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Women began to concentrate on the versatility rather than the quantity of their wardrobes, so practical, functional clothing became the norm. Manufacturers began to utilise the newly discovered, less expensive, man-made fibres such as nylon, rayon and viscose for civilian clothing. As shortages became more severe, and in the interest of utilising scarce resources to the best possible extent, material limits for each item of clothing were set. All extras were strictly forbidden.
Double-breasted jackets, pleats, darts, extra pockets, pocket flaps, extra buttons and turn-ups were thus no longer allowed. Wasteful cutting, extra or wide seams in a skirt or shirt, were stopped. As the war continued, many people were unable to afford new clothing, so the ability to repair, renovate or even make clothes became increasingly important. Women became very inventive. Stockings were expensive, so tanned legs with a painted seam down the back of them made an appearance.
It was surprising how creative, and adaptable people could be, and the constant shortages encouraged the imaginative use of available materials when recycling and renovating old clothes. Parachute silk became a sought after material and was used for underwear, nightclothes or even for wedding dresses. Cosmetics continued to be manufactured although in smaller quantities. As new textiles were developed and more women joined the workforce, clothing styles became more informal, simpler and more practical — as seen by the wearing of trousers by women. Once rationing ended March and Britain slowly improved its economic situation.see url
Clothing Rationing in Britain During WWII
Women returned to the home, retired their masculine work clothes and once more embraced a more feminine style of dress. Children's clothes had lower coupon values in recognition of the fact that they would need new clothes more often as they grew. From , all children were allocated an extra ten coupons, with additional coupons being issued for older children or those classed as 'outsize'.
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Coupons were also needed for school uniforms, which could be a particular problem as many schools did not relax their rules on uniform during wartime. Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women's Voluntary Service WVS to help meet the needs of women struggling to clothe their families. Women could take the clothes that their children had outgrown and were given a number of points for the clothes she handed in.
These could be 'spent' on other clothes at the exchange. As this poster illustrates, mothers were also encouraged to buy children's clothing in bigger sizes so it could initially be taken in and then let out gradually as the child grew.
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The 'Make Do and Mend' campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing supplies of clothes last longer. Clothes care was a key part of the Make Do and Mend message. Posters and leaflets were circulated with advice on subjects including how to prevent moth damage to woollens, how to make shoes last longer or how to care for different fabrics.
As the war went on, buying new was severely restricted by coupon limits and no longer an option for many people. The ability to repair, renovate and make one's own clothes became increasingly important. Although shoppers would have to hand over coupons for dressmaking fabric as well as readymade clothes, making clothes was often cheaper and saved coupons. Make Do and Mend classes took place around the country teaching skills such as pattern cutting.
Dress makers and home sewers often had to be imaginative and experimental in their choice of fabrics. Despite disliking much of the official rhetoric to Make Do and Mend, many people demonstrated great creativity and adaptability in dealing with rationing. Individual style flourished. Shortages necessitated imaginative use of materials, recycling and renovating of old clothes and innovative use of home-made accessories, which could alter or smarten up an outfit.
Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too went on the ration. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses. The introduction of rationing did not make clothes cheaper.
Money was still needed to buy clothing, and they were often expensive with prices rising during the war. Every type of clothing item had the same points value regardless of quality.
WWII Cloth and Clothing Rations in the United States and Europe
Wealthier shoppers could afford to buy robust clothes which would last. The less well-off had to use the same number of coupons for a cheaper garment of the same type that might wear out in half the time. Similarly, although the Make Do and Mend campaign suggested ways to repair and recycle old clothes, cheaper clothes inevitably wore out more quickly than more expensive and better quality clothing. The government introduced the Utility clothing scheme in It aimed to deal with this problem by offering consumers a range of well-designed quality and price-controlled clothes affordable for all.
Clothing Rationing in Britain During WWII
The Utility scheme also developed out of a need to standardise production of materials and make factories more efficient to free up more resources for the war effort. Strictly-specified Utility fabrics, and clothes made from these materials, gave the public a guarantee of quality and value for their money and coupons. In wartime Britain it became 'unfashionable' to be seen wearing clothes that were obviously showy, yet women were frequently implored not to let 'standards' slip too far.
There was genuine concern that a lack of interest in personal appearance could be a sign of low morale, which could have a detrimental impact on the war effort. The government's concern for the morale of women was a major factor in the decision to continue the manufacture of cosmetics, though in much reduced quantities. Make-up was never rationed, but was subject to a luxury tax and was very expensive.
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Many cosmetics firms switched some of their production to items needed for the war effort. Coty, for example, were known for their face powder and perfumes but also made army foot powder and anti-gas ointment. Make-up and hair styles took on an increased importance and many women went to great lengths to still feel well-dressed and stylish even if their clothes were last season's, their stockings darned and accessories home-made. As with clothing, women found creative ways around shortages, with beetroot juice used for a splash of lip colour and boot polish passing for mascara.
Aspirations and hopes for the future were a dominant theme in many of the government's public information campaigns after the war had ended. In this saving scheme poster from , a new outfit is presented as a post-war dream purchase. Most British people hoped for an end to rationing restrictions in peacetime.
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