Friday, November 9, 2012

The Skinny: The Fairer Sex Goes to War

"Rosie the Riveter" is one of the most recognizable images from the WWII era, symbolizing the essential role of women in industry while their men were away at war. A Google search will get you dozens of images of grease-smeared women with drills, welding torches, and heavy machinery, working long hours to build the implements of war and hold our country together. But, people sometimes forget the women who held it together in the war--the WACs, WAVEs, and other groups of women volunteers who got dirty, in a thousand other ways, so that combat soldiers could actually engage in combat. We tend to think of them in a cute South Pacific, pin-up sort of way (washing that man right out of their hair), but they deserve to be recognized for their contribution to freedom.

 The idea of women as support staff pre-dates World War II. There have been field nurses for much longer than that (remember Florence Nightingale?). In addition to the thousands of nurses who signed up, women volunteers drove ambulances in World War I, a task which may seem low-risk and of no great importance. But think about it--the ambulances had to go where the wounded soldiers were. And the wounded soldiers were on the battlefield. Sometimes, retrieving the wounded meant bullet holes in your ambulance. 

Hello Girls

The Hello Girls, also known as the Signal Corps Women, were sworn into the Army to serve as multilingual telephone operators for essential communications. Sadly, they were demoted after the war, so that they would not qualify for veterans benefits. And we're not even going to delve into the vast numbers of women who managed to actually serve, and die, in combat. (Most military organizations like to pretend that never happened.) In World War II, the demand for military nurses was so high that FDR tried to initiate a draft for females. It stalled, however, and the draft idea disappeared by the end of the war.

In 1942, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) introduced females into the US Army to serve as support and communications staff at designated sites to monitor for potential attacks on US soil. They were sworn in, trained, and given uniforms like every other soldier. The group started with 6,000 women, and after the initial trial run, the Army requested another 500,000. They didn't get their wish, because certain commanders, including General Eisenhower, were opposed to the idea of women in the military. (He quickly changed his mind, after seeing the results of their service, and became one of the greatest supporters of the group for the last few years of the war.) By 1943, the corps had gained enough of a reputation for the "auxiliary" term to be dropped, leaving them officially designated as the Women's Army Corps. Now, the women were no longer civilians, but active members of the United States military. They were more commonly called WACs, and by 1945, there were over 32,000 of them. The WACs were represented in at least 200 specialty jobs for the military, in every operational zone of the war. There were even 1,100 black women who enlisted and served in segregated units.

Also in 1942, two units of qualified female pilots, enlisting as civilian volunteers, were created. The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) transported bomber and fighter planes to combat zones. The Women's Flying Training Detachment received additional flight training, so that the women pilots could take over non-combat flying duties for male pilots, thereby freeing up more male pilots for battle. In August of 1943, the two groups were combined to form the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. In addition to plane transport, the WASPs also served as instructors for the Eastern Flying Training Command. The group was disbanded in late 1944, and again, the female pilots would not be able to claim privileges as veterans.

WASP training

1942 was, apparently, an important year for women's service. Mildred McAfee, the first female commissioned  officer in the US Navy, was sworn in as Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander and put in charge of a new group of women: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, also known as the WAVES. This was not a novel idea. In fact, the US Navy utilized female civilian volunteers during WWI as well, but this time around, the training was more detailed and the job descriptions more complex. And the numbers were huge--women flocked to volunteer for service, especially since the navy had, oddly enough, traditionally been more supportive of women than certain other branches of the military. Within the first year, there were 27,000 WAVES. Clerical jobs were, of course, the majority (but imagine coordinating millions of soldiers and commanders without people to transfer messages, answer the phones, and organize paperwork). This time around, however, some new duties were added for the enlisted women: aviation, legal, medical, intelligence, scientific research, and technology labs. communications, intelligence, science and technology. By the time the war ended, 2.5% of navy personnel were women, many of them officers.

 The Coast Guard joined suit, forming the SPARs in 1942. These women enlisted in the Coast Guard so that the men could then be dispatched overseas for combat. Many of these were WAVES who agreed to an official discharge from the NAVY. They were restricted to coastal waters of the US, and were forbidden to ever issue an order to a male, but were, essentially, filling many of the regular duties of the US Coast Guard. There were also women in the United Service Organization (USO), the American Red Cross, and the Civil Air Patrol. And, somewhat surprisingly, the United States Marines welcomed women into service. With WACs, WAVES, SPARs, and WASPS, everyone expected a clever acronym from the Marines, who are infamous for their sense of humor (ha!). Instead, the Commandant said in an interview for Life magazine, "They are Marines. They don't have a nickname and they don't need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines."
Shooting range practice at SPARS academy

 All told, over 400,000 women served with the US Military during World War II. During the war, many of them won Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, and other awards for service. Many of them died alongside their male colleagues. Most of them were discharged as soon as the conflict ended, and sent back home to be wives and mothers (like much of the female industrial workforce). Decades later, legislation allowed some of them to receive Veterans status, and the appropriate benefits and privileges. This Veterans Day, as you think of the people who have served, and are serving, our country, consider the women who worked hard to preserve our freedom decades ago, who were underestimated and unrecognized for the majority of their lifetimes.

