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Pajamas, underwear and bathrobes. What to wear to bed during reenactment events?What did nurses sleep in during the war? What sleepwear should you choose for historical reenactment? In the following article we discuss several possibilities that will help you spend the night in a tent comfortably and warmly, while staying true to the reenacted era. American nurses serving in the army during World War II were not issued any special clothes to sleep in. They slept in civilian pajamas, which they bought before going overseas as specified in the packing suggestions list they received. Both of the following examples of such lists indicate that women should primarily take warm pajamas with them. Nightgowns were not advisable. Pajamas In the 1940s, women first began wearing pajamas fashioned after men's patterns. The nightwear consisted of wide-legged pants and a top with a collar and a button closure. The sleeves could be short or long. Pajamas could have a waist belt and had pockets and decorative elements made of ribbons, ruffles, lace or embroidery. 2nd Lt. Venita Bussy in short sleeve pajamas As for the fabrics from which pajamas were made, it was mainly cotton (especially percale and cloth), cotton crepe (does not require too much ironing) and cotton batiste (thin and breathable, ideal for summer). Quilted pajamas were also popular in winter for their durability and simple cut. Women's 1940s pajamas Summer two-piece pajamas consisted of high-waisted shorts that reached about mid-thigh. The tunic ended at the edge of the shorts. Pajamas made of warm materials were most often used by nurses serving in field and evacuation hospitals. There were no regulations on the color of pajamas – both plain and patterned fabrics were accepted. The following excerpt from the book "Hospital At War" confirms that even red pajamas with white dots could be seen on the North African front: Many of our personnel suffered from dysentery at this time. Nurse Doyle (Lt. Claudine “Speedy” Glidewell Doyle) recalls rushing out of her tent in the middle of the night, headed for the latrine, when she was challenged by the guard. She forgot the password, and simply saying “me,” brushed him aside, rifle and all. “I guess he knew that no Arab or German would be wearing red and white polka dot pajamas.” 2nd Lt. Ann Ruth Orrick fixes her hair while on duty in Libya. She is wearing navy-style pajamas. Flannel pajamas of classic cuts and designs can easily be purchased today. Before buying, however, it is worth paying attention to the shape of the collar and the composition of the material. The company The House of Foxy offers reproduction pajamas, made of 100% cotton. On Etsy, on the other hand, you will find a lot of 1940s patterns, both in paper and digital downloadable form, which you can use to sew your own dream pajamas. In some of the original photos, nurses can also be seen wearing the Medical Department's official hospital pajamas. These garments were primarily designed for patients. They were available in a summer version, made of cotton, and a winter version, made of flannel and wool in light gray. You can read more about these pajamas here. Anzio, Italy (February 1944): Two nurses in pajamas carefully jump over puddles next to the nurses’ latrine. The woman on the left is wearing summer hospital pajamas, which have a distinctive white ornamental flat braid around the buttons. Nurses Gertrude G. Dawson and Agnes A. Jensen in the Medical Department's winter pajamas. Nights spent in a tent can be chilly, so you can additionally put on warm underwear underneath your pajamas. Underwear Like pajamas, nurses bought their underwear individually. The Army recommended stocking up primarily on warm underwear made of cotton. Women also often used men's issue long-sleeved undershirts and long johns. Drawers, Winter, OD Original men's underpants in olive green. American soldiers received summer and winter underwear. Summer underwear consisted of a cotton sleeveless top and shorts. In winter, they wore a long-sleeved undershirt and long underpants made of a blend of cotton (50%) and wool (50%). In the pre-war period and the first years of the war, both summer and winter underwear were issued in white, light gray or light beige (oatmeal). In mid-1943, the color was changed to olive green. The same clothes were also used by nurses serving in the army. The men's underwear provided warmth when worn under the uniform, but also made comfortable sleepwear. Assam, India: Lt. Bernie Manning hangs freshly laundered underwear. Among the clothes you can see a white t-shirt, a garter belt, stockings, and, on the left, men's light gray wool long johns. Original men's underwear can still be purchased online without much trouble. WWII Impressions makes faithful reproductions of summer and winter underwear. Undershirt, Winter, OD Reproduction of a men's undershirt in olive green (WWII Impressions). The nurse in the above photo is wearing a men's long-sleeved undershirt in olive green. Later during the war, U.S. Army nurses began receiving women's underwear which consisted of a beige fitted long-sleeved undershirt and beige high-waisted panties with a long leg that reached past the knee. The undershirts were made of a blend of virgin wool (50%) and rayon (50%). They had a round neckline and were soft and comfortable. Panties were sewn from the material made of wool (25%) and cotton (75%). The long legs could be rolled up above the knees. Vest, Women’s, Winter Original women's winter undershirt in beige color. Panties, Women’s, Winter Original women's winter panties in beige color. Unlike men's underwear, unfortunately no one currently makes reproductions of women's undergarments. You can buy an original women's undershirt on eBay. Uniform Sometimes the war reality forced nurses to sleep in whatever they happened to be wearing. Upon arrival at a new duty station, when they still had no access to luggage and had to spend the night in small 2-person tents; during bivouacs in basic training; when moving a hospital from one location to another, where the journey often took several days. In such situations, the women used whatever they happened to have on hand. Oahu, Hawaii (1944): Two nurses in training. After setting up a pup tent, the women rest in uniform trousers and short-sleeved shirts. Sleeping in uniform is the simplest solution for female reenactors. Of course, each of us wants to change into something else at the end of the day, especially if the uniform is sweaty or soaked after a long day. That's why it's a good idea to have a second sleeping kit prepared. From our own experience, we can recommend a women's M-1943 wool liner trousers (first pattern) combined with a women's undershirt and wool socks. If it is very cold at night, you can additionally wear a wool high-neck sweater or even a field jacket (such as a tanker jacket) over the undershirt. If you want to add an additional layer on your lower body, go for men's woolen underwear. In this way, your sleepwear is authentic from head to toe, but most importantly, it provides the desired warmth. Sleeping in a uniform also helps save space in the luggage. The undershirt, sweater or jacket can also be used during the day. Interior of the nurses’ quarters in an evacuation hospital. The woman on the left is wearing the HBT field uniform (distinctive fabric and cuff fastening). The first pattern of the women's M-1943 trouser liner is reproduced by Belgian store – QMI. You can also buy a replica of the high-neck sweater at the same place, although it is not made of 100% wool like the originals. A more authentic alternative is offered by What Price Glory or WWII Impressions. Original liners and sweaters (especially in smaller sizes), can be purchased on online auctions at prices similar to those of the reproduction items. Bathrobe Nurses were also encouraged to pack one flannel bathrobe and one cotton housecoat. Quilted bathrobes were not recommended due to their bulkiness. This type of outer garment was used by women on their way to the shower or latrine. Nurse Adeline Simonson in a civilian patterned housecoat. In 1943, a women's army trenchcoat was introduced. It was issued with a woolen liner, which, worn separately, officially served as a warm and practical bathrobe with two pockets and a slit in the back. Overcoat, Field, Women's, Officer's A woolen liner for a woman's trenchcoat not only insulated against the cold, but also served as a bathrobe. Nurse Lois Gates during her morning or evening routine. She is wearing a women's undershirt and a wool coat liner, which serves as a bathrobe. The U.S. Medical Department was also equipped with bathrobes, which were used by patients in hospitals. These bathrobes came in maroon or navy blue and were made of corduroy. They had M.D. U.S.A. markings on the pockets. Robe, Bath, Medium Winter version of the Medical Department bathrobe in navy blue. Nurse Lois E. Watson in a M.D. hospital bathrobe. From the point of view of a female reenactor, all the types of bathrobes mentioned above are possible to buy or sew. Official M.D. bathrobes and women’s trench coat liners can be found on auction sites. Civilian bathrobes and housecoats can be sewn based on patterns available on Etsy. Slippers and civilian footwear Looking through the original photos, one can come across many different types of civilian footwear used by nurses. Starting with moccasins and saddle shoes, ending with various types of slippers and sandals. However, this is not surprising. Anyone who has ever tried life in field conditions knows that having shoes that can be quickly slipped on your feet is very useful. Ankle-length field boots that have to be tied are not very practical when you want to make a quick run to the toilet in the middle of the night. Anzio, Italy (April 1944): A nurse helps fill sandbags. She is wearing pajamas, a trench coat liner and civilian slippers. Women wore flat slip-ons or open toe slippers on a raised sole. Among covered shoes, moccasins and low, laced saddle shoes were the most popular. 1943: Laurette Breitmeyer and two other nurses in their quarters. The photo shows slippers on a raised sole. Tunisia (March 1943): A nurse cleans her field shoes. She is wearing moccasins. Ain el-Turck, Algeria (March 1944): A group of nurses on their way to get chow. Two of them are wearing very distinctive two-tone saddle shoes. Similar to pajamas and bathrobes, the Medical Department also had slippers for patient use. These were simple, slip-on, fabric slippers in white and with an open toe. Nowadays you can also find footwear in a similar style. Slippers continue to be in daily use. You can also easily buy brown moccasins or reproduction saddle shoes (we recommend Muffy's). All the types of footwear described above are sure to be a much better choice than modern flip-flops or sneakers.
