Friday, 21 August 2015

On Your Bike: Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum London #RationedFashion

We are a little slow off the mark with this one due to our hiatus but better late than never, we say. Last week, we packed our little knapsacks and bundled ourselves onto a train for an office outing to the Imperial War Museum in London to take in their current exhibition Fashion on the Ration, looking at the clothes and styles which shone through in World War 2. 

Clothes and how they were worn were greatly effected in the 5 years of the Second World War. The austerity caused by lack of materials and movement of labour meant that clothes and accessories were hard to come by and then rationed with coupons restricting what you could buy.  Then, what was normally bought for a season, suddenly was needed to be worn for much longer and adapted if you wanted something new. These restrictions meant if one wanted to make their wardrobe feel fresh, a level of ingenuity was needed and ingenious some people were.

Fashion on the Ration has over 300 exhibits all beautifully organised and gives a glimpse of the reality of rationing and living in a war time austerity Britain. It is split into six sections:

Into Uniform.
Around 25% of the country were wearing uniforms throughout the war which ranged from, full kit to just arm bands or hats. On display, they have a few key pieces of uniform, one being the W.R.E.N.S uniform, which was the highly favoured at the time and played a big part in the fact it was the most popular service for women to join. They also have a land girl uniform with its thick jumpers and striking boots, which we definitely have a soft spot for.

Functional Fashion. 
Here looked into how the war effected what people wore at home and at work. Clothes needed to be harder wearing and needed to last longer, so items like housecoats became more popular as they protected your outfit for wear. The risk that you would need to get up in the night unexpectedly bought about a need for an outfit you could sleep in that you could ask hunk down in your air raid shelter in and in came the Siren suit which they have a few on display. The war also meant that accessories needed to have multi purposes such as keeping you seen in the black out or disguising your gas marks, and you can see a selection of these as well.

Ration and Make do and Mend.
This section is all about why clothing rationing was introduced in 1941 and how it changed the way people shopped. Buying new clothes had their limits due to your coupons so people were encouraged to become creative with their old wardrobes. People were also encouraged to make their clothes last longer by mending, altering, knitting. This is where the ingenuity came through with new clothes being made from the oddest things. On display are bridesmaid dresses made from parachutes, a wedding dressing worn over 15 times, bracelets made from aircraft components, a bra and knickers set made from RAF silk maps for Countess Mountbatten and some brilliant Make do and Mend videos.

Utility Clothing
This was introduced in 1941 to tackle unfairness on the rationing scheme and standardise production so it was easier for the factories to make and helped the war effort. The fashion range was made from a limited range of quality controlled fabrics and were limited by regulations to how many pockets and pleats they could have. The exhibition includes several dresses which all have a similar shape and style but very different colours. We found it quite amazing that some of the styles felt quite modern or at least 1970's/80's which shows how fashion comes around.

Beauty as Duty
There was alot of pressure to maintain a good personal appearance and many women went to great lengths to get it. It was felt that if people were looking drab is would show a lack of morale and this was why make up was never rations. Cosmetic and clothing often had a patriotic edge to them, like scarves and compact boxes and by wearing them you could show you were doing your bit for the war effort. On display here are adverts promoting make up with a real war time feel like Lips in Uniform. 

Peace and the New Look?
The last section looks how the end of the war impacted fashion. There was a VE dress worn by comedienne Jenny Hayes to celebrate end of the war, also demob suits. The launch of the Christian Dior's New Look shook the fashion world in 1947, who desperate for something new after the bleak fashion years through the war years. Exhibition ends with a special film capturing the thoughts of leading fashion commentators, such as Great British Sewing Bee's Patrick Grant, Wayne Hemingway and fashion historian Amber Butchart discussing the legacy of the WW2 upon fashion.

We absolutely love it and would definitely recommend it if you are into home front fashion, even if you go just for some fabulous outfit ideas.

The exhibition costs £10 or free to members. You'll need to be quick if you want to catch this as it is in its last few weeks with it closing on the 31st August. For more information, take a look at their website at, their Facebook:

All facts and figures are off the IWM site or their press release for the exhibition. No pictures are our own due to photography restrictions but all we have used are linked back to their original site.

This blog falls into our On Your Bike series which is all about adventures whether it's out on your bike, a vintage train day or even a themed day. It also has bike maintenance, hair styles for your adventures and more. Find out more about this series and our others at on our Overview blog or find more in the same series by pressing the "On Your Bike" tab at the top of the page.