Posted in 1930s Fashion, 1940s Fashion, 1950s Fashion, 1960s Fashion, Costume In Museums, Fashion History, Fashion Modelling, Fashion Museums, Films, Haute Couture, History Of 20th Century Couture, History Of 20th Century Fashion, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion History

Fashion In Motion Central St Martins Inspired By Christobal Balenciaga V&A London

It’s no secret that the V&A is a world leader in the conservation of textiles and fashion.

As you pass through each of the rooms both are displayed alongside the statues and ceramics, jewelry and artifacts that make it a discovery and joy to visit.

Christobel Balenciaga Evening Coat shown in an American salon, 1954.

This week I was lucky enough to be at the V&A to see a collection by fashion students at Central St Martins inspired by Christobal Balenciaga.

He was a master of haute couture, creating simple and structured designs and unusually for his contemporaries, could do so with his own hands from start to finish.

In his home region of Basque Spain he was apprenticed to a tailor from the age of 12.

It was these skills that ensured he could render fashion illustrations from the page to the finished product with a technique that was uniquely and precisely his.

It gave his work a finesse that allowed him to design highly architectural garments that were nonetheless possible to wear.

Balenciaga Evening Cape Photo By Hiro 1967

Described by Christian Dior as ‘the master of us all,’ he transformed The New Look women’s silhouette so revolutionary in post-war Europe and turned it on its head.

Much of the look of the 1950s can be attributed to Balenciaga: the broad shouldered look of 1951 was his, as was the empire line of the late 50s.

His couture house eventually closed in 1968 but his designs remain influential even today.

It was his work that inspired the 15 designs from Central St Martin’s students shown at the V&A. They attend the London college of art and design with a reputation for pushing the boundaries in fashion.

Push them they did.

Each of the 15 designs were walked through the long galleries to the central catwalk followed by visitors, students, admirers and clouds of photographers with flash bulbs popping.

Taking a respectful circular tour around the permanent fashion exhibit before crossing a packed hallway into the Raphael room the designs remained firm – no frippery here, they retained their structure.

In the collection was a suit designed with a hybrid of 60s and cool glam rock in space age silver, a red trouser suit cut so simply and draped, clinging to the body like a Balenciaga cape and a sculptured men’s outfit using Spanish earthy browns of the Basque countryside.

Cristobal Balenciaga

There was far more layering and texture than you’d ever see in classic Balenciaga but the sculpture was there.

This Fashion In Motion was a more modernist theatre and each design was unique and individual, setting apart one designer from the next.

The V&A has presented Fashion In Motion previously but this collection was timely prior to the exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion on the 27th May. 

I enjoyed it for the power of the new and pull of the old which in the setting of the V&A was the perfect combination.

© Carrie Henderson 2017

Posted in 1960s Fashion, British History, Fashion History, Oral History, Social History, The History Of Haute Couture

Fashion History: Mini Skirts and Mini Cars – What More Could You Quant From The 60s

“The 1960s were responsible for some of the greatest movements in art, in mime, in music, in dance, in cinema,” Steven Berkoff.

Whether you were into The Beatles or The Stones, wore mini skirt or loons, the baby boomer generation influenced the decades to come in thousands of ways.

How the ’60s  impacted Berkoff’s list can still be seen on the streets and in shops today.

what were you doing in the 60s…

who was your favourite band…..

and what did you wear…

Share a photo if you want to!

Carrie 🙂 

Posted in 1940s Fashion, 1950s Fashion, Costume In Museums, Fashion History, Fashion Museums, History Of 20th Century Fashion, History of Sewing, Oral History, Social History, The History Of Dressmaking, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History

Fashion History: The D Day Museum, Southsea – Uniform, Clothes Rationing and Make Do and Mend

Uniform-D-Day-Museum-image-Copyright-Carrie-Henderson-2016There were two ‘uniforms’ during WW2; the ones that the armed forces and voluntary services wore and the second was the uniform supply and control measures the government imposed on the population of Britain.

From the outset, the government knew that clothing the people of Britain was the elephant in the room in terms of managing WW2.

Wars are expensive; they require man (and woman) power, raw materials, armaments up to the job and enough of a profit to cover costs.  That wasn’t all; the armed forces must be clothed and factories must still manufacture what was required whilst their working men were unavailable and away.

