Book review: Fashion on the Ration

A couple of years ago the Imperial War Museum in London ran an exhibition on wartime fashion. I had the best intentions to visit Fashion on the Ration but it never quite happened. So I was delighted to come across the accompanying book in my local library.

Written by Julie Summers, it chronicles how women’s fashion in the UK changed during the Second World War. She discusses services’ uniforms, the use of coupons and clothes rationing as well as ‘make do and mend’ and the immediate post war era of Dior’s ‘New Look’.

Fashion on the Ration is a fascinating study of a period in British fashion when everyone dressed equally. Once clothes rationing was introduced in 1941 the entire population was restricted by what they could buy, regardless of income. Even Princess Elizabeth had to save up her coupons for her wedding dress in 1947.

By 1942 the number of clothing coupons allocated each year was just 48 as material shortages and labour redeployment became more desperate. With a woman’s winter coat costing 14 coupons this wasn’t much to work with. In 1942 the Utility Scheme was introduced which worked to restrict the amount of fabric used and reduce workers’ time (after all factory labour was needed for war essential work).

Under the Utility Scheme the government dictated the number of pleats in a skirt, buttons on coats and jackets, length of men’s socks and prohibited the trouser turn-up, among other things. It seems remarkable, nowadays, that the population accepted these dictates, although sometimes there were grumbles and even defiance (Montgomery carried on wearing his army trousers with turn-ups).

But, as with food and fuel rationing, and so much more, clothes restrictions were seen as the right thing to do to save labour and finite resources.  Even removing 2″ from the bottom of men’s shirts and getting rid of double cuffs could save four million square yards of cotton each year, as well as 1,000 clothes labourers. Utility Clothing was also well-made, originally from designer patterns, and price controlled, meaning nearly every woman could now afford a designer item.

Rationing and ‘making do’ was seen as patriotic and Fashion on the Ration discusses how women weren’t supposed to admit if they were wearing something new. Ingenuity and resourcefulness dominated the war period. With the men away on active service, wives and daughters would re-work male outfits so that they could now wear them. Materials that weren’t rationed, such as blackout cloth, muslin, cheesecloth and curtain net, were used as clothing fabrics. Even old blankets were turned into coats and jackets, and these coats could then be turned into jackets and then into dressing gowns etc. etc.

Wartime Fashion on display at Fashion Museum Bath l-r: wartime wedding dress, evening dress partially made from blackout material and Jaeger tweed suit produced under the Utility design scheme of 1941

 

The WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) and WI ran ‘make do and mend’ classes (at one point it was considered that these should be made compulsory), and produced a booklet on how to mend cuffs and collars, darn socks etc. There were even pop up booths that could fix stockings.

Social attitudes towards clothing and appearance also changed during this period. It became more acceptable for women to go bare legged and they were no longer required to wear hats in church. However by the end of the war, with rationing still continuing, women became increasingly fed up with this “tiresome necessity”. No wonder they looked to the Paris collections of the post war years and yearned for the glamour of Dior’s ‘New Look’.

Dior’s New Look, Fashion Museum Bath

Dress worn by Princess Margaret, late 1940s, on display at Fashion Museum Bath. Created by Norman Hartnell the cotton dress was designed to promote the domestic cotton market after World War Two.

Yet the introduction of mass manufactured clothing at reasonable prices sounds something we are familiar with today. What was created due to wartime necessity is now something we expect on the High Street. However the outfits we buy now are only expected to last a season – if that – and their cheap price tags mean we no longer need ingenuity or the skills of ‘make do and mend’ to make them stretch much further.

Vintage Style Bloggers to follow

 

 

do love vintage style: anything from the seventies all the way back to the 1920s/1930s does it for me. I love browsing second-hand shops, vintage fairs and jumble sales in search of an elusive piece from any of these period.

However while I don’t have the confidence to dress in a certain period I am a big fan of those bloggers (and Instagrammers) who make vintage style part of their everyday life. Here are a few that I follow:

The Freelancer’s Fashion Blog

I’ve mentioned this blog before here in a post on second-hand style bloggers but have to repeat my admiration for this blog. Norwegian blogger, Ulrika, has the most beautiful 1940s/1950s style. I love everything she wears (although her burlesque costumes are slightly more revealing than I would personally wear!). I also like the fact that she dresses beautifully – even in the freezing Norwegian winters.

Style Sixties

I’m still quite new to Sarah’s blog but if you like 1960s fashion this is the one for you. I like the images she posts of her outfits, as well as her informative pieces about clothing styles and fashion icons.

Musings of a Mid Century Girl

I also follow Emma on Instagram here as she posts some gorgeous pics of her 1940s outfits. Along with her friend Lara (that40sgal on Instagram here) they dress in impeccable forties style and both volunteer at 1940s events including the Forties Experience living history museum.