How to take care of leather shoes?Leather articles which constitute a part of the uniform are costly and their durability as well as appearance requires proper care. In garrison these articles were required to be polished, and the best appearance required that all leather equipment match in color. The routine care of leather consists of keeping it clean, pliable and well-polished. Whether it is field shoes, double buckle boots or service shoes, they all need the same basic treatment and care. Got A Pair Of New Shoes Why your new boots don’t look like originals? Truth is your new boots look exactly like all of those did when they were new. Brand new out of the box shoes usually have light leather. They have to be broken in, dubbed and polished in order to achieve that darker color. A pair of reproduction women's field shoes from QMI freshly out of the box. Breaking in your boots New shoes should be broken in before they are used for reenactment, especially when you have a long march ahead of you. If there is sufficient time, you can do this by wearing the new shoes for short periods until the leather has loosened to conform to the shape of your feet. Don’t do that at an event. Events are not the place to break in a new pair of boots. Wear them anywhere and everywhere. To the office, the store, school or church. This may take a week or two or even a month depending on how much you walk. Original women's field shoes (left) next to reproduction QMI field shoes (right) after several marches and with the laces replaced with the original ones. If there is not enough time for that, you can soak the shoes in cold water for about 2,5 minutes, allow them to dry naturally, and then loosen the leather with saddle soap or polish. Remember that most ideas for a “quicker” break in are bad and even harmful to your boots. Never force the drying by putting any leather articles near a fire, radiator or stove; this will dry out the oil and make the leather become brittle and very uncomfortable. Care of Leather Cleaning To clean your shoes or boots, first remove your laces and brush off all dirt or mud with a horsehair brush. In field conditions you can use a stick or other dull object; never use a knife or glass. Make sure that you’re also getting down in the welt line area. The welt line is where you can see the stitches and a lot of times you’ll get dust that will sit down in there. If your shoes are very soiled, you can follow up with some saddle soap. That would help to get any excess dirt from the pores of the leather. Take a sponge or soft cloth and a heavy lather of castile soap or saddle soap. Do not use hot water or allow the leather to soak too long. Wipe off the soap with a damp cloth or sponge. If your shoes are not very dirty, you can simply take a wet rag and rub over the boot after dusting them off. This is going to remove any remaining excess dirt or dust. Oiling All leather needs to be hydrated on a regular basis so that it stays nice, supple and doesn’t dry out. Wartime guides recommend using neatsfoot oil for oiling but you can also use modern conditioners, such as Saphir Renovateur. Use a rag, brush or your hand with a glove to apply the oil or cream and work it into the leather. You don’t have to use a lot of the product, just a small amount is enough. After you’ve added the conditioner, allow it to penetrate the leather and sit for about five minutes. Next take your horsehair brush again and buff over the boots. Leather which becomes excessively dry and lifeless may be restored with suitable leather dressings or by a light application of neatsfoot oil applied on the flesh side. Leather which is damp or wet must be allowed to air-dry slowly and then be given an oil dressing. Creaming If your leather shoes are losing their color, especially at the toes, you can put the pigment back into them by using a shoe cream that has a bit of a color to it (Saphir, Kelly’s or any other brand). Take a rag and rub the cream into the leather. Be careful when applying the brown cream because it can color the stitches. Cream can also be applied to scuffed up heel blocks. Once you’re finished, give the boots a few minutes to dry. Dubbing Dubbing is a very important and vital part of boot care. Dubbin is particularly suited for use on shoes and boots in the field because it contains ingredients that waterproof as well as preserve the leather. A number of different products can be used with Hubbards, Sno-Seal and mink oil being some of the most popular. Rub the dubbin into the leather of the boot and let it soak in. You can let them sit for 24 hours. Double buckle boots soak up a lot of dubbing. With all boots, pay special attention to seams as this is a waterproofing treatment. A couple coats are advisable. You should redub your boots periodically. This may depend on how rough you are on them, but once a year at a minimum. Polishing Polishing helps protect the boots further and also get the look we are looking for. Leather should be cleaned thoroughly before polish is applied. During the war many officers preferred a neutral leather dressing (you can use Kiwi or any other brand of your choice) because it softens and protects the leather, gives a good lustre in polishing, and does not darken the color in repeated use. The application of coat upon coat of polish is undesirable because a deposit of dust and grime of increasing thickness is built up. The polish should be free from ingredients such as acide or turpentine, both of which are highly injurious to leather. You should polish your shoes before and after each event. Apply shoe polish to the shoe with a soft cloth or rag. Remember, a little goes a long way! Rub the polish onto the shoe in small circular motions. Use your shoe brush to remove any excess shoe polish from your shoes. This can be done with quick, short brush strokes in a repetitive motion. Buff the leather using an old stocking or soft cloth and brisk, back-and-forth movements. This is the fastest and easiest way to add shine to your shoes. Storage Shoes and boots should be placed on shoe trees as soon as removed and before body heat and moisture is dissipated. This practice when followed regularly restores the original shape and prevents the forming of deep permanent wrinkles which may cause discomfort, accelerate wear, and cause unsightly appearance.
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