Most of us today if we came across the CC41 WW2 Utility label would be reminded of two Pac-Men figures intent, for some reason, on eating and destroying the number ’41’. In 1942, however, and 38 years before anyone had heard of Pac-Men, the label reminded the British public of two cheeses with a small wedge taken out – cruel maybe when everyone was allowed but one oz of cheese per week for most of the war and several years after. The ‘Two Cheeses’ logo was designed by the commercial artist Ronald Shipp and actually stood for Civilian Clothing with the 41 representing the year the scheme was first proposed. From the beginning of 1942 nearly all clothing produced in the UK had this label sewn on.
Inflation for clothing had doubled from the beginning of the war in September 1939 and May 1941 and a way had to be found to make clothing as cheap and basic as possible while somehow maintaining quality. To these ends Utility clothing, together with the CC41 label, was introduced with the Utility Apparel Order initiated by the Board of Trade.
The Government quickly took control of the import and manufacture of raw materials and then supplied cloth to the relevant manufacturers. Even the style of the clothing would become subject to yet more ‘austerity’ regulations and the Making of Civilian Clothing (Restriction Order) was passed in 1942. It forbade any wasteful cutting of clothes and introduced a set of instructions for tailors and dressmakers had to work to. For instance the number of pockets were regulated to comply with the “no fabric on fabric” rule, there was a maximum length for shirts and skirts. Turn ups for trousers, then very much in fashion, were simply banned. Even buttons were regulated and were restricted to three or less.
A group of famous designers including Norman Hartnell, Edward Molyneux, Bianca Mosca and Hardy Amies got together and became known as the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (known as Inc. Soc. for short). The Board of Trade asked each Inc. Soc member to submit four designs for garments that could be included in the CC41 Utility wardrobe. In Septembr 1942 thirty-two of these designs were modelled by volunteering female war-workers. The designer’s collection contained four basic items – a coat, suit, afternoon dress and suit dresses for the office. None of the designers were credited and the designs became standard for Utility clothing from 1942 until late 1945. There was some initial resentment about the new Utility regulations but most of the complaining died down when the clothing started to reach the shops. People were generally surprised about the varied colours and styles and how most clothing was of relatively good quality and hard-wearing.
The new clothing regulations produced a slim female silhouette with nipped in waists and narrow skirts with Vogue describing the look as “sharp cold and even bold”. Vogue also wrote in October 1942 that “All women have the equal chance to buy beautifully designed clothes suitable to their lives and incomes. It is a revolutionary scheme and a heartening thought. It is, in fact, an outstanding example of applied democracy”.
The Utility scheme later included furniture (the CC now stood for ‘Controlled Commodity’) and it continued for several years after the war until it was finally withdrawn in 1952.