Remembering the Old Ways

If you want to follow a blogger who lives a vintage life then I can recommend Michelle’s blog, which shares her family life, love of sewing and baking (her weekend tea time posts on Instagram are just so cosy!). She shares family experiences including trips to country houses, 1940s themed gatherings and homeschooling her children.

Finally, although she doesn’t write a blog, I am a huge fan (bordering on the obsessive) of the fashion historian, Amber Butchart, who dresses in the most amazing style. Bright colours and turbans are her trademark. You may have heard her on Radio 4 or seen her recent TV series, ‘A Stitch in Time’, where she worked with experts to recreate period clothing.

Are there any vintage style bloggers or Instagrammers that you follow?

 

 

2017: My best second-hand picks

I wrote a similar post this time last year and thought it would be fun to trawl through my second-hand finds from 2017.

This year I started a new job which, while giving me more spending power, meant I also had to invest in a work wardrobe. While I have definitely bought more first-hand clothing this year, I’m still a sucker for charity shops and some of my best finds of the year have come from them.

  1. Clothing-wise, while I have bought some first-hand items (my favourite being a pair of denim dungarees which I have lived in for the past six months), I’ve still found some great items second-hand. I was very pleased with these Boden ankle-length trousers picked up in Wales in November for just £4.50. These are ideal work-home crossover trousers, something I’m trying to buy more of.

2. These two tops were bought from my favourite Bath charity shop: Save the Children. They originally came from LaRedoute and French Connection and were £9.50 in total, I’ve worn them on their own and, when the weather’s cooler, with a polo neck underneath.

secondhand blouses. charity shop find. Thrifty Find. Thrift store. Workwear.

3. I picked up this former H&M top from Dorothy House Hospice shop for £7  and it has been my ‘going – out’ staple all over the festive period. I had been wanting a dressy green top for ages and picked this up purely by chance on the very day I needed to wear something new (to me)! My mum has also started volunteering at this local hospice, so it is a cause that has become close to our hearts.

4. I bought a couple of Summer staples as well which I was very pleased with. This white cheesecloth shirt proved invaluable when on holiday in the South of France. I originally bought it from Save the Children for a pricey £10, but I wore it a lot in the summer so I think it was worth it.

5. I instantly fell in love with this Henry Holland/Debenhams dress found in the Julian House Shop in Chippenham for £8.50. I loved the style and the unusual horse-themed print! I wore it to a friend’s wedding in the summer and layered it with leggings and jumpers into the Autumn.

6. My final clothing find of the year was this red seventies/early eighties? style homemade dress. I picked it up in a vintage store in London for £9. The material is quite thin but, so far, I’ve been adding jumpers and tights to make it winter-proof. (Incidentally, if you ever want to learn more about wearing layers in the winter read this post here from the Freelancers Fashion Blog. Ulrika has the most beautiful vintage style and lives in Finland so is an expert on how to layer up for the winter – while still wearing gorgeous outfits!)

vintage red dress Rokit London

7. I’m also very pleased with a few second-hand items I bought this year, which weren’t clothing. I had been looking for a new handbag for ages and was delighted to find not only this bag, but also the cute purse for £6  in total, from the Dorothy House shop in Malmesbury. I also made use of my old bag by cutting out the inner pocket and turning it into a small purse I can store my reusable shopping bags in it.

 

8. Vinyl-wise I picked up a  couple of second-hand LPs that I had wanted for ages – and my lovely husband bought me Rumours on vinyl for my birthday (40 years old and still in good condition – the album, not me!)

9. Finally, after many years of avoiding a smartphone I decided that, with my new job, I needed to bite the bullet and buy one. Staying true to my second-hand principles, I decided to purchase a second-hand iphone from CEX, using the money my husband had received for trading in his old phone.

When I read about the incessant need for new gadgets and the speed in which items become obsolescent it makes me really angry. I refuse to buy into the idea that businesses like Apple sell to us that we must always need the next and the best iphone on sale. (I guess it also helps that I’m in my mid-forties and don’t need to worry about my street cred if I buy a pre-loved, older version too!)

Looking back I realise that I have got a lot of wear and use out of the things I bought second-hand. There were a few items that I did buy by mistake and which have since been re-donated – so I don’t always get it right (!). And, although I did buy more items first hand, partly out of necessity and a lack of time to trawl the charity shops, my second-hand finds are definitely my favourite.

How were your second-hand finds this year? Do you plan to buy more pre-loved items next year?

Festive Thrifty Finds (11-18 December)

Are you ready for Christmas?

I still have quite a few things to get on my list but, having spent last weekend, travelling to visit family I feel ready to settle down and spend Christmas at home.

