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A brief look at 'Fashion on the Ration' at the Imperial War Museum London

1940s CC41 Clothes rationing FashionontheRation IWM Make Do and Mend New Look Pretty Nostalgic

I was fortunate to go to the new exhibition at IWM London earlier this month as a Correspondent for 'Pretty Nostalgic', and I loved it! It's part of the IWM's anniversary celebrations of 70 years since the end of WW2, by looking at how fashion survived and even thrived during wartime, and it has a lot of relevance to today even if you don't wear the 1940's look.

There was a lot to take in and I bought the book that goes with the exhibition so that I can read up later.  Basically the exhibition is divided into 6 sections:

  • Into Uniform
  • Functional Fashion
  • Rationing and Make Do and Mend
  • Utility Clothing
  • Beauty as Duty
  • Peace and a new look?

Into Uniform is quite a short section but has quite a lot of different uniforms to represent the quarter of the population who were entitled to wear a uniform even if that was just a helmet or armband.  Functional Fashion looks at some of the practical but still stylish clothes and accessories available, as by 1944 over 7 million women were employed in war work.  Some beautiful items to see.  I love the 'siren suit' which apparently is the forerunner to the 'onesie'; you will NEVER see me in a onesie but I would love a siren suit!  

Rationing and Make Do and Mend is of course a large section as this would have had a major impact on everyday life.  Too much to go into here but loads of fascinating exhibits and information.  I would have been happy with a wedding dress made from parachute silk but don't fancy the magazine suggestion to turn your bedspread into a coat!

Utility Clothing was really interesting, something I didn't really know much about before but now it makes sense.  Why do you see men in braces in wartime? Because zip fasteners and elastic waistbands were banned so they needed something to hold up their trousers!  Beauty as Duty was a small section but shows why red lipstick is an iconic look of the 1940s, as the Government knew it was a way of boosting morale.

The last section on Peace and a New Look? reminds us that clothes rationing continued until 1949 so the best dressed were those who left the services with their 'Demob' suits (although that was only the men.  Women were given extra clothing coupons).  Don't miss the last bit, a video discussing the legacy of WW2 on fashion.  I can appreciate that a lot of good came out of this environment, people started to care for and mend their clothes, new methods of manufacturing clothes remained, clothes became less formal and more creative.  We have had 'fast fashion' but now many people are looking to Make Do and Mend again as our finances get squeezed.

Go! The exhibition is on until 31st August and tickets cost £10 or £7 concessions. 

The book I will be reading is 'Fashion on the Ration' by Julie Summers.

If you want to read more about this exhibition, I will be writing more for the Pretty Nostalgic Compendium, and other ladies have also visited the exhibition and will be writing about it.  The new issue is available as a free digital copy for a limited time at 


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