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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Fashion & Rations: WW2 Fashion History – Part 2

Continuing on in our survey of WW2 History from a perspective of how it affected lives back here at home, especially in clothing.  How would today’s society accept rationing?  I wonder…

Italics denote words from Meghann Mason in her thesis found HERE...

You’ll find in BOLD ITALICS statements that peeked my curiosity.

‘Thank’ War for Man-Made Fabrics

Due to the war-time restrictions of raw materials, as well as bans on some imported materials, man-made fibers were created and popularized. The impact of the war was seen not only in fabric choices but also in the style and silhouette of the clothing. There was a new simplicity seen in women’s clothing that required designers and everyday women to tap into their imagination and make the government mandates fashionable.

Because of rationing and unavailability of materials, the differences in social classes were not as visibly noticeable, as the dress and style of all women became similar under government mandates. This was reflected in the style of dress for work, formal events, and on the silver screen in Hollywood. 


In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and WWII began when Britain and France declared war on Germany. Perhaps one of the most important events to happen regarding fashion was the invasion and occupation of Paris on June 14, 1940 by Nazi Germany. Paris was the pinnacle and center of the fashion world until that time. The rest of the world looked towards it to establish the trends that would spread and become popular. Important fashion houses such as Chanel, Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Elsa Schiaparelli maintained their headquarters in Paris. Most of the designers fled the country upon France’s declaration of war in 1939. Others closed shop, and still others remained open; and with the occupation in 1940, they were cut off from the rest of the world. With Paris being in isolation, the fashion world had a gap which the U.S. and 5 Britain filled. This would be the first time a country other than France would be the driving force behind the fashions.

Coupon Books for Clothing

Because of the help given to the Allies, the rationing of materials in both the U.S. and U.K. began as early as 1940. Metals that were used in clothing such as fasteners, boning for corsets, and zippers were all allocated to be used for the military. This allowed new innovations in science and fashion design to develop, mainly in the area of synthetic materials used for daily life and fashion. When the U.S. did finally enter WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, rationing then greatly affected the general population.

Rationing was mandated by the each country’s government and was embraced and carried out by citizens the world over.  Personal observation/question?  Would we see and hear rationing today as a ‘violation of my personal right to buy whatever I want?’ 

Creativity as a Result of Rationing

Rationing  allowed for creativity to blossom under less than ideal conditions and brought people together for a cause. Events and inventions prior to WWII made the rationing program and lifestyle run more smoothly. The Industrial Revolution which began in the late 1700’s allowed the advancement of the mechanization of factories and the textile industry throughout the 1800’s.

I find the following statements to be so, so very interesting….

The need for uniforms in the U.S. Civil War was the catalyst for men’s ready-to-wear clothing in the 1860s. Millions of measurements were taken from the Civil War soldiers which allowed a ready-to-wear sizing system to be more available. In time, women’s sizing was also developed. With the development of WWI, the ready-to-wear manufacturing of clothing also advanced in technology and speed; again, mainly for uniforms.

Even with the advancement of technology in the textile factories, at the beginning of the 20th century, most clothing was still either made in the home for those in the lower classes, or custom made for those of the upper classes. In the 1800’s the garment industry expanded greatly. However, the styles of clothing were changing at a faster pace than before. Information from different parts of the world regarding fashion and trend traveled quicker due to international publications of magazines such as VOGUE. Originally founded in the U.S. in 1909, by 1920, VOGUE had international publication in Britain and France. Because of this, the clothing silhouette began to change as quickly as every 10 years. In comparison, with the technology we have today, trends change several times a year.

In January 1941, a ban on silk for civilian clothing came into effect. Rubber and silk disappeared as they were mainly imported from Japan. Silk was needed for the making of parachutes, some of which would be used to send women spies, part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), into German-occupied France to help with the French resistance and to retrieve information for the Allies. Shortages were also caused by Hitler’s tactic to use submarines, or UBoats, to bomb supply ships coming into Britain. The western world— cut off from many resources— had to eventually replace them by having The Women’s Land Army (WLA) work the land to produce supplies such as food, and had to ration what was left. 

Importing Clothing was Banned in Britain

The British government banned civilians from importing clothing from outside of Britain. They risked being fined if caught doing so. This was to ensure money for clothing would fund the British war effort. This is similar to the U.S. creating an isolated economy by placing such high tariffs on imports in order to make their own economy self-reliable. In clothing rationing, maternity wear was not considered so alterations would need to be made to existing clothes or larger sizes needed to be bought. Britain:  “Once an ID card was issued, a ration coupon book was issued with it. Given were 66 points for clothing per year to begin. In 1942 it was cut to 48 and in 1943 to 36, and in 1945 to 24. Children aged 14–16 got 20 more coupons to compensate for outgrowing clothes quickly. Clothing rationing points could be used for wool, cotton and household textiles. People had extra points for work clothes, such as overalls for factory work.”

Below is an example of how many coupons were needed for different articles of clothing.


Up-Cycling/Re-Cycling HAD to be a part of any sewing enthusiast’s world, as check out that it took 3 coupons for only 1 yard of wool 36″ piece goods!

Clothing prices more than doubled between 1939 and 1941 due to the availability of supplies. With this problem, women of middle to lower classes were finding it more difficult to obtain quality clothing and undergarments that would last them through the war.

Austerity Mentality

The set of directives known as Austerity were applied to all clothing including custom work. While the Utility Scheme set rules for yardage and who was able to manufacture clothing. Austerity directives set rules for how a garment is made. There was to be no superfluous décor, which is why it was named the Austerity directives. Rules included: – Jackets and Coats could have no more than 3 pockets – Dresses may only have 2 pockets – No metal or leather buttons – No boys under 13 could wear long trousers – No tail coats – All braid, embroidery, and lace were banned – Corset manufacturers were prohibited from using shirring, ruching or fancy stitching on women’s underwear.

Here is an image of a ‘utility’ clothing label.  See it as 2 mouths ‘consuming’ the numeral 41.


Coming tomorrow in Part 3:

Why women actually drew on hoseiry seams!

Rules, Wedges and …pants


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