Fashion History: Utility Clothing

When I went to the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the V&A I discovered Utility Clothing for the first time – I knew about rationing but I didn’t know that the government came up with clothing lines to try to use easily available fabrics and the rules they introduced around clothing (such as no turn-ups allowed!) to give people stylish clothes they would want to buy and that they could buy with their coupons.

The Utility Clothing Scheme was introduced in 1941 and the government got lots of cool designers of the age to design the clothes as they had tried something similar in World War 1, called ‘standard clothing’ which was unpopular with both the public (who felt the clothes were of a very poor quality) and the manufacturers (who found it difficult to make a profit due to the fixed pricing). It was called CC41 and had a logo designed by Reginald Shipp:

CC41_logo1The government tried to  fix some of the issues from the previous try at a national clothing scheme so there was no tax on the utility clothing – a purchase tax was only introduced in 1941, so that luxury items became even more expensive so people didn’t want them and manufacturers didn’t want to make them. The factories also received a financial incentive to make the utility clothes, so this removed 2 of the main financial obstacles from the WW1 incarnation. There were specific fabrics that were allowed to be used (mostly wool and cotton) and also rules about the garments they were made into – like the number of buttons or pleats.

They even got a big star of the day – Deborah Kerr – to advertise the clothes to make them seem glamourous.

Deborah Kerr Derata Utility Coat(image source)

Deborah Kerr Newspaper(image source)

I love this photo of her darning a stocking – even film stars have to make do and mend!

Deboarh Kerr darning stocking(image source)

They also had a fashion show at Bush House advertising the new scheme in 1942

circa 1942: Models at Bush House, London, displaying clothes made from government utility materials, at the first mixed mannequin show ever held. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)(image source)

The government employed members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers to design the range of clothes – presumably so they would be clothes that people would want to wear! Norman Hartnell was one such designer. I love these coloured photos – and it shows that they used bright colours as well as browns and muted tones which are the stereotype of the period.

Norman Hartnell designs 1(image source)

I’m pretty sure the red and green dresses below are the same dress but in different colors.

Norman Hartnell designs 2(image source)

This is a picture of Hartnell’s workshop.

Norman Hartnell designs 3(image source)

He even designed trousers!

At a famous west end store, Norman Hartnell, Britain's leading dress designer, sponsored a show of the new utility fashions for the coming season , in London. These models, are designed not only for the home market but also to uphold Britain's fashion prestige abroad.(image source)

Hardy Amies was another such designer brought on board the utility clothing scheme. Here he is taking a break from his officer training to measure the hem of one of his skirts. Patriotic much?!

British dress designer Hardy Amies (1909 - 2003) takes time out from his officer training to prepare his spring collection. (Photo by Fred Ramage/Getty Images)

This red dress is fairly fab!

Hardy Amies 2(image source)

Here are some other pictures of clothes from the scheme – because pretty clothes!

tweed suit, mustard shirt & coat(image source)

light dress with dark trim(image source)

grey suit, burgundy tie
(image source)

2 versions of dress with trim(image source)

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7 thoughts on “Fashion History: Utility Clothing

    1. I didn’t know either, until I went to the exhibition! It’s easy to assume it was all brown and grey and dull and had no thought about the design, but to make it a success they had to make clothes people wanted to wear.

      Liked by 1 person

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