On the 5th of March, IWM London opens a brand new, (and very exciting!) exhibition - Fashion on the Ration
If you collect or wear vintage clothing from the 40s and 50s, then you will be well aware of the value that the little CC41 label can add. Fashion on the Ration explores the history behind the Utility scheme and the effect it had on the British public. Themes explored include how people adapted to austerity measures and the results of their ingenuity in tough times, the introduction of uniform for the massses, new 'functional fashion' styles, and how this all surprisingly allowed fashion to flourish in the most pleasing of ways.
The exhibition brings together 300 exhibits including clothing, accessories, photographs and film, official documents and publications, artworks, wartime letters, interviews and ephemera, some of which have never been on display before, Fashion on the Ration presents a sense of what life was like on the home front for men and women during wartime Britain.
Fashion on the Ration is divided into 6 sections and here's a little bit about what you can expect to see in each section:
Into Uniform looks at the effect of the sudden swathes of uniform clad guys and gals seen on the streets of Britain, what the most and least popular styles were; so the darlings of the armed forces in the RAF aka 'Brylcreem Boys' and the jealousies of the boys of the Army, and how military uniform came to influence civilian clothing
Functional Fashion explores the influence of wartime measures on everyday life such as siren suits, blackout buttons and gas mask handbags
Luminous flowers to wear in the blackout - just one of the ways that functional fashion had commercial value
Beauty as Duty, one of my favourite wartime sayings, looks at the way in which so many women felt it their job to maintain their personal appearance as a small part to play in boosting morale on the home front. This section also explores the lengths women were forced to go to to do so in the face of shortages of cosmetics and the introduction of politics in the women's daily routine such as slogan printed headscarfs and advertising campaigns such as 'lips in uniform'
Rationing and Make do and Mend Shortages of fabrics and rationing of clothing meant that people were forced to make clothes last longer by mending, knitting and transforming old clothing. This section uses the great example of a men's suit, adapted and changed into a women's skirt suit. The introduction of rationing in 1941 changed the nation's shopping habits and forced people to be more creative with their wardrobes
Utility Clothing Although CC41 has now become extremely collectable amongst vintage enthusiasts, during the war the idea of 'Utility' clothing was not greeted with such enthusiasm. This section of the exhibition has a beautiful and somewhat surprising collection of colourful clothing all made to Utility regulations, and explores what that actually meant for clothing manufacturers at the time.
Peace and a new look? This section looks at how the end of the war impacted upon fashion, and considers the long-term impact. On display will be a ‘VE’ print dress worn by the comedienne Jenny Hayes to celebrate the end of the war - which I am very excited about, and an example of the ubiquitous demob-suit, issued to men leaving the military services. In 1947, the launch of Christian Dior’s ostentatious ‘New Look’ shook the fashion world desperate for something new after years of pared down wartime fashion.
Here's the surprise - not so much of a surpise if you know me - I work at IWM London, so you maybe that makes me a bit biased. At the time of writing this, I havent actually seen the finished exhibition yet, so only have the press release to go on and the information from my passionate and hard working colleagues! However, even if I didnt work there I would be as equally excited about this and think its a great time to have such an exhibition on in London. As some of you may know, not long after this opens, across town in South Kensington, the V&A also have the much anticipated Alexander McQueen exhibition opening. I think its wonderful to see two of London's leading museums have 2 major fashion exhibitions at the same time - one depicting an important and influential name in modern British fashion, and one looking back at an incredibly important time in British fashion history, and making us reflect on the influence that the style of the time has on our fashion industry now.
There is also book to accompany the exhibition - Fashion on the Ration by Julie Summers. This gives a thoughtful and in depth look into the main themes of the exhibition. Its on sale here for a special exhibition price.
Tickets to Fashion on the Ration are £10 and there are concession prices to - you can book them here
The museum's cafe are also running a group package where you can book tickets to the exhibition and enjoy an afternoon tea. Tickets available here
One last thing you might enjoy! If you follow Imperial War Museums on Twitter they are running a lovely campaign user the hashtag #whatmyfamilywore where you can share photos of your family in the 1940s. There are some wonderful pictures that have already been shared!
If you do go and visit the exhibition, please let me know what you thought - and if you see me in the museum, be sure to say a cheery hello! ;-)