Clothes Rationing in Britain during the Second World War

WVS Clothing Exchange, 1943, by Evelyn Gibbs; The Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) organised and ran Children's Shoe and Clothing Exchanges where women could take the clothes that their children had outgrown. Each mother was given a number of points for the clothes she handed in, which she could 'spend' on other clothes at the exchange. The WVS also maintained depots of donated clothing for distribution to families who had been bombed out and lost all or most of their clothes.

WVS Clothing Exchange, 1943, by Evelyn Gibbs

art

The Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) organised and ran Children's Shoe and Clothing Exchanges where women could take the clothes that their children had outgrown. Each mother was given a number of points for the clothes she handed in, which she could 'spend' on other clothes at the exchange. The WVS also maintained depots of donated clothing for distribution to families who had been bombed out and lost all or most of their clothes.

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Clothes rationing came into effect in Britain from 1 June 1941. It lasted, albeit in a gradually reduced format, until March 1949.

As with food rationing, the main aim of the scheme was to ensure fair shares. But it was also intended to reduce...

Clothes rationing came into effect in Britain from 1 June 1941. It lasted, albeit in a gradually reduced format, until March 1949.

As with food rationing, the main aim of the scheme was to ensure fair shares. But it was also intended to reduce consumer spending, to free up valuable factory space and release workers for vital war industries.

When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Each item of clothing had a points value, usually displayed alongside the price. The more fabric and labour that was needed to produce a garment, the more points required.

Children's clothes had lower points values in recognition of the fact that they would need new clothes more often. Pregnant women were given an extra allocation for maternity and baby clothes. Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women's Voluntary Service to help meet the needs of women struggling to clothe their growing families.

Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too went on the ration. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses.

The 'Make do and Mend' campaign suggested ways to repair and recycle old clothes, although cheaper clothes inevitably wore out quicker than more expensive better quality clothing. The 'Utility' scheme, launched in 1943, offered a partial solution to this problem by offering consumers a range of well-designed quality and price controlled clothes.

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Related Exhibitions

  • Make-Do and Mend

    posters

    Make-Do and Mend; Go Through Your Wardrobe - Make-Do and Mend, c.1942. The Ministry of Information launched a campaign, Make-Do and Mend, to help people deal with clothes rationing. Posters and leaflets encouraged women to repair and renovate their old clothes, and offered helpful suggestions for how to create new outfits for themselves and their children from worn-out clothes and scraps of fabric.
  • Newly issued ration books, 1943

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    Newly issued ration books, 1943; From 1943, a detachable clothing ration book was included inside the main food ration book. Individual family members could then be responsible for their own clothing coupons, while the food books were usually looked after by the person who was responsible for the family's food shopping. Initially, every adult was given an allocation of 66 points to last one year. In 1943 this was reduced to 40 but rose again to 48 in 1944.
  • Plan Ahead - Allow for Growing, 1943

    posters

    Plan Ahead - Allow for Growing, 1943; Children quickly outgrew new clothes, so mothers were encouraged to buy them in bigger sizes so they could initially be taken in and then let out gradually as the child grew. School uniforms could be a particular problem. Many schools did not relax their rules on uniform during wartime and families might have to sacrifice their entire yearly allowance of coupons, especially if they had more than one child needing to be fully kitted out.
  • A model wearing a 'Utility' dress, 1943

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    A model wearing a 'Utility' dress, 1943; Utility clothing went on sale in spring 1943. The Utility scheme was developed by the Board of Trade and introduced a range of quality- and price-controlled clothes. Utility clothing came in a limited range of garments, styles and fabrics. The range was designed by some of the leading names in fashion, including Hardy Amies, Digby Morton and Norman Hartnell.
  • 'Utility' dress

    photographs

    'Utility' dress; This photograph, dating from 1943, shows a model wearing a dress from the newly launched Utility range. The rayon fabric dress would have cost 11 coupons and 53 shillings (£2.65, roughly equivalent today to £80). The size and style of the belt, buttons and pockets on this dress had to meet strict specifications. These restrictions were intended to minimise fabric and manufacturing costs.
  • Reinforce Children's Clothes, c.1942

    posters

    Reinforce Children's Clothes, c.1942; This poster was issued by the Board of Trade, which administered the clothes rationing scheme. It offers suggestions for how to strengthen children's clothes to make them last longer. Children needed replacement clothes more often than adults as they wore them out or outgrew them.
  • Useful Jobs that Girls Can do, 1942

    posters

    Useful Jobs that Girls Can do, 1942; This informative poster was produced by the Board of Trade to encourage girls to carry out simple repair and renovation jobs around the home. The main focus is on clothes. There are suggestions for repurposing old clothes and hats, hints on how to keep clothes in good condition to make them last longer and instructions for carrying out basic repairs. A similar poster was produced detailing 'Simple Jobs Boys Can Do Themselves.'
  • Men trying on Utility clothing, c.1943

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    Men trying on Utility clothing, c.1943; Men’s Utility clothing was also manufactured according to strict guidelines. Single breasted suits replaced double breasted. Lapels had to be within a certain size. The number of pockets was restricted and trouser turn-ups were abolished. The ban on turn-ups was particularly unpopular, and many men circumvented this regulation by buying trousers that were too long and having them altered at home.