The Anderson Shelter. Dug into the gardens of many homes, protecting against The Blitz.
The Anderson Shelter. Dug into the gardens of many homes, protecting against The Blitz.

The blockade of Europe and danger in the seas meant essential supplies of raw materials like wool, silk and cotton would fast run out. Fabric and clothing production, a thriving industry at the outset of the war in 1939 was also inefficient and wasteful.

Factories were needed to produce the millions of yards of material required to clothe people in uniform instead of the frilly and frivolous fashions of the late 1930s.

Keep Calm and Drink Tea: The D Day Museum's cafe surrounded by the clothing of war.
Keep Calm and Drink Tea: The D Day Museum’s cafe surrounded by the clothing of war.

Wasteful of fabrics in short supply, a simple thing like adding a large hem to a skirt or embroidery to a dressing gown could save thousands of hours of man power and materials required elsewhere.

Working for the war effort: woman were employed in their millions to aid the war effort.
Working for the war effort: woman were employed in their millions to aid the war effort.

Zips were a no-no as the metal was needed for armaments, as was elastic, and silk for silk stockings were needed for parachutes.

Very quickly dressmakers and manufacturers were told that they didn’t have design freedom any longer and Austerity Regulations and Limitation Of Supply Orders – or LIMOSO’s – set out what they could and couldn’t use when designing or running up an item of clothing.

Parachute Silk was used to make wedding dresses and offcuts or mistakes in factories taken to make bras and knickers.
Parachute Silk was used to make wedding dresses and offcuts or mistakes in factories taken to make bras and knickers.

With the outbreak of war, inflation affected prices and the rarer commodities like silk started to shoot up in the shops. Inflation had to be kept under control and the economics of pricing became a hot issue; something had to give.

The government accepted it had to control all aspects of clothing supply, manufacture and retail. Initially it looked back on the lessons learned during World War 1 when a form of standard suit was devised to clothe the people of Britain.

They didn’t want to do the same, so unpopular was it, but needs must and from June 1st, 1941, Clothes Rationing was introduced across Great Britain.

Information plaque about the parachute wedding dress.
Information plaque about the parachute wedding dress.

Whitehall was particularly concerned about the poor and working class who were perceived to be suffering most from the materials shortages affecting clothes production and supply.

Middle and upper class women had large wardrobes that could survive rationing, they thought, but the working class didn’t.

To address this, by 1942 the Utility Scheme was fully rolled out which produced clothing with quality cloth and materials designed and manufactured to Austerity Regulations. Utility Clothing was in the shops at fixed prices to ensure affordable clothing was available for all people across the land.

Knitting for the forces: women knitted for the men overseas and the gloves, balaclavas and woollies were gratefully received.
Knitting for the forces: women knitted for the men overseas and the gloves, balaclavas and woollies were gratefully received.

It attracted none of the new and dreaded Purchase Tax which affected all non-essential items.

Utility was cheaper, of better quality and more long lasting than non-utility items. For the first time working class women could buy well designed, well made clothing to survive the war years regardless of income.

War was different for those with more money at their disposal. They were used to buying for pleasure and to dress for the right social occasions but it didn’t make any difference to the government, they restricted how many items of clothing could be bought by anyone in the country.

The press coined a phrase to describe the actions of government and “Wartime Socialism” was born.

On the Whitsun Bank Holiday Sunday of June 1941 a wireless broadcast told retailers and the British public that from opening on Tuesday morning, all clothing would be rationed. Margarine coupons were initially used but later on dedicated clothes rationing books were circulated.

Mrs Sew and Sew gives the rules that working class women already understood.
Mrs Sew and Sew gives the rules that working class women already understood.

Clothes had points allocated to them, usually determined by square yardage of cloth and whether the government deemed them necessary or a luxury item. Each point or half point was worth a full or half coupon.

People were told how many points they had to ‘spend’ over periods of time, 66 in the first year and less and less as the war drew onwards.

When spending on clothing people exchanged their coupons and paid cash also. When they ran out that was that, there were no more coupons to spend for anyone.

