July 18, 1942
The War at Home
Wars have always occupied a unique place in American culture, particularly for the upper classes who were
the target audience of The New Yorker magazine. During the Civil War rich families would stake out hillside seating to watch
the battles, while during the Spanish-American War people clamored for pictures of victorious American soldiers.
WWII was no different, as millions of Americans at home would watch the news reels that were shown before
movies, sometimes over and over again. The role of WWII as a spectacle (especially for the upper classes) had the added effect of making some, especially
among the upper classes, seek to emulate soldiers dress as a sort of novelty. This picture shows a society women
creatively (at least in her mind, one can be sure) using a gas mask as part of her insect-like dress for a costume ball.
The image scene of the mirror also suggests that the way this gas mask is used as part
of a costume may imply something about the way that many Americans at home wanted to feel a part of the war without
actually having to risk life and limb through combat (or, in the case of women, as a nurse or other functionary).
The sharp contrast between the roses (which the women would be smelling if she wasn't wearing the mask) and the sorts of
chemicals (such as mustard gas) which the gas mask was designed to protect soldiers from, indicates the depth of the separation
between the United States and the war that prevailed in some cases.