  1. We visited family near London and my husband and I got to spend some time browsing the vintage shops of the capital on our own. I picked up this homemade 70s/80s style dress from the Rokit store in Soho for just £9! The material is quite thin but I plan to wear it over the Christmas holidays with layers and tights. I think it’s a really cheerful festive colour!

vintage red dress Rokit London

 

2. I’ve been given a couple of jars of homemade mincemeats from friends, so I need to start making those mince pies!

3. At work we took part in Christmas Jumper Day for Save the Children. My cardigan comes from a second-hand shop in Bath and was bought for me a few years ago by my family.

 

4. I also got to wear that new (to me) green top to our works’ Christmas meal last Friday.

5. Finally, I am really determined to reduce my food waste this Christmas. Lately, I have been throwing too much food away, despite meal planning. This time we have sat down and written a detailed list of all the meals we will be planning for and eating over the holidays. I found this US site here (courtesy of the Zero Waste Chef) really useful for estimating how much you need to cook for Christmas lunch. And I find the UK site LoveFood HateWaste really useful too when planning how to use leftovers.

What are your plans for feasting over Christmas? Do you stick to a meal plan or do you like to have lots of leftovers? (personally I think Boxing Day is the best day of the year for leftovers!)

Wishing you a wonderful, peaceful and merry Christmas!! xxxx

 

Second-hand shopping in Bristol (Park Street)

I realise it’s been ages since I last posted a Second-hand shopping in.. post, but a recent trip to Park Street, in the centre of Bristol, inspired me to add to the series.

I don’t profess to be an expert in all the locations for second-hand shopping in Bristol, but the centrally located Park Street is a good starting point.

Park Street extends from Bristol Cathedral and College Green uphill towards the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (free entry and well worth a look). Being Bristol, there is also a Banksy located half way up the street.

Park Street is bustling with lots of coffee shops, cafes and a smattering of art galleries. Although selling first-hand items, The Guild, is well worth a look at for homewares and gifts.

But it’s the second-hand shops that really catch my eye.

Just parallel to Park St, located on Queens Road, is the Cancer Research Shop which is worth a browse.

The two stand out charity shops on Park Street, though, are the Oxfam Bookshop and Sue Ryder shop.

Second hand books, Oxfam

The Oxfam Bookshop (officially on Queen’s Road) is two floors of paperbacks, hardbacks, specialist texts, vinyl and more. It is a book-lover’s paradise and I could easily spend a few hours browsing here! For second-hand bibliophiles there is another Oxfam Bookshop,located  just over a mile away in Clifton.

Further down Park Street, The Sue Ryder shop is crammed with vintage goodies! There is a dedicated retro clothing rail that seems to go on for ever… For an over-organised person like myself I love that it is colour coordinated too!

vintage clothing,secondhand shopping, Sue Ryder charity shop

 

I spotted this Laura Ashley dress on the rail; made in Wales, which automatically dates it to pre 2005 (see this post here)

vintage clothing,secondhand shopping, Sue Ryder charity shop, Laura Ashley vintage

The shop also sells a good range of second-hand vinyl, which can be a little pricey. It also has a wonderful curved shop front which I love!

Sue Ryder, charity shop, shop window, Bristol

Beyond the charity shops, Park Street is also famed for its vintage clothing shops.

Squashed between two bigger stores, the diminutive Uncle Sam’s American Vintage is overflowing with secondhand clothing, imported from the US. It is also Bristol’s longest established vintage store, specialising in outfits from the 1940s to 1980s. Unlike many secondhand clothing stores, it also has a good selection of menswear.

 

Another Park Street favourite, Sobeys also has branches in Exeter and Cardiff. I do like this store but, for me, it’s a little too young. Everytime I step inside they seem to be playing Duran Duran (which I love as an old school Duranie!) but the 80s and 90s themed stock tends to remind me of what I used to wear at the time. Being slightly more mature, ‘vintage’ for me harks back to earlier eras. But they do have an excellent range of dungarees and, once more, cater for male customers too. Similarly, BS8 (not pictured) is a vintage store that caters for a younger market but certainly worth a browse.

If you’re new to Bristol then Park Street is a great place to start your second-hand quest. Other areas such as trendy Stokes Croft and upmarket Clifton are great locations to browse in too, and miles away from the mainstream, High Street stores of Cabot Circus and the out of town mall at Cribbs Causeway.

Jumble Sales Hints and Tips

 

Jumble Sale sign

Tomorrow is our school jumble sale and I thought I would re-post this piece I wrote last year offering some hints and tips. Having experienced the other side of selling at the jumble sale last year I can say that you do need sharp elbows. But if you turn up a little later and avoid the ‘professionals’ you can still bag yourself a bargain. At  the end of the sale last year we reduced/gave away items for free as we didn’t want to be left with them. But before you start to haggle too much at your local jumble sale just remember this is a fundraising event for a good cause….

