In Uncivil Defense, the latest book in my mystery series featuring 1940s private eye Maggie Sullivan, a woman wears a snood. It prompted one early reader to ask, “What’s a snood?”
My first impulse was to say it’s sort of like a fancy hairnet. Half a second’s reflection, however, made me realize that many under the age of forty – or even sixty – may never have seen a hairnet or anyone wearing one. If you fall in that category, think of those net bags you can buy potatoes or certain cheeses in at the supermarket. That’s the basic idea.
The snood of the 1940s can be viewed as either hat or hair covering, or better still, as a little of both. They could be plain concoctions or they could be fancied up with tiny bows or equally miniature flowers. For American women of the era, they served several important purposes:
It was an era when, except when clad in an evening gown, no woman went anywhere without a hat. By 1943, however, wartime shortages were hitting hard. Materials used in making hats, the containers for shipping them, and transportation all were needed for defense purposes. Mindful of the need to keep women’s spirits up on the homefront, however, the War Production Board allowed a reduced percentage of necessary materials to remain available for making hats. As a consequence of that limit, in order to produce as many hats as possible, new hat designs became smaller. Some were so miniaturized as to be called “dolls hats”. New hats also carried a whopping 33% luxury tax.
Snoods, in contrast, were inexpensive. They could even be knitted or crocheted at home using very thin yarn. Commercial ones were widely available. They came in a variety of colors. They added that necessary finishing touch to a woman’s attire.
To help the war effort, many of those women were going out to work in factories. Hair that wasn’t securely covered could be caught in machinery, causing serious injury. Snoods tucked hair in safely just like the bandanas more commonly see in wartime photos.
Snoods also provided chic camouflage to hair that… well… wasn’t as clean as it could have been. Or hair that was clean but dull and lacking in bounce.
Like almost everything else in those war years, toiletries were in short supply. That included shampoo. Components used in shampoo were also vital to military products, which took priority. When stores got a shipment of shampoo, it sold out quickly. Even if women used it sparingly, they often ran out before they could get their hands on more.
When a woman ran out of shampoo, she had to wash her hair with soap. Countless generations of women had used soap on their hair, of course. Unlike them, the women of the Greatest Generation had experienced the improved hair cleaning provided by shampoo. The detergents in shampoo allowed dirt and oils removed from hair to be rinsed away. With soap, some of that residue got redeposited. The result was dull, limp hair.
Even if a woman’s husband or sweetheart was far away serving his country, she wanted to look her best. If she smoothed her less-than-shiny hair and tucked it under a snood, she could look positively fashionable!
The paperback edition of Uncivil Defense is now in the pipeline. Fingers crossed, it will be out in early November. Meanwhile, get the ebook at your choice of retailers.
At the end of Dayton's first WWII blackout drill, a murder victim is found with private investigator Maggie Sullivan's name and address in his pocket.