Fashion on the Ration

1940s Street Style was Not About Spending, But Making Do and Mending

“Wardrobes are shrinking and the smaller they get, the more perfect they have to be.” – Vogue, September 1943

Contrary to wide spread belief at the time that the arrival of WW2 would spell the end of the British fashion scene, the opposite happened. A new kind of thrifty, conscious, and creative style emerged, the effects of which are still being felt today.
Fashion on the Ration1
Fashion on the Ration2In celebration of 70th anniversary of the war’s end, Imperial War Museum, London UK, has taken the opportunity to show us how fashion developed during this difficult period in Britain’s history.

Divided into six parts, the show will include interesting pictures of 1940s Brits living out their everyday lives, examples of traditional attire and utility clothing which has never been on public display before, and also Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’.  Fascinating titbits like letters, diaries and short movies on the ‘Make do and Mend’ generation will also be on display.

See how the British government encouraged its citizens to ‘Make do and Mend’:
Clip 1 [No sound] – Women queuing for rations at Piccadilly Circus. Filmed by Rosie Newman.
Clip 2 [No Sound] – Especially designed shop windows in Mayfair, London, to lessen the damage of the Blitz*.

We spoke to the curator of the exhibition, Laura Clouting, about the development of the process and the exhibition itself.

The Plus: The exhibition covers quite a big topic, was it difficult to select which items would be included?
Laura Clouting: The biggest challenge of my job was making the choices of what to keep in. Every exhibition is a fight with the amount of space you have to place stuff and actually telling a quite tight story, because it’s got to be a very self-contained story. You have to be very ruthless in terms of what you pick and what you leave out.

TP: What do you hope that people leave the exhibition thinking about?
LC: We wanted to tell of how people lived during the war. Living under austerity, living under government restrictions and limitations is very challenging. We want people to take that away, but then to understand how people continued to find creativity during that time, for example ‘make-do and mend shows’ that people found innovative ways to cope with austerity and limitations. Those two things come out in every section of the exhibition.

TP: Do you think this exhibition will encourage people to look into making their own clothes?
LC: People might come away, feeling inspired to make their own clothes, but I don’t think people will go as far as actually doing it. They rather look at the clothes they already have and think: ‘how can I make this item of clothing last longer?’

Perhaps, it will make people think of their own wardrobes and how much we have today, compared to people in the Second World War.

The exhibition is on view from 5th of March 2015 till 31st of August 2015 in the Imperial War Museum in London.