Last Saturday I went to London with my big brother and made him go to the Imperial War Museum with me to see the ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition. I have wanted to go since it started in March and I just caught it in time as it finished on Bank Holiday Monday. I’m mighty glad I got there, it was wonderful.
The exhibit started with a focus on the uniforms of WWII, there were lots on display and an explanations of how those in uniform were proud to wear them and how they influenced fashion. Even if it was just an armband, it was worn with pride.
Then we moved on to see how the ‘Make do and Mend’ message was spread and just how resourceful everyone was. I particularly loved the video showing old film reels of hats being refashioned, a husbands trilby became a wife’s hat worn at a jaunty angle and grandpas old top hat became a gorgeous mini version for any young lady to be proud of wearing. The video also showed the ‘make do and mend’ groups, weekly meetings where you could share skills and ideas and this really reminded me of Dolly’s and the types of people we get attending our Craft Club.
Of course there were clothes on display too made from all sorts of items, men’s trousers turned into boys shorts, a suit jacket turned in a pinafore dress but my favourite was the silk dressing gown and underwear made from a map of the world. The note that went along with this explained that the lady who had made this was gifted the map from her sweetheart who was a solider in Italy.
There was a display of clothes made from the new utility fabrics that were manufactured during the war. This fabric was cheaper to manufacture and used less raw materials. The fabrics differed in texture and weight and there were some beautiful prints. Dress patterns were kept simple so as not to use lots of fabric but because of the lovely bright and bold prints the end garments were gorgeous. In this section of the exhibition it also explained that everyone no matter how rich or poor were allocated the same number of clothing coupons. This was because pre-rationing and coupons the richer folk could afford better quality items that lasted longer where those not so well off couldn’t afford the such good quality and then they wore out much quicker.
One of the most intriguing parts of the exhibition was about ‘What Girls Can Do’ this wasn’t about working in the munition factories or building aircraft. No, it was about keeping your hair done and your lipstick on. It was thought that if the woman of the country kept up appearances it was good for moral and boosted the war effort. There was some amazing powder compacts in patriotic shapes such as military caps. This article in the Telegraph goes into more detail. This has really given me mixed emotions because I do always feel better with my red lippy on but at the same time asking woman to stay ‘pretty’ during such hard times is just down right sexist isn’t it?
The overall message I got was that despite the hardship and shortages people became inventive and a sense of style and fashion exploded. And I guess that is why I love this era and I aspire to have a wardrobe of handmade individual clothes.
No pictures in the exhibition sorry, but here’s one
of me outside with my ‘Make do and Mend’ bag.