Budgeting for how many points you had was a national occupation and a source of misery for many.  Although forces uniforms were not rationed, things like knickers and maternity clothes were. The government adopted a form of market research to respond to national need and changes were made regularly, filling the columns of newspapers and fashion magazines.

The beauty of war: the map showing the seascape between Britain and occupied Europe.
The beauty of war: the map showing the seascape between Britain and occupied Europe.

It was no good moaning; the government was entirely in control.

Many people commented that Mrs Sew and Sew’s advice in the famous Make Do and Mend campaign had been part of working class life forever and wearing second hand clothes and hand-me-downs was no different during the war than beforehand.

The wealthy who did have money to spend regardless of rationing tried other methods and the black market thrived on those with cash to spare.

Purchase Tax was implemented to prevent the buying of luxury goods; fur coats, a common staple of many a woman’s wardrobe, attracted 100% Purchase Tax for instance. That meant you paid the retail price to the shopkeeper then exactly the same amount again went to the government – very pricey.

Women's clothing was rationed and controlled. All made sacrifices for the war effort.
Women’s clothing was rationed and controlled. All made sacrifices for the war effort.

Buying luxury was expensive and prevented excessive spending on items that weren’t necessary – after all if everyone bought unnecessary items, factories would have to produce them to demand and they were focused on war.

Eventually the country learned to knuckle down and see it out. Whether you were rich or poor, the regulations applied and everyone did their patriotic bit to adapt.

 

Southsea, near Portsmouth was no different from anywhere else in the country in what it had to endure.

D-Day-Museum-Exterior-image-Copyright-Carrie-Henderson-2016On the shoreline of the beach there is a museum dedicated to D Day, which took place on 6th June 1944.

It is appropriate that the museum is situated there as The Solent holds a long military and naval history. The castle looking across to The Isle Of Wight has existed in one form or another since Tudor times.

Southsea Castle. A setting with a clear blue view to the sea.
Southsea Castle. A setting with a clear blue view to the sea.

The Mary Rose, Henry V111’ths ship which sunk in 1545 resides in its low lit museum in the Portsmouth Dockyard.

The D Day Museum itself houses The Overlord Tapestry, a modern interpretation of the Bayeux which stitches together scenes from that day in a long piece of embroidery circling the main room.

The impact of the government’s measures in respect of clothing and apparel in WW2 was an enormous undertaking both for Whitehall administratively and for the people of Britain to comprehend and live through. Everyone but everyone was affected; women, men and children did not escape and those in the forces also.

When all rationing ended in 1952, the war years had seen a massive change to clothing and fashion.

Not only about the sirens: changes to clothing made during WW2 has an influence felt even today.
Not only about the sirens: changes to clothing made during WW2 has an influence felt even today.

The change was both attitudinal and practical; the efficiencies that the government implemented were strong enough to bear any national dislike and the influence of them affects fashions and expert consideration of those restrictions even today. 

Throughout the D Day museum, the exhibits show how wartime fashion worked on the ground; for those in uniform, getting married, knitting for the forces or wearing Utility designs.

It is an extraordinary museum which isn’t only about the conflict – the presence of the Overlord Tapestry emphasises the great importance of the needle trades to Britain and the creativity, craft, ingenuity and adaptation that the British public made overall.

© Carrie Henderson 2016

Posted in 1940s Fashion, Book Reviews, Fashion History, History Of 20th Century Fashion, Social History, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History

Book Review: Fashion On The Ration – Julie Summers

Book Review: Fashion On The Ration – Julie Summers

On the back sleeve of Fashion On The Ration, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes says: ‘I would not have thought a book could make me nostalgic for rationing, but Julie Summers has managed it. A marvellous read.’

There lies the nub of the issue tackled in Summers’ book which accompanies the Imperal War Museum’s exhibition ‘Fashion On The Ration.’

From the perspective of the now, when vintage fashion is so popular and generations have been born with no direct experience of the war, it is easy to look at the fashion of this era with rose tinted spectacles.

This was a time of men in going to war, women in being called up or working in the jobs men left behind and children being evacuated.

All this happened alongside the clear and present danger of Nazi Germany finalising their advance through Europe and capturing Great Britain also.

