Fashion on the Ration

I am generally an absolute nightmare for seeing things that I want to do but not actually getting round to doing them, but after getting a bit bored on my first few months of maternity leave, I decided enough was enough! On one of the blogs I read, a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum was mentioned, all about fashion during and after rationing, and I was interested. I was telling my nan about it, and she sounded interested too, so one Thursday (admittedly about six weeks after I’d first read about it- I’m not perfect!) me, Mark and my nan took ourselves off to the Imperial War Museum.

As Mark and I don’t have season tickets for the tube any more, it’s actually cheaper for us to pay for the congestion charge and parking, than for two train tickets into London, so we drove to the glorious Elephant and Castle shopping centre and made the short walk down to the museum. After a quick stop for lunch outside in the sunshine, sitting next to a chunk of the Berlin Wall, we started round the museum. Mark’s interests were mainly on the machinery front, where as mine are centred on the home front, so we did a bit of both. My nan, as well as being a massive fan of a random day out, proved to be a font of interesting stories- We do talk about her recollections of the war quite a bit (she was evacuated at the start of the war, but came back to London and lived through the Blitz), but there’s nothing like having things in front of you to spark off a story and I found out so much more than I would have done otherwise.

My highlights were a house set, recreated from the memories of a family who lived in South London and full of period detail and wartime memories, and obviously Fashion on the Ration, the exhibition that I particularly wanted to see. Particularly mind-boggling was how little you’d be able to get hold of in the way of clothing during rationing. Far from my current ‘buy it cheap and chuck it away’ mentality, a year’s worth of coupons would have barely got you a full outfit. I’ve no idea how I’d cope, although I do think that I buy particularly crappily made clothes that genuinely wouldn’t last a full year of wear- perhaps if I bought items that were a bit more substantial, I might feel differently (and maybe not buy quite so much of it!). It’d be an interesting experiment to see if you could live on rationed clothes for a whole year- I think I’d struggle.

Also interesting was that actually, in the 30s, not everyone knew how to sew and make clothes and things- I assumed you’d get taught that sort of thing at school back then, but according to my nan, that wasn’t quite the case, and the exhibition showed people going to ‘make do and mend’ classes to learn skills that I just thought everyone must have known.

In a way, a lot is coming full circle- there is a bit of a kick-back against disposable fashion, and there’s certainly an resurgence in crafting and dressmaking classes in my area- it’s just by choice rather than circumstance now.

We finished up our day with a cup of tea in the cafe (obvs) and the purchase of a little light reading, which over a week later, I’m ashamed to say I’ve not managed to even open the front cover of either of the books I bought, but I promise I’ll get to it!!


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