Wednesday, April 10, 2013

LEGS FOR THE WAR EFFORT and Other Rationing in World War 2

Some say fashion is the ultimate freedom of expression:  a mood or personal voice communicated through the clothing each and every person opts to wear. One might think Americans have always had the freedom to choose whatever we want to dress ourselves in, but there was a time not even a century ago, when fabrics and materials became limited due to a little event we identify as World War II.

Not only were footwear, fabrics, and apparel short in supply in the United States but in France and Great Britain as well -  all were rationed. Because of the massive impact the war had on the world, the supplies needed for the war effort demanded that the people be required to give up luxuries for a cause bigger than themselves.

Women’s options of wearing the newest styles or the most colorful dress and heels were suddenly curtailed. With the onslaught of the war, many fabrics became unavailable, which significantly affected the formerly easy access to certain types of clothing. 

On the American Home Front

“Uncle Sam last week assumed the role of fashion designer.  Sweeping restrictions aim to save 15 percent of the yardage now used on women's and girls' apparel through such measures as restricting hems and belts to two inches, eliminating cuffs on sleeves.  Exempt categories include bridal gowns, maternity dresses, and vestments for religious orders.”  Life Magazine, April 20, 1942

To further illustrate, starting in 1942 there was a limited supply of wool: wool was the textile used for more than eleven million U.S. military uniforms, therefore it was in short supply. Instead, artificial fibers such as viscose and rayon were used, both derived from wood pulp.  

Nylon and silk were fibers popular in the 40’s because of their use in women’s stockings, but they soon also became obsolete as materials used for women’s clothing and accessories. Because parachutes for the war were fabricated out of nylon, the fabric was converted into a military staple. Silk supply was also eliminated entirely during the war because Japan was the principal provider of the nation’s silk.

Due to the shortage of nylon stockings, women became creative in their efforts to re-create the look of seamed hose. They began painting tinted shades on their legs and simulated back seams on each other with eyeliner pencil. 
The Hutton Getty Picture Collection 1940s-Nick Yapp

Below is an interesting ad from The Ladies Home Journal in June/1944, advertising a product from Elizabeth Arden that tints the legs in a choice of three shades, and advertises the bottle in terms of how many "pairs" the liquid covers.

When America entered the war, the economy focused on war production instead of consumer demand.  

In May 1942, the U.S. Office of Price Administration began implementing rations on such varied items such as sugar, coffee, gasoline, meat, tires, and silk. Each family in the United States was given ration books and vouchers to purchase these goods, limiting how much each person was able to purchase. 

The Home Front: U.S.A. Ronald H. Bailey
Rationed items also happened to be scarce, attributable to various reasons: Coffee, for example, was rationed because the ships previously transporting the coffee beans from South America were preoccupied with military use.  

Rubber was the first material rationed in the United States that was not food-related. The plantations of the Dutch East Indies, which generated 90% of the United States’ rubber, were captured by Japan. President Roosevelt took action and asked Americans to come together and aid by recycling rubber at home: tires, raincoats, shoes, bathing/shower caps, and hoses.

Life Magazine August 11, 1941

Recycling of all kinds began to be encouraged by the government: Americans were persuaded to recycle metal, paper, and rubber, all to support the war effort. As an example, aluminum cans were recycled in order to provide extra ammo for the military. 


Ladies’ Home Journal June, 1944
 Regulation L-85:
Because of the minute supply of materials such as silk, nylon, wool, leather, rubber, and cotton and their need for the national defense, the War Production Board in 1942 enacted Regulation L-85. This regulation rationed organic fibers and limited drastic alterations to clothing that would draw consumers into stores.

Another element of the regulation not only limited certain colors available to the public (black and navy were the most common colors employed) but caused the elimination of former particular fashion design embellishments such as patch pockets, balloon sleeves, sashes, double yokes, hoods, or shawls, which were deemed too extraneous. 
The British sign reads "Women's Utility Suits"

The amount of acceptable yardage utilized in garments was also regulated here and abroad: skirts couldn’t be below the knee (as popular in previous decades), jackets and skirts couldn’t be excessively full, and cuffs were not allowed. Even elastic in women’s foundations was forbidden.
The simple, unadorned suits available for purchase were often called "utility suits"

Great Britain at War:
To relay the message of limiting clothing purchases, the rationing system was explained in media of newspapers and women’s magazines such as the example below, published in Great Britain in June of 1941:

“When the shops re-open you will be able to buy cloth, clothes, footwear and knitting wool only if you bring your food ration book with you. The shopkeeper will detach the required number of coupons from the unused margarine page. Each margarine coupon counts as one coupon towards the purchase of clothing and footwear.  You will have a total of 66 coupons to last you a year; so go sparingly. You can buy where you like and when you like without registering.”
The Hutton Getty Picture Collection 1940s-Nick Yapp
As a result of the rationing required of them, women during World War II were encouraged to mend their clothing and think creatively about utilizing old garments in new ways. 

Year after year of war also meant a diminishing number coupons for purchasing clothing. In 1945 the coupon limit in Great Britain was 36 per year as compared to 66 per year in 1941. Even though coupons were necessary to acquire new clothing, money was required as well. Those who were financially poor still could not afford the government rationed garments.

Here, examples of what was rationed in England during the war and how many coupons they required:

Frock, gown, or dress constructed of wool    11

Skirt                                                                7

Blouse, shirt, sports top, cardigan or jumper 5

Pair of slippers, boots or shoes                       5

Stockings per pair                                           2

Shoe Rationing:
On the United States home front, shoe rationing began in 1943. The rubber and leather that was used to construct shoes was now necessary for the war that the United States entered into. To ensure the essential leather and rubber was supplied to those in the war, the American government executed a shoe rationing program which granted each citizen only 3 pairs of shoes per year.

Being Crafty:
Women learned to sew, knit, and repair through home stitching because they were expected to use garments and objects bought before the war. Magazines educated them on how to revamp fabrics into updated styles that were possible through detailed instructions these publications provided. 

Ladies’ Home Journal June, 1944
Food Conservation:
With the recyling of cans and the rationing of food products, women were encouraged to see food as "the munitions of war" and to pickle and preserve their own food products.

We began with fashion and we end with fashion: we come to realize that though we believe that fashion is often  a free  self-expression of the Western world, this article illustrates that we haven’t always had the autonomy to freely purchase clothing at any point in time, constructed out of any fabric we desire. The dedication women put forth towards the war effort overrode any regret they may have had not being able to wear the most updated fashions.

 Though this expression wasn’t conveyed through what they wore at the time, it is now an education to see their message 70 years later. 

This article was researched and written by our intern, Chelsea Bjerk.


Serge said...

It surely looks quite amusing to see what the ladies of the past decades wore and see for ourselves how much has changed ever since.

Bridal lehenga said...

Me and my friend were arguing about an problem similar to this! Now I realize that I had been correct. lol! Thank you for that information you article.

Graham Funn said...

here at Funn Hosiery in the UK we still sell Rayon Stockings with a CC41 Utility mark. Plus Silk,Cotton & Wool Stockings,beagling hose.....

MOSES said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

I am very thankful for all this interesting information of world war. It is amusing to know how ladies used to do fashions and how the things have changed today.

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