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Rachel Pair
Rachel Pair, right, studies societal statements of WWII fashions.
Student Researcher honored
Awards presented during 26th annual Research Day
Leah Jackson

NATCHITOCHES – Rachel Pair of Fort Smith, Ark., earned Northwestern State University’s Student Research Award during the school’s 26th annual Research Day Thursday. Pair was among dozens of students who participated in a day of 15-minute oral presentations, demonstrations and musical performances with question and answer sessions. Pair’s topic, entitled “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do!: The Fashion of the World War II Era,” examined the influence the war and societal changes played in American women’s fashion from the 1930s through the 1950s.

The Student Research Award is sponsored by the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and recognizes outstanding research, distinguished artistic performance or creative work completed by a student or team of students. Nominations are evaluated on originality, design and methodology, impact on or contribution to the student’s academic field and the potential larger impact of the nominated work.

Pair is a senior in the Louisiana Scholars’ College majoring in liberal arts with an emphasis in fine and performing art. She began her college career as a theatre major and became interested in her topic while studying fashion history for the stage. Pair said war-time fashions reflected societal statements that resonated through the post-war years and into the 1950s.

“My favorite style from the 40s are the ‘working woman’ outfits, like the famous Rosie the Riveter,” Pair said. “This is probably influenced by my fascination with the female empowerment going on in the 1940s, but I also think those ladies managed to look nice and be productive at the same time.”

Pair noted that the war influenced styles for women’s wear when day suits were nearly identical to female military uniforms and sailor-inspired apparel reflected the country’s patriotic sentiments. Make-and-mend attitudes were supported by campaigns that encouraged civilians to remake and repurpose their clothing.

“I think the ‘make do’ spirit of the 1940s was very cool because Americans banded together to show their patriotism and put the needs of the U.S. military above their own personal needs,” Pair said. “I wish that Americans today would band together in a similar manner to help the planet become a cleaner place by upcycling their clothing or having clothes swaps with friends before going out to buy new things.”

After World War II, the Baby Boom years created a market for maternity fashions and the mid-century New Look ushered in ultrafeminine silhouettes of nipped waists and full skirts reminiscent of the early 1900s.

“People were finally able to acquire new things,” she said and femininity became fashionable again. The post-war years also created the rush to the suburbs and the rise of shopping malls.

“My research has allowed looking through modern styles to be a different experience,” Pair said. “I have started to notice the different fabrics and pieces that are on clothing racks today because of advances made during World War II.”

Also during the Research Day awards program, student artist Michael Herren of Bossier City was recognized for having designed the 2013 Research Day poster and program cover. All currently enrolled students were eligible to enter, regardless of discipline. An internal panel evaluated design entries based on integrity, appropriateness and appeal to the layperson.

Several undergraduate students who participated in Northwestern State Research Day are scheduled to present their research at the University of Louisiana System Academic Summit to be held April 12-13 on the University of Louisiana-Monroe campus.