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                                                             Some Uniform Woes of the W.A.A.F.


In June 1940 the warm weather caused a change in Air Ministry Orders. For the for the first time there was a change in the hosiery of W.A.A.F.s. Air Ministry Order- A.364 (A.65340/40- 6.6.40) ordered that it was to be allowed that in warmer weather “W.A.A.F.s may wear lisle stockings of lighter weight than the present approved pattern. They must be of dark mole grey colour, 48 gauge, and those who choose to wear them must provide  and maintain them at their own expense.” 


The wearing of silk or transparent stockings remained taboo! In August 1940 there was a review within the services of the wearing of uniforms by women who were initially ordered to wear uniform constantly. When the war began, A.T.S. and W.A.A.F and W.R.E.N. girls were faced with different rulings of commanding officers as they moved from one station to another. Some officers had no time for such fripperies. Others allowed the women the luxury of clinging frocks and sheer stockings when they were off duty. The Navy was one branch that showed the greatest understanding of women who liked their own dainty dresses. In contrast the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F insisted that women wear uniform on all occasions except when on leave for more than 24 hours. 

The W.R.E.N.S. had to wear uniform to and from duty, on duty, within a naval or marine establishment, even when not on duty and all official and semi-official occasions. At home or even on short leave they did not have to wear uniform and were encouraged to do so. This policy reduced wear and tear on the uniform. When doing any recreational activities Ratings and officers did not have to wear uniform. For naval or marine dances, uniform had to be worn unless special permission had been obtained to wear frocks. New regulations were issued that would allow all women in uniform to slip into feminine frills and fancies when they go on leave.

In 1941 fashion news it was stated that members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were banned from using bright-coloured nail polish. Other taboos were “The Page Boy Bob” and “The Ginger Rogers Roll,” because regulations decree that hair must not touch the collar of the greatcoat. Although make-up—even on parade—is permitted if used in moderation. At the same time, prosperity smiled on one enterprising hairdresser member of the W.A.A.F. who opened a beauty parlour in a spare hut. Her ingenuity in keeping within regulations, while creating fetching hair styles, was much admired.  She was most popular just before the weekly dance, which was the highlight of the social life of the station.


In January 1941 the Conservative M.P for Stretford, Flight-Lieutenant Ralph Etherton tabled a question in the House of Commons to ask the Secretary of State for Air to confirm and give assurance that there was no intention of changing the present gun-metal grey colour of stockings issued to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. This question caused reporters to question Air Ministry officials about this and were reassured that all the W.A.A.F.’s were very happy with the colour and there had never been any intention of changing it. Quite what caused the M.P. to raise this question was unclear.  

In 1939 after war broke out the Board of Trade had banned the sale of silk stockings unless they were being exported. This meant that thousands of pairs were lying around in warehouses unsold. This was why the various “spivs” would sell any they could find on the black market at high prices. The Board of Trade was advised in early 1941 that silk stockings would deteriorate after two years and reviewed their policy of banning the sale. A census was taken of stocks held across the country and it was declared that some could be sold in the shops, but the bulk would be exported abroad. However, many W.A.A.F.s had kept pairs from before the ban and it was quite common to find that they were storing them in airtight jars and bottles and kept under the stairs to prevent light deteriorating them!

By June 1941 the war had begun to impact the availability of cloth and rationing had to be brought in. Clothes were only to be had by coupon from now onwards and the public had to cut their cloth according to their coupons. "basic ration" for clothing, cloth, footwear, and knitting wool was set at 66 coupons a year.

Women serving their country in the A.T.S., the W.A.A.F.s, or W.R.N.S., were very badly hit, for they are to have no clothing ration books. Every Servicewoman knows, however, that she requires extra stockings, underwear, handkerchiefs and so on. The matter apparently is to be reconsidered. The Clothes Depot at Balloon Centres had to furnish each new recruit with 56 different items with 24 sizes in tunics and skirts, and 16 sizes in greatcoats,



                                                                      Hats Caused Issues With W.A.A.F Hairstyles  


 New Hair Styles!

The hair problems of Service girls soon came to the attention of Britain's leading hair designers in January 1941. The difficulty of coping with Service regulations, while matching feminine charm with the severe lines of military uniforms, had given many A.T.S., W.A.A.F. and W.R.E.N. girls hours of after duty headaches. Robert Douglas, Ltd., the leading West End hair stylists, of 71. South Audley Street, W.1, solved some of these problems.


Here were two answers to an A.T.S. and a W.A.A.F. cry for help. The A.T.S. girl who does not wish to cut her hair while conforming to Service regulations, which require that the hair shall not touch the collar, can adopt the Parade Coil style shown on the left. The Victory Roll (shown right) is  designed to flatter the contour of the face without being too severe under a Service cap.  






In September 1941, make-up and cosmetics were in the news as they were in short supply. The Board of Trade was the culprit. Supplies of cosmetics had been cut down to shops and N.A.A.F.I. to 25 per cent. of previous supplies. Despite the protests the Board of Trade had refused to release larger stocks to N.A.A.F.I. for servicewomen.

Shortages also impacted the call-up for W.A.A.F.s. They were being recruited at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 women a day. The Air Force did not have the accommodation, beds, blankets, uniforms at training schools or Air Force stations. Even when given a service number some women were waiting months to be called up.

In July 1942 with America now at war it was natural to compare the way the American services equipped women compared to the British way. It was revealed that the American equivalent of our W.R.N.S. were given a money grant and were expected to provide their own underwear. A new A.T.S. or W.A.A.F. is supplied with everything, but a girl joining the W.R.N.S. was given ten shillings to buy underwear. Her American counterpart did rather better on £5O, while the girl in the American equivalent of the A.T.S. received sixteen pairs of stockings and general equipment, which included a bathing suit and a pair of sunglasses!

In August 1942 economists working for the Air Ministry had accumulated considerable data on the life expectancy of uniforms worn by service personnel. As a result, they were able to aid the Air Force in issuing a new order laying down the life expectancy of each garment. All garments were stamped with day of issue and when their time limit was up would only be exchanged if the garment was deemed unserviceable.










































In December 1942 it was reported that no changes had been found necessary in the smart uniform of the W.A.A.F. which was originally devised in colour and cut to show the close connection between the W.A.A.F. and its parent fighting service. The badges of rank and buttons are identical with those of the R.A.F. The items of kit issued to recruits included two uniforms, unless the airwoman's trade necessitates that she should wear a working serge suit for duty in which case she received one uniform and one working serge suit. Cap, greatcoat, cardigan, scarf, blue overalls for domestic work, six collars, three shirts, one pair of gloves, one tie, three pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes and one pair of canvas shoes are all issued, in addition to underwear.

 The underwear came in light and dark colours and was referred to as “twilights” or “blackouts”!


 In December 1943 the Air Ministry decided on health and economy reasons, that W.A.A.F. airwomen were to be issued with a third pair of black shoes, so that they would always have at least one pair serviceable. Each  pair of shoes was be expected to last longer than has been possible previously. This decision was also hastened by the shortage of cobblers in 1943. 

In November 1944 with D-day over and the war being fought in Europe there was indeed some lightening up of the restrictions on clothing. Members of the W.R.N.S. and A.T.S had been given permission to wear silk stockings when off duty, but the Air Ministry had refused until the matter was raised in Parliament. Captain Balfour, Under-Secretary for Air replied, amid cheers, "Yes ,this concession will now be introduced.” The only condition was that they  had to be grey to match the uniform.

Peter Garwood 2021




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