The Ration of Fashion

Tighten Your Belts Please!

Part 1 of 3

On the 1st June, 1940, for the first time ever, clothing came under the strictures of rationing. The Palace of Westminster, rather than Paris, would dictate what could be worn, how long a skirt/dress could be, how many pockets could be had and even how long a pair of socks could be!

Shoes had to be strong, plain, comfortable and practical.

In the beginning, an adult could have 66 coupons per year while the allowance for children was based on a sliding scale according to age, height and weight.

To put these figures in perspective, a mans’ suit required 22 coupons, a coat 16 coupons and a basic, no frills dress 11 coupons.

As the war progressed, 66 was reduced to 48, then 36 and finally, 20.

Clothing became ever more drab and plain in order to conserve stocks of materials so that the forces could be kitted out for the battlefield.

On the home front, the philosophy of ‘make-do-and-mend’ came to the fore. The watchwords patch and repair became synonymous with the war effort.

Indeed, Patriotic Patches became something to be proud of, showing one and all that one was ‘doing-ones-bit’ for the war effort!

Towards the end of 1941, utility wear was introduced. This was generally in the form of overalls or dungarees. Heavy duty clothing that could survive the rigours of both daily life and the air-raid shelter.

Though not all had to suffer such deprivation. As with all things, if you had the money, anything could still be bought, though for most ordinary citizens this was not an option.

In terms of making a fashion statement and making the best of what was available, hats and handbags were not rationed.

Nor, incidentally, was lipstick. It was considered to be a morale booster for both sexes!

A basic hat could be worked up with flowers, feathers, (neither were subject to rationing) scraps of lace, old silk or fur trimmings from coats, into quite marvellous concoctions!

Handbags too took on a new lease of life as an impromptu fashion accessory.

Of necessity they needed to be large enough to house the ubiquitous gas mask and so the most could be made of colouring and garnishing them to counter the drab clothing.

Silk stockings also became impossible to find. Unless a girl were lucky enough to meet a generous G.I. there were few alternatives. Some dressmaking shops started doing stocking repairs but it took money that could be better spent on just ordinary, day-to-day living.

So girls, just stain your legs with beef extract, get a very good friend to draw a pencil line up the back of each and just pray that you don’t get caught in the rain while you’re out . . .

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