The Ration Of Fashion

The Austerity Look

Part 3 of 3

Sensible shoes, square shoulders, short skirts and ‘painted legs’ soon became the norm. A large number of the European fashion ‘houses’ re-located to Berlin or went into mothballs. The fashion industry went into free-fall.

While the British declared that by saving on cloth and leather they were aiding the war effort, some French and Italian designers declared that all materials they used would mean that there was less available to the enemy. A possibly blinkered outlook in hindsight but the thirst for fashion was such that if it could improve morale on the home-front then it could only prove to be a positive!

Despite that, the adoption of the ‘Austerity Look’ was fairly common, the exception being hats, which became large, complex and frivolous. An eccentric hat and embellished jacket became the bench-mark of war-time fashion. Otherwise plain clothing could be embellished with fur and embroidery from pre-war clothing to create a new kind of elegance.

As the war progressed and news of victories in Europe filtered through, (there was none of the blow-by-blow, almost instant reporting of today) a sense of optimism began to evolve. Good times were just around the corner!

As the liberation of Italy and France became a reality old service clothing came onto a starving market. Any seviceable materials became the new raw materials to be cut, dyed, stained and patterned into new designs.

It was a small, but significant, start to the rebuilding of the European fashion industry.

When the war finally ended in 1945 the street parties and celebrations went on for months. Although freed from the restrictions of ‘blackout’ it was commonly understood that rationing would not end soon, if at all. There were countries in Europe that had far  greater need of available resources than Britain. In fact, the return of servicemen and women to their homes and the release from possible threats from abroad brought in a strengthening of the need for rationing.

In August 1945 nearly one million servicemen were de-mobbed with a further one million to be de-mobbed in the following January. The labour market was about to be flooded. The first priority was the mines, then agriculture, then factories! Production, production, production!

And did life carry on? Of course it did! The rights and wrongs of the conflict were of no concern to the ‘home front’ in so far as it had ended and things could get back to normal! And the sooner the better!

Wartime austerity continued for many years beyond 1945. As time went on and London hosted the 1948 Olympics murmurings began to bubble under the surface of social intercourse concerning the when and how of the final end of food and clothing restrictions.

To do this current piece justice, and the prior comments, a further comment on 1950 and beyond will be required.

Watch this space!

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