Elizabeth L. Gardner, WASP

*Information obtained from:;;;;;

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On the Radar -- Supersized

Philip Treacy, Spring 2013
We're going to go a bit fantasy today with the trend post.  Designers got a teensy bit crazy for Spring 2013 when it came to scale and size...well, actually, they got BIG crazy.  An oversized and overscaled kind of crazy. I don't think any of these things can be used in real life, but they are fun to look at, aren't they?

Where do you put this purse when you go to eat in a restaurant?  Can you imagine trying to find your keys in it?

Chanel, Spring 2013

Don't these earrings give you a headache?  I get one just from looking at them...

Diane Von Furstenberg, Spring 2013

There's something appealing about these glasses.  Of course, if I was a model, they would look good on me, too...

Nicholas K Eyewear, Spring 2013
Here's a way to incorporate the trend into your wardrobe, but I feel like it looks really un-tailored:

Dries van Noten, Spring 2013

Monday, November 5, 2012

Junk Love Monday: The Big Ten

This week, we have decided to spill some secrets. When the Blackbird girls need a big junk fix, certain antique malls sing sweetly to us across the miles. We, of course, willingly answer the call, even if it involves hours of travel. It certainly helps that we are pretty centrally located, so beach and mountain shops are never out of the question. And, we have certainly scoured the state for those premier antique shopping experiences. So, here are our top 10 favorite antique malls in North Carolina. (We will later post our list for smaller shops, and out-of-state gems.) In no particular order, we introduce:

1. Screen Door, Asheville NC
      We love this store. It is a fairly recent find, and it pops up in conversation regularly. It is well-curated, with a lot of industrial, distressed, and elegantly re-purposed items, as well as great architectural pieces, antiques, and collectibles.
Visit their website:

2. Oddfellows Antiques, Asheville NC
     Another favorite in the Asheville area. It has around 16,000 sq. feet of antiques, with a lot of furniture, stained glass, architectural items,  and things with a certain interesting "look." You can easily find a beaver top hat, 1930s trophies, leather books, or old store signage.

3. Bryant Antiques, Asheville NC
     We drop a lot of dough at this place. There are a lot of dealers that cater to our wide list of collections, and the prices are reasonable. I once bought a large (around 20"x30") vintage pinup for $75--a steal, as it was in mint condition, and looks fantastic hanging in my house. Also, it is right beside Oddfellows, so we can park once and spend the whole day buying junk!
Their website is here:

4. Sweeten Creek Antique Mall, Asheville NC
     This is another fairly recent discovery, and it is huge. The prices are great, also. We still lament that perfect little mid-century hutch--only $100, but not possible to fit in a Yaris! Le sigh....

5. The Depot at Gibson Mill, Concord NC
      Very huge. The building used to be a functional mill, and has been upgraded with heat/air conditioning (important!). There is a large section geared toward decorators, with new upholstered furniture, fountains, fabric, etc. But, there is also a lot of square footage devoted to traditional antique vendors. We always find great things here, but plan on many hours of shopping to see it all.
Their website:

6. Collector's Antique Mall, Asheboro NC
      We admit to some bias, because we both work here. However, we've both been customers for longer than that (and usually spend a fair share of our paychecks here). It is 35,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles, and tends to be on the regular migratory path of antique buyers from all over the South. Their website stinks, but here is the Facebook page:

7. Antique Market Place, Greensboro NC
      This one is right off of I-40 West, and well worth a full afternoon. You can find anything from Victorian to Mid-Century, and there is a lot that is just neat to look at.
Their website is here:

8. Sleepy Poet, Charlotte NC
      They have a great vintage clothing section, a huge selection of vintage vinyl, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

9. Sanford Antique Mall, Sanford NC
      My favorite purchase from here: a vintage cardboard movie advertisement (18"x24") for $45. They also have great kitchen collectibles, and a large selection of books.
Their website:

10. Smokey Park Antique Mall, Candler NC
     It's sort of in the middle of nowhere, but it's only 15 minutes past Asheville. Our favorite thing about this shop is that we always see versions of things that we've never seen before, if that makes sense. An example: we see a lot of vintage Santas here and there, but this place has a whole showcase of Santas that we've never seen in person at another shop, only in reference books. They are also good about calling dealers with offers on items. Just don't believe them if they tell you that they'll be open on Easter. Lies, I tell you!

and, okay, we had to add another one:
11. The Salisbury Emporium, Salisbury NC
     In the historic Frick Building, right beside the old train station. The staff is very nice, the selection is great, and if you ever wanted anything to do with Cheerwine, this is the place for you. (Cheerwine comes from Salisbury!)

Go and shop! The only way we get to enjoy our favorite places is if they stay in business!