Make do and mend: UK clothes rationing during WW2
By Lena on March 20, 2012
The Clothing Ration was controlled on a points system and the books contained coupons of various point values. Items of clothing were assigned point values. Each person was allowed sixty-six points a year, which was equal to one complete outfit of clothing for the average adult.
According to my own Grandma Hilda Kaye (pictured left in 1944 with her first child), who was 21 when clothes rationing was introduced, “the coupon system was just accepted as a new way of paying for everything, I had no difficulty in getting used to the system, it was just the way things were.”
To overcome the clothing ration people made their own clothes by re-using material from old clothes, curtains, blankets and furnishing fabrics which were sometimes available. Knitting was very popular, and people were encouraged to knit gloves, socks and scarves to send to the men in the armed forces. Old jumpers were unravelled and re-knitted to create new garments. Resources were scarce and everything was reused and recycled: “We used to take our old jam jars to the Rag and Bone man who would pay a small amount for them, that way we would have extra money for the necessities.”
In direct response to the shortages, Vogue’s ‘Make Do & Mend’ campaign led women to become accustomed to adapting their existing clothes. Clothes were patched and shoes repaired and clothes which children had grown out of were “handed down” to brothers and sisters or neighbours’ children. “Clothing was handed down through family and friends. Everything was useful to someone so very little was thrown away. We would take apart clothes and rework them into new garments, even knitted items” Hilda says.
Trims and embellishments were by necessity, kept to minimum leading women everywhere to recycle household items including cellophane and pipe cleaners to create festive decorations, whilst making other garments such as coats out of old blankets. “My wedding outfit was difficult to come by,” says Hilda. “My wedding dress was handed down which was quite a common practice. We paid for other pieces with coupons, and had some contributed by relatives.” Pictured left is Hilda’s bridesmaid on her wedding day in 1942. The dress was made by ‘Bunch and Nana.’
Young people still wanted to socialise during the war by going to movies and dances, and by using accessories such as black patent plastic box bags, large clutch bags and rayon jersey gloves, they could further the basic outfits provided by rationing, and be fashionable too. “I mainly used to wear dresses and skirts, but liked using scarves to brighten up an outfit,” says Hilda, pictured left on her honeymoon in North Wales in 1942.
With silk and nylon production being diverted to military use for making parachutes and barrage balloons, even stockings were banned. Women turned to applying watered down gravy or weak tea to their legs to dye their skin to look as though they were wearing stockings, the seams were added using eyebrow pencils.
Women had learnt a lot from rationing but had been starved of fashion throughout the war. Hilda says “I learnt to sew and knit, and to cook with limited supplies. The whole rationing experience made me appreciate everything and subsequently the habit of ‘Make do and Mend’ has stayed with me for life.”
However, fashion had not changed for eight years as wartime regulations stipulated that nothing should go out of style before it wore out. Women were ready for change, they wanted clothes that were brash, fun and extravagant, clothes that expressed a new optimism.
Despite its controversy with the lavish use of materials, the introduction of Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947 appealed to a depressed market looking for a feel good factor. Although most couldn’t afford the luxurious designs, Dior’s dresses marked a hugely significant point in the world of fashion and represented women who wanted to transform their appearance with new ideas of femininity and self fulfilment.
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