Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's been 60 years since we experienced all-encompassing textile restriction and that lack of restriction allows our clothing to be significantly more adventurous and creative than it would otherwise be. In Britain in the 1940s one of the most prominent wartime slogans (there was a slogan for everything it seems) was Make Do and Mend. The industrialisation of clothing production, a method that the country had adapted to in an extremely short space of time was withdrawn because there was little available material. Clothing manufacturers were put to work constructing military uniforms and as a result many people unpicked clothes and household materials and converted them using different patterns. The rules were stringent; The government limited pleats and hems because they consumed material and men's trousers typically had turn ups. Coupons were issued that restricted the amount of new clothes an individual could purchase. It is difficult to envisage the difficulties involved in rationing. The romanticisation of wartime Britaitn is something I don't want to engage in, I feel that it is mistaken to idealise a time period with restrictions that you cannot envisage. It sounds like it was difficult, oppressive and frightening. The majority of us cannot conceive of living with absolutely no luxury but going to shops and purchasing clothes, stockings, cake is luxury in the context of that time.

In 1942 the L-85 restrictions were adopted in the USA. These restrictions weren't rationing in quite the same sense. Pantyhose, tights and stockings, were banned because the nylon could be used for military purpose but the L-85 restrictions were put in place to save 15 percent of domestic fabric production and 40 million to 50 million pounds of wool. The length of jackets and the width and length of skirts was limited leading to the enforced popularity of the pencil skirt. In addition buttons, pleats and trimmings were restricted. Cuffs, double yokes, patch pockets and attached coat hoods were all banned because they were perceived as features that used extra, unnecessary fabric. These rules worked to suspend fashion and preserve the same styles throughout the 1940s, the fashion industry in Europe had been suspended indefinitely and the US slowed down in accordance with that area of the world.

Ultimately the fashion industry snapped back quickly and immediately moved towards using extraneous material in clothing, a subject discussed in the British press over the last few months with the coverage of Dior's New Look. I don't think that the reemergence of the fashion industry is as interesting as the engagement of the public in retaining style with very few new clothes and very little material. I'm not talking about a fighting spirit but rather the development of a very specific skill set, a generation of women who could sew regardless of their social status because the majority would not have been able to retain any staff or employ dressmakers. If you would like to see some wartime clothing patterns you can take a look here.

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