For those not in the know, fashion rationing was a means by which central government controlled every aspect of clothes design, production, manufacture and purchase during the war years.

It was also a time of great invention. Rationing was balanced by the other central initiative – Austerity or the CC41 scheme.

Via Austerity the war years raised standards of clothes production, included famous couturiers in design and controlled prices of clothing. This ensured that quality clothes were available for all.

Summers has tackled what is an enormous subject with enough of a light touch to make it a genuinely pleasurable read – a page turner in fact.

This is an incredible achievement as the story does include its context; it was time of world conflict, danger, loss of life and huge change in the British economic, personal and cultural landscape.

That context is told in linear way throughout each of the chapters in the book. It explains how war was ongoing for many years and fashion was affected also – it wasn’t a one-off thing.

It very successfully avoids the style of stout academic texts; clothes rationing and Austerity were big ideas executed with an attention to detail from the British government that boggles the mind of even the most fervent fashion historian.

Once you delve into the detail of Limitation of Supply Orders (LIMOSO’s), for instance, you are faced with a complex wall of bureaucracy that launched a thousand letters in newspapers, confusion in shoppers minds and real personal hardship.

I was hoping that aspect to the story of clothes rationing would be tackled in a way that was interesting to read and I wasn’t disappointed.

That information is there but woven into the overall story as to make the pace quick and the depth of information delivered even quicker.

The pleasure of reading this book belies how detailed and well researched Fashion On The Ration is.

Summers has included the information that academics will need; explaining the dates that clothes rationing ceased, quoting from Mass Observation accounts and giving the fashion export figures for the war years also, but she’s written it in a way that non-academics will find enjoyable.

Quotes from the people experiencing fashion during rationing speak to the acceptance, gripes and frustration in making do and mend or not having enough rationing coupons to buy essential clothing and footwear.

Descriptions of how uniform changed fashion and designers solved problems with Austerity regulations also speaks to the creative limitations of the time.

Towards the end of the book the end of rationing and resurgance of Paris as the fashion capital of the world is told in a way that emphasises the before-and-after impact of the war and explains its lasting change.

After WW2, the US fashion scene asserted itself on the international stage and this is not forgotten – it points the reader forwards to the changes in the fashion scene that took place during the 1950s and beyond.

If you missed this exhibition, you won’t feel left out in reading the book. The illustrations and photographs are limited within it but you can do your own research and find examples readily.

Summers has very successfully balanced why fashion rationing was an extraordinary and unique period in British fashion history with the historical fact also.

Putting down the book I felt I’d lived through some of those years alongside the people quoted and reflected on why it resonates in our thinking even now.

Summers does not tackle that question explicitly but the book in its entirety explains why its reach and influence on fashion has lasted for years to come.

©Carrie Henderson 2016. 

Posted in 1920s Fashion, 1930s Fashion, 1940s Fashion, 1950s Fashion, Book Reviews, Fashion History, Haute Couture, History Of 20th Century Couture, History Of 20th Century Fashion, History of Sewing, The History Of Dressmaking, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History

Book Review: Couture or Trade: An Early Pictorial Record Of The London College Of Fashion by Helen Reynolds.

Great British Sewing Bee Feedback
Patrick Grant and May Martin provide feedback about a skirt as Claudia Winkleman looks on in wonder.

Since The Great British Sewing Bee hit our TV screens, evening classes, fashion degree and pattern cutting courses have been inundated with a resurgence of interest from applicants who want to learn the skills required. 

The influence of the GBSB shouldn’t be underestimated – since it’s aired sewing skills have exploded into the nation’s consciousness with a fervour last seen in the late 1940s and 1950s.

You Tube is brimming with tutorials taught by gifted amateurs and professionals alike and home sewers watch Sewing Bee with stitching fingers twitching as we follow contestants’ efforts.

These days we are used to looking at the efforts of the GBSB contestants in glorious technicolour in the hour-long slots on telly.

But how did women learn the skills for sewing in the old days, long before TV was invented?

The answer can be found in Helen Reynolds’ book Trade Or Couture, An Early Pictorial History Of The London College Of Fashion.

When Reynolds uses the word ‘early’ in the title of her book she means very early; 100 years ago until the final days of the great training colleges of London in the 1950s.

