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Fashion on the Ration
Style in the Second World War

One of The Times Books of the Year 2015

The story of wartime clothing and fashion is a tale of two halves. On the one hand there was the vision of the fashion industry and the haute couture houses who designed Utility clothes for the home market and more luxurious designs for South Africa, America and Brazil, and on the other, the Make-Do and Mend worn by the man or woman on the street. What interested me was where the two met and overlapped. It seems almost impossible to imagine nowadays, but the fashion editor of Vogue advocated sewing brightly patterned or coloured pockets in contrasting shades to liven up a dull skirt or pinafore dress. Picture Post featured a showgirl from the Windmill Theatre who worked as a fully-trained air-raid warden. Other journalists, such as Anne Scott-James, deplored trousered women in West End restaurants and '16 stone women in flannel bags... and similar incongruous sights.' The War Office commissioned corsets for women in the services to have pockets for carrying loose change (bus money) as women in uniform were not allowed to carry handbags. Although there are plenty of amusing anecdotes, this is a serious look at a fascinating period when the government had such minute control over people's lives that civil servants at the Board of Trade could dictate the length of men's socks and the amount of material in women's knickers.

Related media

The Times Books of the Year 2015 (paywall)

BBC World Service
BBC World Service Weekend Break - Julie interviewed by Julian Worricker

BBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman - Julie discusses fashion in World War II (from 22:20:40 onwards)

The Independent - The naked truth about everything from denims to dresses - Fashion books round-up featuring Fashion on the Ration

The Mail on Sunday - Who needs wool! You can knit your clothes from dog's hair and make your knickers out of old cardigans! A new book reveals how women defied wartime rationing to stay fashionable - serialisation of Fashion on the Ration

The Guardian - The line of duty: how the British followed fashion during the second world war - review of the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London

The Telegraph - Fashion on the Ration: how World War 2 finally let women wear the trousers - excerpt from the book.

“In this enthralling book, Julie Summers sheds new light on power dressing”
“Wonderful... Summers handles her source material confidently and colourfully”
“Summers... presents a riveting social history”
“It's a fantastic book covering everything from Vogue during the war to the legacy of the utility scheme – ultimately the idea of mass-market fashion.”
“...this captivating study, accessorised with diary excerpts from both working and well-heeled women, is set at a jaunty angle to highlight fashion, beauty and women's evolving working roles... fascinating book”
Sainsbury's Magazine
“incredible book... fantastic writing ”
“well-researched”
Saga Magazine
 
 
Published 5 March 2015 by Profile Books

ISBN 978-1781253267