The phrase ‘rationed clothing’ can conjure up images of lacklustre garments reflecting the grim times of the world wars. I managed to examine one garment from the Museum of Design in Plastics which demonstrates quite the opposite (fig.1).
The Utility Clothing Scheme was introduced by the Board of Trade in 1941- a sustainable solution to the ‘quick fix’ (Ration Book Britain, 2013) of rationed clothing. Distinguished designers such as Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, known for creating pieces for the royal family, collaborated with authorities to produce garments that were ‘economic to make, good quality…long lasting.’ (ibid). Such items bore the CC41 label, standing for Civilian Clothing 1941.
This utility blouse is just one example (fig. 2). It showcases a vibrant print ‘based on the traditional paisley design’ (MoDip, n.d.), as well as shoulder pads which mirrored the popular silhouette of the era (Ration Book Britain, 2013). Despite its almost flamboyant appearance, the blouse remains within the regulations of the scheme; it has the maximum 5 buttons granted, and does not include any superfluous features like pockets or frills (ibid). Furthermore, it is fabricated from rayon, a versatile material that could be formed into myriad fabrics. It was also much cheaper than silk or wool, but the quality had improved considerably by the late 1930s (Howell, 2012, pp. 14-15).
Prior to this, civilians were issued coupons, enabling the purchase of garments. However, these unintentionally increased the price of rationed clothing, as the 66 coupons could only be exchanged for ‘one complete outfit a year’ (Ration Book Britain, 2013).
Although resources were lacking, it was paramount to retain morale on the home front by dressing well, as ‘to be scruffily dressed’ was regarded as ‘unpatriotic’ (Style on Trial, 2009). Britons wanted to support their country through their appearance in a responsible and sustainable way, and the launch of CC41 was the welcomed development which enabled them to do so.
- Blouse with Utility Mark Label. Newbold, H. (2017). Blouse with Utility Mark Label. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Detail of Utility Blouse Showing CC41 Label. Newbold, H. (2017). Detail of Utility Blouse Showing CC41 Label. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
Museum of Design in Plastics. (n.d.). Blouse with Utility Mark Label. [online]. Available from: http://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc-000824 [Accessed 25 October 2017]
Howell, G. (2012). Wartime Fashion: From Haute Couture to Homemade, 1939-1945. London: Berg.
Ration Book Britain. Home Made. (2013). Yesterday. 16 November. [Television]. Available from: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0175F7EC [Accessed 15 Nov 2017]
Style on Trial. 1940s. (2009). BBC4. 11 August. [Television]. Available from: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/00CD58B7 [Accessed 15 Nov 2017]
Scott, E. J. (2017). BA Fashion Design. Arts University Bournemouth. 11 October.