Last weekend, I headed to the Imperial War Museum North, located on the iconic Salford Quays, to take a peek at a brand new exhibition.
Fashion On The Ration: 1940s Street Style commemorates the 75th anniversary of clothes rationing and has a plethora of fascinating period items on display; from the uniforms that became one of the more visible changes to how people dressed at the time, to gas mask handbags (yes, this was very much a thing) Utility clothing bearing the CC41 logo, original documents, artwork and siren suits, helping give an in-depth understanding of the era.
Along with fellow bloggers Helen, Gillian and Rosie, we were given an exclusive preview and private tour of the exhibition. With rationing in full force during WW2, wearing lavish and expensive designer clothing was seen to be of poor taste during such a crisis.
However, in order to prevent civilians from becoming Utility clothing carbon copies of one another – and to reassure the public that ‘the Board of Trade have no wish to adopt the role of fashion dictator’ – the government collaborated with some of the top designers, producing stylish yet economical outfits under the Utility scheme.
Whilst WW2 was obviously a dark period in history, it’s also important to remember the power of morale. The limited resources forced people to become much more creative, with the ‘Make Do And Mend‘ mentality in full swing. The women in particular had to be more frugal than ever, whilst retaining the glamour and beauty standards that were still expected of them – regardless of the bombs dropping.
Wedding planning in the 1940s was also a very different experience from today’s modern world of decadent venues and expensive, couture gowns. With the war taking the men far from home, time was very much of the essence on these occasions.
Magazines offered advice on how to plan a wedding in just 5 days and brides often opted for more versatile designs of wedding attire; dresses that they could wear more than once, for optimum frugality. One wedding dress on display was worn by no less than 14 brides, giving a glimpse of the strong community spirit.
Makeup was in short supply so again, women had to be creative. Using beetroot to stain their lips and gravy browning in lieu of stockings, their thriftiness and creativity is admirable. Back then, there was certainly no popping into to good old Primark when you ran out tights!
The lingerie pictured below is a good example of this and came about when a lady asked her seamstress to create undergarments from spare silk maps once used by soldiers to help evade capture, discreetly sewn into the lining of their uniforms.
After our tour, the girls and I headed to the t-shirt turban workshop, hosted by Mary Jane Baxter. We all got to work using the variety of fabrics on offer and the others managed to make themselves a cute, quirky turban within the hour. Mine ended up going horribly wrong (sewing is not a skill that I naturally possess) but I am determined to give it a go again soon!
Next, we had a reserved place at the Meet the Author: Julie Summers event. Julie Summers is the author of Fashion on the Ration, which is the inspiration behind the exhibition and Jam Busters, which inspired the ITV series Home Fires, alongside various other publications. Julie introduced herself, then talked us through some of the key items on display and the history behind them.
Julie is such a lovely, elegant lady and her passion for history shined through as she spoke. Sadly, Home Fires had recently been decommissioned by ITV, leaving millions of loyal viewers in limbo with an abrupt, cliffhanger ending. I’ve bought Julies ‘Jam Busters‘ and ‘Fashion On The Ration‘ books and have been completely enthralled since, spending my evenings researching more and more about the WW2 era.
The Fashion On the Ration exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North is now running until May 1, 2017, so you have plenty of time to plan your own trip. You can find out more here.