When I went to the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the V&A I discovered Utility Clothing for the first time – I knew about rationing but I didn’t know that the government came up with clothing lines to try to use easily available fabrics and the rules they introduced around clothing (such as no turn-ups allowed!) to give people stylish clothes they would want to buy and that they could buy with their coupons.
The Utility Clothing Scheme was introduced in 1941 and the government got lots of cool designers of the age to design the clothes as they had tried something similar in World War 1, called ‘standard clothing’ which was unpopular with both the public (who felt the clothes were of a very poor quality) and the manufacturers (who found it difficult to make a profit due to the fixed pricing). It was called CC41 and had a logo designed by Reginald Shipp:
The government tried to fix some of the issues from the previous try at a national clothing scheme so there was no tax on the utility clothing – a purchase tax was only introduced in 1941, so that luxury items became even more expensive so people didn’t want them and manufacturers didn’t want to make them. The factories also received a financial incentive to make the utility clothes, so this removed 2 of the main financial obstacles from the WW1 incarnation. There were specific fabrics that were allowed to be used (mostly wool and cotton) and also rules about the garments they were made into – like the number of buttons or pleats.
They even got a big star of the day – Deborah Kerr – to advertise the clothes to make them seem glamourous.
I love this photo of her darning a stocking – even film stars have to make do and mend!
They also had a fashion show at Bush House advertising the new scheme in 1942
The government employed members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers to design the range of clothes – presumably so they would be clothes that people would want to wear! Norman Hartnell was one such designer. I love these coloured photos – and it shows that they used bright colours as well as browns and muted tones which are the stereotype of the period.
I’m pretty sure the red and green dresses below are the same dress but in different colors.
This is a picture of Hartnell’s workshop.
He even designed trousers!
Hardy Amies was another such designer brought on board the utility clothing scheme. Here he is taking a break from his officer training to measure the hem of one of his skirts. Patriotic much?!
This red dress is fairly fab!
Here are some other pictures of clothes from the scheme – because pretty clothes!
Love those colored photos, so cool to see instead of the black and white! Great pictures and info, thanks for sharing- I would love that mustard coat!
I definitely want that mustard coat!
Oh wow, I’d no idea that the utility clothing was so fabulous; it really epitomises the style of the era (I guess because it’s pretty much all women were wearing due to rationing?)
I didn’t know either, until I went to the exhibition! It’s easy to assume it was all brown and grey and dull and had no thought about the design, but to make it a success they had to make clothes people wanted to wear.
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So interesting, love thinking about our version of utility clothing today.
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