How To Dress Like ‘Rosie the Riveter' for the Big Rally

Gearing Up for the Rally in Richmond To Break a Guinness Record

When "Rosie" fans get all dolled up for the rally in Richmond this weekend, they'll don her iconic polka dot bandana and red knee socks to faithfully reproduce the image from posters and magazines.

Each wanna-be Rosie also must wear blue coveralls or a dark blue work shirt and jeans, and black or brown work shoes to be counted toward breaking a record for most people dressed like Rosie the Riveter. The Richmond rally has adopted stricter rules to compete with a similar event outside Detroit.

The Michigan Rosies stepped up the competition last year by bringing together more than 2,000 people dressed like Rosie at an former bomber plant.

Park rangers at the Rosie the Riveter-WWII Home Front National Historical Park and officials at the Rosie the Riveter Foundation hope attendance this year wins the title from the Guinness World Records.

The real "Rosies," the women who took jobs that traditionally went to men during World War II, wore whatever they had to to get the job done. During World War II, clothing and shoes were in short supply.

Marian Wynn, 90, of Fairfield, who worked as a pipe welder in the Kaiser shipyards, wore a heavy leather jacket, men's pants, men's work boots and a hood when she worked. Underneath, She wore lipstick and curled her hair so it would look good after work.

"We wore the leathers over our regular clothes and pants. We wanted to look good when we went home after work," she said. "It was just natural to try to look as good as you could. I was 18."

Her friend and fellow Rosie, Kay Morrison, 93, said her clothes were practical, in men's pants, because women's pants hadn't come out yet.

"We were doing a job for our country and that was the important thing," Morrison said. "We were Roosevelt's secret weapon."

Morrison said wrestling the long, heavy cable that provided power to her welder wasn't too hard. She had been working since she was 14 in Chico, picking peaches.

Both women say they wish they had saved more clothing and mementos from when they worked in the shipyard. They didn't realize at the time how the shift of women into the workforce would set off other societal changes, how Americans' new-found mobility would set off dramatic population shifts, and how the wartime economy and the boom that followed would shape their lives. Both left their jobs, married and had children after the war.

Neither Morrison or Wynn remember exactly when they first saw a drawing of Rosie, but they both came to see themselves, and feel proud about their contribution to the war effort and to challenging preconceptions about what women could do at work.

Just like the real Rosies, contemporary Rosies who are dressing up in 1940s attire for a day have a lot of freedom to accessorize and express themselves. Men can dress up too. But Guinness will only count humans toward the record. 

Courtney Cummings wore Native American beads on top of her work shirt to honor her heritage and how the war effort brought so many Americans from different backgrounds together. Her 8-year-old daughter, Malina Angel Marvilla, pinned her bandana back to show off her blue hair.

Lead Ranger Elizabeth Tucker plans to wear her Park Service uniform and ranger hat, because she'll be on duty on Saturday. But got a polka dot manicure to celebrate the day.

The gift shop sells "Rosie kits," red socks and the regulation bandana. But that doesn't help with the age-old challenge of how to look cute in baggy coveralls.

Renilie Casborn, 29, of Fairfield, dropped by the NPS gift shop to buy a T-shirt with featuring an African-American welder Rosie with a no-nonsense look on her face. She wears protective clothing at her job at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo.

"I dress up like Rosie every day at work. I wear coveralls and boots - that's my uniform," she said. But at the rally, "when I add the scarf and the socks, and stand out there like last year with all those other women, it's fun."

Women who aren't used to work-wear, should realize that "coveralls aren't for women. If they fit us up here, they're big down here. And vice versa," she said. "Last year I wore a belt."

Ranger Jessica Sloan said she has become an expert at tying bandanas and securing them with bobby pins.

Morrison laughed at the contemporary Rosies fussing with bobby pins to hold their bandanas in place. In the 40s, she explained, the bandanas were made of stretchy fabric. On top of the "do-rag" of that day, she wore a protective beanie and a welding hood.

Rosie got her name first from a popular big band song in 1942, then from a Normal Rockwell magazine cover. During the war years, she won hearts for her hard work in aircraft factories. Later, on a propaganda poster, under the words "We Can Do It!" she became a heroine of women's rights and a symbol of the societal change that the war brought. Now she has captured the imagination of marketers, and her image graces lunchboxes, coffee mugs and T-shirts.

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