The majority of this book focuses on the 1920s and 1930s though and it isn’t only factual description – the book is beautifully illustrated with photos.

In those days London was Great Britain’s go-to-place for all things fashion. It was a vastly important industry and it was necessary to staff it with women and men who had developed the not inconsiderable skills that were required.

At the turn of 19th to 20th Century the London fashion industry was suffering from a shortage in supply of people with the correct skills. Trade and staff were being lost to Paris, the acknowledged global capital of fashion as a result.

Recognising this, 3 trade schools were established in London. Eventually these schools became subsumed into creating The London College of Fashion. Then though, girls joined at primary or secondary level and spent their time learning the essential skills for employment in the London fashion houses when they graduated.

Now you may think of industrial sewing machines, large mechanical cloth cutters or computers and clever graphics packages like you’d find in the courses taught these days, but you’d be wrong!

The clothing industry was very different in the early days described in Reynolds’ book. Everything but everything was done by hand.

Measuring, designing, drafting, stitching, embroidering, cutting and finishing – the essential skills – must be done well and by hand or not at all.

In one section she describes how a lone sewing machine exists in a classroom but that it is barely used.  Embroiderers used more machinery than tailors but the intricate, meticulous and highly expert skills we associate with Haute Couture these days were what was required.

For educators this book is a fascinating wander through the relationship between industry and education that existed at the time.

There was such an explicit correspondence between the output of skilled labour from these trade schools and the London industry that the two could not be separated.

Couture Or Trade A Pictorial Record Poulin Mannequin Show 1924
Mrs Robert Mathis or “Poulin” was a society dressmaker. She staged this mannequin parade for Barrett Street students in 1924.

Teachers were often skilled tailors with no formal teaching qualifications and as many of the large black and white photos show, from mannequin parade to classroom the schools were set up for one reason only – to staff the London fashion houses, full stop.

So what would your day in a needle trades school be like?

It depended on what age you were and what speciality or stream you were studying.

You could specialise in embroidery for instance or pattern cutting. You had dedicated classes in these subjects but you also spent time learning skills in fashion illustration which meant drawing gowns and outfits in a life drawing class. Your uniform denoted which ‘stream’ you’d chosen.

Health and safety was not neglected either. The schools knew that the industry brought risks in terms of workers’ health and so PE lessons and games were as vital a part of preparation for the workforce as the needle skills themselves.

The schools were essential for career progression as well. Once employed by the London fashion houses, many women found themselves stuck in one position and on-the-job training was not available to them or ineffectual.

As a result the schools ran evening classes to update and expand on tradespeople’s skills. This, in turn, increased female expertise in the workplace which had a knock-on effect of increasing the earning power of women also.

Throughout the book there are large black and white photos either to advertise the schools or advertise the students’ work at the time.

For non-academics or people simply interested in getting an insight into fashion history it is in poring over the photos that you’ll get enjoyment from this book.

Advanced Sewing Class Mid 1920s
Women working in the needle trades updated their skills in evening classes. Image from Couture Or Trade: An Early Pictorial Record Of The London College Of Fashion.

They show moments in the learning process frozen in time.

Most of these photos have been set up with a camera in mind. Pupils are posed with hands poised like Greek statues, modelling their finished creations.

Classrooms are quiet and static, quite unlike how they would have been in reality.

It’s as if the reader is the school inspector coming for a visit or an employer seeking out their next staff member by examining each pupil’s work.

They are a joy to examine. You can see how hand embroidered dresses fell straight to the floor in perfectly crafted folds or how gowns were drawn, drafted, cut, made and modelled with the essential plumes expected at Court.

In many ways though this book shows you that the basic skills are still the same. You still have to know how to fit a dress to make one from scratch whether you are a tailor or a home dressmaker.

You still have to know how to finish seams whether you hand baste them or use a foot on your sewing machine.

It’s the transferable skills over time that make the book more than scenes from fashion history – most dressmakers and tailors will immediately be able to put themselves into these photos as they recognise themselves in the rooms.

There is a covert message in the book however and it’s that these skills can take years to develop properly. It makes the 3 – year fashion degree courses of today seem almost a breath in comparison.

