Month: March 2014

Fashion in the 40’s: Style in time of crisis

A post by Claire Rochet

When referring to Fashion in the 40’s, you probably think about the words seductive, glamour, sophistication… anything but austerity! Apart from being a decade characterised by a killer style, it’s hard to forget that at the very same time one of the most atrocious wars of all time was taking place. However, despite being a very dark moment in history, fashion was still as important as before and it played a crucial role in many people’s lives.

More than ever, women started to take care with every detail of their appearance which allowed them not only to preserve their dignity but also to distract themselves with something fun and light-hearted. Needless to say that the notion of superficiality had a whole different meaning to now where it is negatively associated to the useless and flavourless.

 The clothes rationing regulations that were introduced by the Government on 1st June 1941 drastically limited womens’ possibilities with dressing but although they had to face a multitude of mitigating circumstances women tended to put much more effort into preserving their allure.

 One of the most fascinating inventions of that time relating to fashion was liquid silk stockings which consisted of painting your legs with a special product that would make them looked tanned as if you were wearing stockings. The more ‘coquette’ of them would even add the seams behind their legs by using a pencil or a specific device that would avoid any tremors.

Liquid stockings 2 Liquid stockings

With the lack of nylon and silks, paint-on stockings became a new source of business, entailing the creation/launch of dedicated cosmetics and more surprisingly, leg makeup bars!


With nylon and silk being used as the main material in the production of parachutes, the war forced a decrease in sale for stockings. As a crucial finishing touch to any wardrobe, women didn’t give up and employed their creativity to find cheap and innovative subterfuges!

If you want to learn more about Fashion in the 40’s and practice some original ‘Make do and mend’ tips, we recommend that you join us at St Cecilia’s Hall on Saturday May the 17th where we will bring the 40’s back to life and show you how create your own one off fashionable vintage piece! There’s no better place than the mythic Excelsior Ballroom, which made people swing between 1938 and 1959, to discover the “Mrs or Mr Sew and Sew”[1] that rests in you.

Everyone is welcome to this free event, whether you are a beginner an expert or just curious! So please don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind opportunity. We hope to see you all there very soon!

[1]In response to the clothes rationing, the British Board of Trade created the fictional character Mrs Sew and Sew, who would issued precious ‘Make Do and Mend’ advice, through a series of utilitarian leaflets.


A Short History of St Cecilia’s Hall

A post by Tina Wennerwald:

If you walk just below South Bridge in Edinburgh to the corner of Niddry Street and the Cowgate, you’ll find St Cecilia’s Hall.  Over the Festival of Museums weekend (16-18th May), the building will be transformed into a 1940s dance hall once again for “One Last Dance”.

St Cecilia’s hall was built between 1761 and 1763 for the Edinburgh Musical Society and it is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland.  The Musical Society was later forced to sell the building, and held their last concert in St Cecilia’s in 1798.  Since then there has been a great variety of owners and uses of the building from worship to learning and entertainment; a Baptist Church, the Freemason’s hall, Dr. Bell’s school, the Excelsior Ballroom.  Now St Cecilia’s Hall is owned by the University of Edinburgh and houses the University’s collection of bagpipes and early keyboard instruments.

As part of the Festivals of Museums weekend in May, the University of Edinburgh will host a number of events based around the theme of Edinburgh in the 1940’s.  During the 40s St Cecilia’s Hall was a dance hall named the “Excelsior Ballroom”.  It was opened in 1933 by Miss Magdalene Cairns, who had inherited St Cecilia’s Hall from her father, Andrew Cairns.  Miss Cairns had noticed that there was a growing interest in public dancing in Edinburgh at the time and decided to transform the concert hall into a dance venue.  The public quickly embraced this new dance venue and visited the new ballroom, making the place a success from the very beginning.

The Excelsior Ballroom was only one of a number of dance halls in Edinburgh during the 40s, all of which helped to provide an opportunity for public dancing and general entertainment of the locals.  As a space for social gathering, dance halls also had a series of more specific and very important roles at the time.  Significantly, many patrons got to meet their future spouse in a dance hall.

At the Excelsior Ballroom it was the music from the New Excelsior Band which resounded in the hall.  On Saturdays it was also possible to take dance lessons, which were taught by Miss Ena Linton.  The Excelsior Ballroom hosted various events such as the Hogmanay Ball and Novelty Carnival, and dance nights such as the Leith Hospital Dance and the Dance for the Fighters Fund in support of select causes.  Ballroom dancing competitions were also popular around the time and some of the competitions were held in Excelsior Ballroom.

In the late 1950’s Miss Cairns found that the demand for dance halls was in decline and in 1959 she decided to sell the building to the University of Edinburgh. The University then returned the building to the feel of an 18th-century concert hall.

Come and join us for the Festival of Museums weekend when St Cecilia’s Hall will be converted into a ballroom with dance, live music, and lots of fun.

Festival of Museums at the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is excited to participate in Museums Galleries Scotland Festival of Museums weekend.  We are planning an exciting schedule of events that bring the past to life through workshops, lectures, programmes, and a lively swing dance.

Check this blog for posts from our wonderful group of volunteers who are not only helping to organise the event, but also research the history of life in Edinburgh in the 1940s.

D52488 FOM SD (CS3)