Fashion on The Ration explores how World War 2 affected fashion and the the way people dressed.
London’s wonderful Imperial War Museum (if you’ve never been, then go – it’s fantastic) hosts an exhibition exploring how men and women found new ways to dress as the rationing of clothes took hold. It is the story of “creativity, innovation and coping in adversity”.
The imposition of clothes rationing was announced by Oliver Lyttleton, President of the Board of Trade, on 1 June 1941. Making the announcement just before a Bank Holiday allowed the Board of Trade time to brief retailers before the shops reopened.
The rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a ‘points’ value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man’s shirt or a pair of trousers. Women’s shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men’s footwear forced the surrender of seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a ‘points’ value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. The coupon allowance was at its lowest from 1945 and 1946. For the eight month period from 1 September 1945 to 30 April 1946 only 24 coupons were issued, effectively allowing the shopper only 3 coupons a month.
The ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing supplies of clothes last longer.
One memorable item of clothing was the ‘Siren Suit’, a Onesie
In 1942, the first ‘Utility’ clothes went on sale on the British high street as part of a government scheme. These clothes were made from a limited range of quality controlled fabrics. The Utility scheme developed out of a need to make production of civilian clothing in British factories more efficient and to provide price-regulated better quality clothing.