It’s a book for academics, educators and fashion lovers alike but for those of you into the 1920s and 1930s, I’d say it was essential reading.

© Carrie Henderson 2016

Posted in 1940s Fashion, Creative Non Fiction, Creative Writing About Fashion, Fashion History, Haute Couture, History Of 20th Century Couture, History Of 20th Century Fashion, House Of Mirelle Fashion House Hull Book, Social History, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History, Vintage Fashion Research, Writing Blog

World War 2: The House Of Mirelle, CC41 Utility Scheme and Fashion On The Ration

With the plaintive wail of air raid sirens in the air, half of the British workforce in uniform and the impact of rationing, the 1940s had a stark divide between fashion during World War 2 and fashion after the war ended.   

In 1939 when the war broke out, women were wearing what we’d regard today as ultra feminine outfits – wearing trousers was frowned on and not yet accepted widely – it took the war to change that view.

In 1939 women wore dresses. It took the war to make trousers acceptable.
In 1939 women wore dresses. It took the war to make trousers acceptable.

In 1939 skirts were worn at knee length and dresses with fitted bodices and pretty sleeves were all the rage. Fabric was in abundance and the influence of the new synthetics like rayon and rayon silk was everywhere.

Every woman accessorised with a hat and gloves. Shoes were mid height with fancy patterns and colours, designed to be as attractive as the rest of her clothes. Young women dressed in pared down versions of clothes from their mother’s generation.

Women strove to wear outfits, not items. Women of a certain class had to factor in dressing for different occasions also. These women changed into different clothes for dinner, if they were having afternoon tea with friends or if they were going out to a restaurant, for instance.

November 1939 fashions.
November 1939 fashions.

The wealthy fashion conscious British woman did this because it was right, it was proper and it was expected.

In London the Savoy restaurant had a dress code for evening; women’s gowns had to be floor-length to gain entry. Despite the restrictions of the war, the elite found that Britain continued dressing to this expectation, keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of wartime austerity.

It was the good manners and social rules prior to the war that created a fashion industry revolving around the famous British social norms of what should be worn and when.

Fashionable evening gowns: autumn winter 1939 to 1940.
Fashionable evening gowns: autumn winter 1939 to 1940.

These were the social rules that gave The House Of Mirelle  a wealthy clientele in Hull who could commission and afford the clothing that the fashion House created.

Pre-war: how women bought clothes

The average women bought mass produced clothes from catalogues, local stores or made them at home. Paper patterns were widely available, as were sewing machines that often permanently sat in the corners of living rooms draped with items in various stages of creation.

Sewing at home: as normal then as watching TV is today.
Sewing at home: as normal then as watching TV is today.

Sewing skills amongst women was considered as important as knowing how to cook and were used regularly.

It was usual for those with very little money to rework clothing, patching and mending. Hand-me-down’s were passed from person to person to get the most wear from them.

Only the wealthy could afford to have their clothes made for them by dressmakers, tailors or seamstresses.

The very wealthy like the British royal family, upper classes or those on the debutante circuit could afford clothes designed and made by couturiers – a French term loosely meaning “sewers.”

Couture meant exceptional service. It was hands-on, expensive and labour intensive. It meant that clothes were designed, cut and made to fit your specific measurements by expert craftspeople.  Expense wasn’t spared and outfits cost a lot of money.

At the outbreak of war, buying couture was a concern for the upper classes, one that the average person might know something about but not have direct contact with.

“We are at war with Germany”

Picture how the country felt when on 3rd September 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced in sombre tones that England was at war with Germany. It was the second time in under 25 years the people of Britain had faced that stark news.

Clothing had been rationed in World War 1 and it was a terribly unpopular move. When Winston Churchill became British PM, he didn’t want to do the same again.

The influence of Parisian fashion and couture

Up to the war, Paris ruled the western world’s fashion industry. It was considered the most innovative and cutting edge in terms of technique and design. Paris set the styles and shapes and the world always followed.

Couture Molyneaux Dress 1939 Photographed on the Eiffel Tower by Irwin Blumenfeld
Couture Molyneaux Dress 1939 Photographed on the Eiffel Tower by Irwin Blumenfeld

Then war broke out in Europe. Within a year Paris, the center of fashion and couture, fell to the Nazi’s. The industry and its influence on fashion temporarily eradicated as a result.

