Partying 1940s Style: Part 3 – What should I wear?

6th May 2020 / Museum, Museum blog

Today’s VE Day party blog considers that most important of party questions …. What should I wear?

I am sure that we have all at some point let out that plaintive cry “I have nothing to wear”, but with most probably a wardrobe full of clothes, we have to admit that this is not strictly true. However as the Second World War was coming to a close, for many preparing to party, “I have nothing to wear” was not far from the truth.

Clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941. Both raw materials and labour were required for military uniforms and other equipment, such as tents and even tyres, so the production of civilian clothing was vastly reduced. As with food, clothes rationing was implemented to make sure that limited supplies were evenly distributed.

With the ability to buy anything new severely limited, people were encouraged to make the most of what they already had and ‘Make Do and Mend’ became the mantra for all.

This Make Do and Mend pamphlet from the museum’s collection was issued by the Ministry of Information to give help and practical tips on how to make existing clothes last longer. From advice on adding decorative patches to altering a garment’s size, its thrifty design ideas made it a popular guide for many households.

Despite the increased reuse and refashioning of garments, new clothes still needed to be bought. However shortages meant an increase in price and a decrease in quality. To combat growing inequalities between those who could afford better quality clothing and those who could not, in 1942 the government introduced the Utility clothing scheme.

The scheme aimed to offer a range of well-designed, quality and price-controlled clothing. Production of clothing was standardised and the quality and quantity of materials used strictly controlled. This made factories more efficient and freed up more resources for the war effort. Utility clothing was stamped or labelled with a utility mark (CC41), meaning it was a controlled commodity. This stamp is on a blanket in the museum’s collection.

For home sewers and knitters patterns were produced to show how to make quality, utility garments with the minimum amount of materials.

Letting standards slip was seen by the government as a serious sign of low morale. People, especially young women, were encouraged to keep up their appearance (interestingly make-up was never rationed, although it was subject to a luxury tax) but with all the restrictions on buying clothing or the material to make it, looking good wasn’t easy.



Many achieved it by being creative, developing their own style and being imaginative in their use of material. For women a rising hem line, shoulder pads, nipped-in high waist tops, and A-line skirts gave an hour glass look and for men, if not in uniform, that one and only suit with a range of ties. So you could still go out in the 1940s and look stylish!

So don’t stand looking in your wardrobe and despair that you have nothing to wear! Muster the 1940’s Make Do and Mend spirit. You never know what you might create. Whatever it is stay safe, stay in and party on!

Tomorrow we complete our party preparations by considering … What party music mix should I have?


You can read more about clothes rationing on the Imperial War Museums website

For authentic head gear for your 1940’s party look out tomorrow for Coupon Couture 21’s tutorial on how to sew a 1940’s turban.

You can download Wiltshire Council’s VE Day at home pack, to help you celebrate and mark the 75th anniversary

Or watch the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre’s video about VE Day across Wiltshire