Chapter One: Introduction
“Obviously fashion was of no concern to those living under desperate affliction or confinement – but where hope existed so did fashion” (Walford, 2008:6).
Britain became involved in World War II (WWII) on September 3rd 1939. It might seem irreverent to consider fashion in the context of a war that resulted in so many civilian deaths however, the experience of the war ranged dramatically according to who and where you were. “The civilian population suffered not only the deprivations and hardships of a wartime economy but found themselves under attack. During the first three years of the war, more civilians died than service personnel” (Rouse, 1989:171). With the men away at the front line, women were called upon to replace the conscripted male workers. They were encouraged to go into occupations such as farming, medicine or munitions. “By 1943, 57 per cent of Britain’s workforce were women, and these women came from all sections of society” (Rouse, 1989:172). Britain suffered great shortages during the war and the Government took control of the supply of scarce resources through a series of ‘Limitation of Supply Orders’. Beginning in January 1940, food was the first resource to be rationed followed shortly by clothing in June 1940. For clothing, the problem was tackled in three ways rationing, utility and austerity.
Figure 1.1: Female munitions worker
On June 1st 1940, a rationing plan was introduced in order to combat material shortages due to the materials being needed to make war supplies. A ban on silk for civilian clothing came into effect in January 1941 followed shortly by other textiles such as wool, leather and nylon these materials were needed to make parachutes, uniforms, hospital blankets and medical supplies for the soldiers.
A coupon system meant that both cash and coupons were required for the purchase of items of clothing. Each person was allocated a total of 66 coupons per year; this was later reduced to 48 coupons per year in 1942 and further reduced to 36 coupons per year in 1943 (Walford, 2008: 40). Clothing rationing was controlled by a points system, the rationing book contained coupons of various point values. Items of clothing were assigned point values depending on how much material and labour were needed for the production of the garment. Table 1.0 shows how many coupons were needed for basic items of clothing for women and girls.
Figure 1.2: Clothing rationing book. Table of coupons needed for the purchase of different items of clothing (Women and Girls) | | Adult | Child | Lined mackintoshes, or coats (over 28in. long) | 14 | 11 | Jacket, or short coat (under 28 in. in length) | 11 | 8 | Dress, or gown, or frock – woollen | 11 | 8 | Dress, or gown, or frock – other material | 7 | 5 | Gym tunic, or girl’s skirt with bodice | 8 | 6 | Blouse, or sports shirt, or cardigan, or jumper | 5 | 3 | Skirt, or divided skirt | 7 | 5 | Overalls, or dungarees or like garment | 6 | 4 | Apron, or pinafore | 3 | 2 | Pyjamas | 8 | 6 | Nightdress | 6 | 5 | Petticoat, or slip, or combination, or cami-knickers | 4 | 3 | Other undergarments, including corsets | 3 | 2 | Pair of stockings | 2 | 1 | Pair of socks (ankle length) | 1 | 1 | Collar, or tie, or pair of cuffs | 1 | 1 | Two handkerchiefs | 1 | 1 | Scarf, or pair of gloves or mittens, or muff | 2 | 2 | Pair of slippers, boots or shoes | 5 | 3 |
Table 1.0: Table of coupons needed for the purchase of items of clothing.
1.1.2 Utility Clothing
Figure 1.3: CC41 utility label.
Rationing had proved useful in limiting the amount of cloth and clothing bought but did not address the distribution, cost or quality. A wealthy customer with money would have been able to afford a well made dress whereas a poorer customer had to surrender the same amount of coupons for a cheaper dress. The