Fash crash

It fast became apparent to the manufacturers of clothing and the government that there were problems with sourcing materials and selling clothing as they had done pre-war.

Although Great Britain was an island nation and to a limited extent was self sufficient in terms of materials and manufacture, the fall of Europe created problems with the scope of design, supply and manufacture of clothing.

At the start of war, UK textile and clothing manufacturing was a healthy industry with many factories operating across the country – particularly in the North. Clothes factories and British couturiers like Hardy Amies often used locally sourced and woven fabrics such as British wool and cotton. However there was also a necessary market for imported cloth or textiles from outside the UK.

Long established trade routes no longer existed due to the Nazi blockade of Europe, silks were unavailable due to the same destruction of trade routes with China and Japan.

Shortage of materials, problems on the horizon

Clothing ration book: UK.
Clothing ration book: UK.

The government saw problems on the horizon.

Problem 1 – you can’t make clothing without textiles.

Problem 2 – those very same factories and the personnel in them were needed for the war effort.

Very soon after the war began the import textile market was suffering from the global crisis. The influence of Paris had also crumbled and the lack of spare cash in the pockets of the everyday person meant the fashion economy was heading for a crash.

In 1939, writing for Mass Observation in the first months after war was announced, Pam Ashford from Glasgow said:” Miss Bousie bought a battery in a tailor’s shop. It is the only thing they are doing. No one wants clothes.” The rich were still able to afford their clothing, but the poor could not.

Something had to be done.

CC41

Clothes rationing came into being in June 1941 by an act of parliament called the Limitation of Cloth Supplies and Apparel Order. It wasn’t the only commodity that was controlled by the government but in our thinking, the CC41 scheme relates strongly with the fashions of the war era.

The scheme was called CC41, it started in 1941 – hence its name and design found on the Utility labels from the time. Some people think that the ‘CC’ in CC41 stands for “Controlled Commodity,” however this isn’t accurate and it has come about my misreporting of the time.

The two cheeses: the CC41 label.
The two cheeses: the CC41 label.

The idea behind CC41 was to control the fabrics, the designs and the manufacturing processes used to produce clothes.

Clothing designed under CC41 rules was called ‘Utility Clothing’ by the British government.

The Utility Scheme directly influenced clothes rationing. It was a way by which designers and customers could survive the limited supply of materials and protect what was needed for production in the war effort.

There was another element to the Utility scheme, however. Churchill expressed a view that he specifically wanted to avoid the British public being dressed in: “rags and tatters.“ He saw it as patriotic to remain as well turned out as possible with clothing enhancing the morale of women and men during war.

The two cheeses

The  CC41 logo designed by Reginald Shipp is affectionately known as The Two Cheeses. When it was introduced, clothing ration books hadn’t been printed and people used spare margarine coupons to buy their clothes instead.

By freeing up fabrics and materials and the factories that made them, it focused more resources on the war effort and kept fashion standards for everyone in Britain too. Historians argue that Utility clothing changed fashion, democratising quality clothing for all.

The government devised a set of penalties and incentives for manufacturers to support the initiative.

Green Rayon CC41 Dress from the British retailer Marks and Spencers.
Green Rayon CC41 Dress from the British retailer Marks and Spencers.

Manufacturers who made 85% Utility Designs were then allowed to make the rest of their items in non-utility cloth but the 15% of these “other” designs still had to follow the same restrictions and regulations. Non Utility clothing was taxed heavily, regarded as luxury items.

Times were hard and people railed against the restrictions that rationing created. The government asked British Pathe to help inform the public about the new rules.

People watched these films in cinemas which were hugely popular – the time of having a television in the home was a speck on the future sight line of mass entertainment.

CC41 – an enduring legacy 

CC41 and Utility Clothing has become iconic and legendary and its influence has been felt throughout the fashion industry. A CC41 label indicates that it is a valuable and historic item of clothing.

In 1942 regulations were tightened by the introduction of The Making Of Civilian Clothing (Restriction Orders) but relaxed at the end of the war where a new “double lines” Utility label emerged to indicate that the fabric used was of a higher quality than that found in clothes with the CC41 label or Utility designs.

