American Heritage: Hart Schaffner Marx during the World Wars

Hart  Schaffner Marx twice “went to war,” converting our factories from fashion to army and navy officers’ uniform contracts. Read on to learn about the manufacturing of the uniforms and the influence of the wars on  men’s fashion.

World War I

In 1914, Europe was ignited by the flames of war. Because of the war, colorfast dyes could no longer be obtained from Germany in still-peaceful America. Hart Schaffner Marx worked with leading chemical companies to develop them in the United States. In the process, it established the first fabric testing laboratory operated by a clothing manufacturer in this country.

In 1917, America entered the “Great War.” Formal wear, which had become more and more popular, was discontinued for the duration and the Hart Schaffner Marx factories turned their attention to the order of the day, making officers’ uniforms. We became one of the single largest suppliers of U.S. military uniforms.

Patriotism was the theme of advertising and daily life. Hart Schaffner Marx ads featured men in uniform as well as the civilian clothes it continued to make in limited quantities.

military adThe above ad, from a 1917 Hart Schaffner Marx style book illustrated by John E. Sheridan, conveys the influence that military style had on men’s fashion at the time. The caption reads: “You’d expect clothes this fall to have the military touch in the models; they have. In suits and overcoats, you’ll find it evident; gives a new vigor and snap that most men will like.”

The Armistice was declared in November of 1918, and departing Doughboys had their first sight of home at French embarkation centers where they were greeted with specially painted signs that said, “Stylish clothes are ready for you in the good old U.S.A. All wool, guaranteed by Hart Schaffner & Marx.”

World War II

The men who returned home had learned the comfort of the soft collar in the army, and the military spawned the fashion for trench coats and aviator jackets.

Pearl Harbor brought the country into another war with its terrible immediacy. Like the rest of the nation, Hart Schaffner Marx geared up for the conflict and factories began uniforms, this time for the Women in the WACS and WAVES as well as the men. Patriotism became the theme of the advertising, as men went off to war and women took their places at the machines. Even though production of suits for civilians was severly curtailed, Hart Schaffner Marx ran ads showing civilians in war plants and in other patriotic situations. In the plants over 90% of the employees became War Bond subscribers.

When the war finally ground to a halt in 1945, Hart Schaffner Marx scored another coup with signs reading “Congratulations on a Job Well Done!” painted by a member of the Paris Underground to greet American troops marching in to liberate the City of Lights.

army officers coat archive

Above is a classic World War II U.S. Army Officer’s Uniform in the signature olive drab color manufactured by Hart Schaffner Marx in the United States. This uniform became obsolete after July of 1948. The hip-length wool uniform features two upper button flap pockets with box pleats, two lower button flap pockets, three one-inch diameter brass buttons down the front with a raised United States national eagle crest on each button, epaulets with ½-inch diameter brass buttons and an olive green single officers’ service strip on each cuff.

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