 

jumble sale tips

 

For some people this word fills them with dread. The thought of queuing in the cold and then elbowing each other to sift through a pile of old clothes makes them shudder.

For me, though, some of the best and unique outfits I have ever picked up have been from old church and village hall sales in my youth. In fact some of the vintage items I blogged about here came from our church jumble sale when I was a teenager (the  Blanes dress is now worth  $130-£180 and I probably only bought it for 10p!)

1950s summer dress

Here are my Top Tips:

1. Be prepared to queue and, once inside, there will be some jostling and  you may need to be forceful if you want to get to the front of a table.

2. The trick at a jumble sale is to not care about tossing clothes around. That original seventies dress might just be at the bottom of a pile of old t-shirts. By the time the sale ends, clothing will have transferred from one pile to another so you may find women’s jumpers side by side with children’s trousers.

3.  Another useful tip is to make sure you bring plenty of loose change and lots of  carrier bags. It helps the organisers and saves time so you can focus on the next pile of clothes, books or bric a brac.

4. While you may feel you want to haggle about prices do remember these events are being held to raise money for good causes. The joy of jumble sales is how cheap everything is anyway without having to negotiate a price reduction.

5. Why not consider volunteering at your local jumble sale? From personal experience it takes a lot of (wo)man power to collect and sort through jumble (not always a pleasant job: see below). One of the ‘perks’ of helping is to get a look at all the donated stuff before it goes on sale. But if you are going to volunteer your services why not make it more permanent and help out at some of the charity’s other events too?

On a final note,  please do bear in mind when you donate to a local sale that items still have to be in a fairly okayish state (ie don’t give them that mouldy box in the corner of your garage that is filled with broken items and soggy old magazines!).

To find out when and where local jumble sales are taking place try looking at your local newspapers (in print and online) and other local listings websites.

Last year’s jumble sale haul (the orange scarf was one of my best buys from last year):

 

My post from The Thrift: Why I’m still charity shopping in my forties

Last month I wrote a post for the wonderful The-Thrift blog, which promotes shopping at Barnardo’s charity shops.

I wrote about why I’m in my mid-forties and still sourcing my wardrobe from charity shops and other second-hand sources. Here is a (slightly) updated version:

As someone in their mid 40s you would have thought that charity shopping is something I’d grown out of by now. But I guess I have been second-hand shopping for so many decades that my brain is now hardwired to head straight for the thrift stores.  I also love the thrill of a bargain, the individuality of charity shop purchases and the feeling I get from giving to a good cause, such as Barnardo’s. And there’s other reasons as well:

1) It’s something I haven’t grown out of. I first started second-hand shopping in my early teens when charity stores circa 1985 were very different to the ones you see now. Ironically, although these places were frowned upon they were stocked with amazing pieces from the ’50s and ’60s that would now be classed as vintage.

Charity Shop find from early 1990s.

Charity Shop find from early 1990s.

2) It’s my own personal style and no one will have the same outfit as me. I have to confess this was the reason I began charity shopping many years ago. As a student I wanted to look individual. I wanted to wear the shirt, jacket or shorts that no one else had. I guess this is a habit that has stuck with me.

3) It’s cheap. As a teenager of the 1980s I imagined my future self to be some highly driven career woman buying all my clothes from designer shops  – or M&S at least. When I worked full time in my twenties I did buy my work clothes from High Street stores. However since having children and taking on a range of part time and freelance work, I have less of a budget, or indeed a need, for buying first hand workwear. As a result I can stock my casual wardrobe with low price second-hand clothes.

4) It encourages re-use, and donating to good causes. Long before we knew about the three Rs charity shops were there to enable us to buy re-used clothing. I truly believe that by purchasing second-hand we are extending the life of a garment. We are ensuring the resources that are used to make, transport and package it are stretched for just a little longer.  Our hard earned cash is also going back into the charity pot, rather than into the hands of an anonymous corporation.  But in order to keep the cycle going we must remember to donate our unwanted clothing to charity shops too.

donating to charity shops

 

5) ) I’m a ‘bargain hunter’ . This comes down to the fact that I love browsing and getting a good bargain! Last month I bought a brilliant denim shirt dress for a fiver from the British Heart Foundation shop. I’d been coveting a similar one from Fat Face for £45!

£5 denim dress

While I never believe you should dress ‘age appropriate’ there are a few charity shop outfits that I no longer aspire to wear. Browsing through all the great posts from other (younger) The Thrift bloggers I know there are dress lengths and styles that I no longer feel comfortable wearing. However the nineteen year old who used to wear a pair of shorts made from old curtains is still there – she just has to turn the curtains into a below the knee dress now…

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