Double 11 CC41 Luxury Logo 1945
The ‘double lines’ CC41 logo heralded a more luxurious Utility range in 1945.

The double lines label indicated that it was a more luxurious item than earlier items. Frocks could use a better quality of fabric and be designed with more flair.

The public felt that the frivolities of fashion may be heading back into the public consciousness again.

In reality, it was a long way off.

In this You Tube video, Imperial War Museum curator Laura Clouting talks about the Fashion On The Ration exhibition, 2015:

Fashion rationing didn’t end in Britain until 1949 long after the end of the war, but the legacy was felt deeply. It was in this period that the powerful idea of making quality fashions accessible to all was born and from it, women’s fashions changed permanently.

© Carrie Henderson 2015

Posted in Creative Non Fiction, Fashion History, Haute Couture, History Of 20th Century Couture, History Of 20th Century Fashion, History Of 20th Century Fashion In Hull, House Of Mirelle Fashion House Hull Book, Social History, The History Of Haute Couture, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History, Vintage Fashion Journalism, Vintage Fashion Research

The History Of Couture: Expert Fashion In The Making

Shopping expeditions to the high street or browsing online to buy that must-have pair of shoes is far away from the couture shopping experience.

Couture, or hand-made clothing made to an individual’s requirements is every bit as glamorous as it sounds and its history is not entirely French!

Although ‘couture’ is a French word meaning ‘sewing’, the business was invented by a British fashion designer called Charles Frederick Worth.

This grand-sounding gentleman worked as an apprentice in various textile merchants in the 19th Century. While he was learning about fabrics, a skill essential for any fashion designer, he visited art galleries and studied portraits of historic women. He was consumed and inspired.

On moving to Paris in 1845 he set up a small dressmaking department in the firm Gagelin which was so successful that in 1858 he’d branched out on his own. The ‘House Of Worth’ is widely regarded as the first couture house in history.

His creations were so extraordinary that they were received with acclaim. French royalty ordered and bought them, American women flocked to Paris to view and buy and European aristocracy bought and wore House Of Worth creations.

Empress Eugenie Wearing Charles Worth Dress.
Empress Eugenie Wearing A Charles Worth Dress.

His fashion house had a strict heirarchy of ‘hands’ or employees, a Directrice – or head salesperson who was in charge of selling the clothes – and their skills were second to none.

His garments were extremely expensive, exclusive and completely out of reach of the average woman. They were living works of art.

Realising they needed to safeguard the standards associated with the name couture, Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture established a set of guidelines. Anyone calling themselves a couture house must adhere to them. These rules were tightened up in 1945 at the close of World War 2 and are still in use today.

Parisian fashion held the world in it’s hands. By the 1900s it was simply the center of fashion worldwide.

But Britain wasn’t forgotten – it had its own couturiers too.

Based in London the work of Digby Morton, Norman Hartnell, Bianca Mosca, Hardy Amies and Edward Molyneux established British fashion in the international marketplace.

In 1941 they became the founder members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers – or IncSoc. These designers were asked to create patterns for Utility clothing under the clothes rationing scheme in World War 2. The results of the CC41 designs have remained in the British consciousness since.

Utility Clothing Image Courtesy IWM London.
Utility Clothing Image Courtesy IWM London.

They used quintessential British tailoring skills to create a wardrobe that was simple, understated and elegant. With the Utility scheme for the first time couture creations were entirely within reach of the British public.

The House Of Worth was by no means the only or first fashion house but Charles Worth was such an extraordinary publicist that his name has been associated with the establishment of couture fashion since.

His success is also a story about how a couture fashion business relies on publicity and promotion, social connections, reputation and word of mouth recommendation.

It was as vital then as customer service and branding is now.

Mira Johnson, Directrice of The House Of Mirelle followed in his footsteps. She was the powerhouse behind Hull’s fashion house and like Worth, a consummate publicist. She harnessed the power of the press to advertise ‘her fashion house.’

Through doing so she left a legacy for us to admire in the pages of journals and newspapers of the era and everlasting awareness of the couture designs found in donations to Hull Museum made by the House Of Mirelle.

© Carrie Henderson 2015