As I Googled “recycled fashions” I found something intriguing…
This “evening bag” was made specifically to carry a gas mask, and it seemed in so many ways to be a perfect statement of culture and fashion.
I stumbled across this image while browsing the Manchester Art Gallery online. According to their website, “in 1939, all civilians were issued with a gas mask and were instructed to carry them everywhere, on all occasions…The enterprising woman who owned this gas mask re-used a panel of figured yellow and cream rayon, probably from an evening outfit, to make a cover for her mask, which she could then carry as an evening bag. ‘Make Do and Mend’ recycling was a major theme of war-time propaganda which aimed to conserve valuable materials.”
Although I was fortunate enough to not have grown up during any of the World Wars, I know that a gas mask holds a plethora of visual, cultural, and symbolic meanings. Gas masks have also been fetishized and are the subject of many artworks. Although I do not enjoy memorizing dates, I do appreciate history, and this little glimpse into our past successfully caught my attention and imagination.
On a more wry note, there are many works of art that either show children wearing gas masks, or which feature a children’s stuffed animal (or a typically “tame” and cuddly creature such as a bunny) wearing a gas mask. Artists have been known to combine the image of a gas mask with these juvenile images (or other contrasting/ironic elements) in order to make a statement about security, innocence, power, helplessness, etc. Take for example the “Mickey Gas Mask” and other designs by Bill Barminski…
Out there in cyberspace lurks a ton of articles/tidbits about “gas mask culture” (just type that phrase into a search engine). If you’re interested, you could also find quite a few photographers who specialize in taking people’s portraits wearing the masks (Okay… so a lot of these are pornographic in nature, but the significance is still very important).
FYI: The photo of the woman to the left was found on the site Dark Roasted Blend, which has a wonderful array of photos to distract a person away from their productivity. The link above, for instance, features a collection of vintage Stewardess photos—*Sigh*—and just for the record, I’m still saving THAT occupation for my mid-life crisis.