It was fairly straight-forward, and she has a plethora of other vintage tutorials on her youtube channel. A black pencil dress, (faux) fur coat, pearls and seamer tights rounded out my look. An interesting point to note is that during the rations of the war, when stockings were a luxury, many girls painted the seam up the back of their legs to give the impression they were wearing seamer stockings when they didn’t have access to any – creativity at its finest!

Roof at the Proud Cabaret

Roof at the Proud Cabaret

Our venue for the evening was the Proud Cabaret in Brighton, which is just off the seafront in Kemptown. It is a magnificent ballroom, and its architecture mirrors the oriental style that propagates throughout town, most lavishly exhibited by the Royal Pavilion.

The evening started off with a cocktail hour, followed by a 3-course meal. The food was exceptional, and I was pleasantly surprised by the long list of creative drink concoctions that were available. My favourite was the “highball,” a mixture of whiskey and ginger ale, which arrived in a lovely teapot. Our waiter for the evening reminded me that during WWII, oftentimes alcohol was stashed in teapots as it was in high demand due to the rations.

Preparing my "secret" highball drink

Preparing my “secret” highball drink

Some of my friends thought I’d ordered tea, but let me tell you: that was the strongest tea I’ve ever tasted! After the meal, our compere for the evening started the show by crooning some of the classics from that era – “Mack the Knife” and “Night and Day,” among others. Peppered in between the songs was the main event…cabaret dancers.

The fabulous Ms. Dolly Rose

The fabulous Ms. Dolly Rose

I’ve always enjoyed the art of cabaret for its theatricality and creative sensuality. The mixture of comedy mixed with eroticism is what makes cabaret so exciting and entertaining: it’s not about the destination (nudity) with cabaret, it’s all about the journey (how). My friend and I were so inspired that we may take a burlesque class, which the Proud Cabaret regularly hosts. So watch this space in the future for further insights into the art of cabaret.

All in all, it was a fantastic night, and I would highly recommend this venue for those visiting or living in Brighton. It was fun to dress up – not just for the women, but also for the men. Sometimes as adults we forget how fun it is to “play” dress up, and that element of fun is important in life, whether you’re worried about air raids or stock markets. I now have a new appreciation for the 1940s. The glitter and sequins of the 20s may have given way to rayon and viscose, but creativity flourished. Taking a gander into my closet, I see some clothes from the early 2000s that could be repurposed for the 10s. Who knows – the next fashion trend might be revealed in my modified skinny jeans!

The birthday boy (left) had a celebration he won't soon forget!

The birthday boy (left) had a celebration he won’t soon forget!

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