Clothes rationing coupons ww2

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The scheme was designed to ensure fair shares for all at a time when resources were tight. It would allow more precious cloth to be used for making military uniforms and enable factories to focus on other types of manufacturing. Meanwhile men were forced to wear single-breasted suits and the prohibition of turn-ups on trousers was greeted with dismay.

One upside for the male population was that women began to show more leg as hemlines were raised to save on fabric. Clothes rationing was to last for nine years, even affecting the Queen on her wedding day and the rigours of those dark days are highlighted in a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North, held to mark the 75th anniversary of the start of rationing on 1 June In theory the allowance was supposed to allow one new set of clothes every year, with new mothers and brides-to-be receiving a few extra coupons to help with their particular needs.

But in reality it was never enough. A new adult Mackintosh meant using 16 coupons, while a pair of trousers cost eight, as did a night-shirt. As the war continued matters got worse — the number of coupons per person was slashed to just 48 annually and ultimately a miserly three per month. As the war went on people became very creative. Indeed, armed with handy tips such as how to unpick old jumpers, create decorative patches for concealing holes in worn-out garments and protect against the menace of moths, we became a nation of tailors.

An immediate effect of rationing was that clothes became more functional.

People walked further, due to petrol shortages and many were growing their own food. Clothing reflected this culture of everyone mucking in together. Make-up and jewellery, though not rationed, were also in short supply and expensive.

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Women eked out the last remnants from their lipstick tubes, or used a dab of beetroot juice instead, and trinkets were fashioned from pieces of scrap metal including aircraft components. The fact that so many people were in uniform influenced fashion. There was a trend for military-style narrow skirts and smart suits but despite battledress chic becoming all the rage do not imagine that everyone was dressing in khaki. Wartime designers, such as Hardy Amies and Mayfair couturier Peter Russell, were enlisted by the government to create clothes which complied with austerity regulations but still looked desirable.

They and eight other leading designers became members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers.

Clothing Rationing in Britain During WWII

Senate House, the headquarters of the Ministry of Information, is clearly visible behind them. For women there was much more colour and variety, but what people quickly became aware of was the need to use the clothes they already had and make them last longer. Therefore they had to perform conversions of clothes — for example to take a garment like a coat and turn it into a little waistcoat in order to give it a longer life. Even if you were somebody with quite a lot of money, rationing prevented the purchase of new clothes to quite an extent. The latter is something that we see in the Make do and Mend scheme, which began with a government pamphlet issued by the British Ministry of Information and provided housewives with useful tips on how to be both frugal and stylish.

Shopping became tiring, people were constantly having to do sums in their head about what they were going to spend. Clothes rationing was a bit freer than food rationing, where, for example, you had to register with a butcher and you could only use that butcher.

With clothes you could still go to any shop you wanted to and retailers were still quite actively encouraging advertising and shopping in a way we might find surprising during a war. With rationing you would not be allowed to buy many clothes at all.


As the rationing allowance diminished over time it got worse and shabbiness became the norm as the war progressed. People became very sick and tired of clothes rationing and unfortunately rationing continued until , so austerity became very draining for people. Two models pose for the camera on a Bloomsbury rooftop. The model on the left is holding a camera as if taking a photograph and is wearing a blue flecked tweed Utility suit from Dereta, whilst her colleague sports an emerald green woollen frock with a matching jacket, designed by Norman Hartnell, costing 22 coupons.

A barrage balloon can be seen in the sky behind them. Copyright IWM One of the problems of clothes rationing, which was introduced in , was the inequality that emerged from it. If you were very rich you could afford with the same number of coupons to buy a very nice jumper that would last, and the same number of coupons would also buy something cheap that would wear out in no time.

So the Utility scheme democratised fashion and made good quality clothing more affordable for more people. Another main driver was the need to free up factory space and factory workers and turn them over to wartime works. But the government knew it had to try and make the clothes attractive to both the retailers selling them and the people buying them, so they asked some pretty high end fashion designers to get involved through the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers.

People like Digby Morton and Hardy Amies contributed to the scheme by designing a prototype range of clothes.

World War II Rationing

They realised that for a good price you could get some really good quality clothes. We have a whole plinth in the exhibition devoted to it and when people see the clothes and how well they endure, they will be surprised at how good quality this stuff is. In terms of public perception, the different branches of the armed forces were certainly considered more attractive than others.

The RAF were much luckier; ordinary airmen had a very neat blazer that showed off the shirt and tie and it looked much more dashing.

World War II Rationing

And you could see that through clothing. The Womens Royal Naval Service outfit was however coveted, and the WRNS was the most popular service for women to try to join — even though it was the smallest. Included here are two types of luminous arm band, luminous discs and button badges, and luminous adhesive tape which could be added to the edges of clothing. The aim was to make the wearer more visible to pedestrians and vehicles in the blackout.

But in terms of practical wartime fashions there was a real opportunistic commercialism that developed with retailers responding to wartime conditions and the dangers people were living under, so it was a chance to flog people some potentially useful items. Luminous buttons, pin-on brooches, luminous handbags and white coloured coats were sold in order for people to be seen in the blackout, which was one of the most invasive things for ordinary people during the war.

But the problem with the blackout was a steep and sudden rise in collisions in the street between cars and pedestrians. As a result some retailers cultivated the desire to incorporate high visibility with accessories that had some panache and style. You see this with respirators; rather than carrying the mask around in a very tedious looking cardboard box with a piece of string, the gas mask handbag with a special compartment for the gas mask became a wartime trend.

Some people wanted a more attractive solution and it reminds you of the ways retailers were trying to appeal to customers to come through the door and spend their money. Jacqmar of London made propaganda scarves from and were based in Mayfair. Jacqmar silk scarves were wonderful and they were quite niche and high end in terms of affordability.