Last week I went to an event in Bristol called “Love the future of fashion”. I learned that in the UK we throw away 1.5 million tonnes of clothing every year. Some because the clothes aren’t made from good quality in the first place but also because we buy a lot more clothes than we need today. This made me think of the rationing in Britain during the Second World War, I know we’ve mentioned the Make do and Mend ethos before, so today I thought we could learn a bit more about clothes rationing.
Clothes rationing was announced in June 1941 as the British government needed to reduce production and consumption of civilian clothes to make sure materials could be put to good use and release workers and factory space for war production. To most people these news came as a bit of a surprise but as with food rationing, one of the other reasons for introducing civilian clothes rationing was to ensure a more equal sharing of clothing and improve the opportunity of finding clothes in the shops for everyone.
The rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a “points” value which depended on how much material and labour went into making it. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man’s shirt or a pair of trousers. When you bought something new you had to hand over your coupons as well as money. Adults were given 66 points to last one year but this became less over time and in 1945 only 24 coupons were issued over 8 months.
Children were allocated an extra 10 coupons as they often grew out of their clothes quicker but these needed to cover school uniforms as well and some women found it difficult to clothe their families. The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) set up clothing exchanges to meet the needs of this problem! Families could take the clothes that their children had outgrown and got points that they could spend on new clothes at the exchange. Everything was useful to someone so very little was thrown away!
Throughout the war, special provisions were made for some people, including manual workers, civilian uniform wearers, diplomats and theatrical performers. New mothers got 50 coupons extra to provide for their babies. Some people found innovative ways to get around the rationing, using black out material and upholstery fabrics to make clothes out of. Parachute silk was highly priced to make new underwear or even wedding dresses out of! Vogue led a campaign to inspire women to adapt the clothes that they already had using bits of old clothes and trims.
Clothes rationing ended in March 1949 and I think there is a lot to learn about reusing things from this time in history that we can apply today. If you would like to know more about women’s fashion in the 1940s we’ve made a post about it here.