Tuesday, June 23, 2015

'Make Do & Mend' - Fashion at the time of And a Nightingale Sang

By Alysia Miller
Patron Services Supervisor/1st Time Subscriber Concierge

The start of WWII, in 1939, brought much change for the fashion of the day in Britain. Rationing, which began on June 1, 1941, produced most of the major changes in fashion. Civilians would be given a certain amount of coupons to redeem for clothing. “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.” These changes forced people to be more aware of the articles of clothing that they purchased and be more creative in their fashion and style. The government also introduced 'Make Do and Mend', to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes. “Sewing and knitting became popular as it was a way to create and mend clothes and cost a lot less than purchasing garments. Old blankets and un-rationed materials, like fabric for blackout curtains, were transformed into dresses. Men's suits left behind by serving soldiers became their wives' skirts and jackets.”

Then in 1942, the government introduced utility clothes which were made from limited fabrics. These higher quality clothes were able to be produced more efficiently in British factories. “Utility fabrics- and clothes made from these materials – gave the public a guarantee of quality and value for their money and coupons. In Autumn 1941 it became compulsory for all Utility clothes and garments to be marked ‘CC41’. The distinctive logo- often likened to two cheeses- stood for Civilian Clothing 1941’.”

CC41 Utility Mark
“Creativity was applied to cosmetics as well as clothing. Women were constantly encouraged by magazines to invest in their appearance, and worries about shabbiness as a sign of low morale were very real. The face powder compact in the shape of a US Army officer’s cap made a popular gift for servicewomen and the wives and girlfriends of servicemen. But the production of metal compact cases ceased in 1942. The drastic reduction in cosmetic manufacture to spare raw materials for the war effort became a problem and women had to be sparing in their use of the limited make-up produced. Many face powders came without the usual puff to apply it. Other forms of makeup suffered but inspired ingenious solutions. Beetroot juice to stain the lips was a substitute for lipstick. Other beauty tricks included using boot polish for mascara and drawing lines up the back of the legs to give the impression of stockings.”

“Developments in large scale garment manufacturing helped to accelerate the growth of mass market fashion, which in turn helped department stores to flourish. The trend towards a more relaxed and informal style of dress also gathered pace in wartime. The Utility scheme ended in 1952, but it had given consumers new confidence to demand value for money and led to regulated standards in materials and manufacture. Through the Utility scheme, high end fashion designers produced styles for the mass market for the first time. The manufacture of Utility clothes required efficiency in production and less wastage- principles which today align with the desire for sustainability in many companies. In recent years even the concept of Make Do and Mend has had a revival. Crafts such as knitting and sewing are popular outlets for creativity and invention, just as they were in the 1940s.”

Utility Suit, designed by Edward Molyneux for the Utility Scheme, 1942; now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum; Museum no. T.43-1942

Sources: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198394

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