Having read lots of articles about the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, I was very excited to visit the exhibition myself on Mother’s Day (one of my treats in London that day, see my last blog!). Many blogs have been written about this amazing exhibition so I won’t repeat what you have already read. What I want to talk about is the feeling that it stirs up inside you when you think about what was actually happening during that time and then look at what people were still able to design, create, recycle and produce, it is so incredible. The restrictions and guidelines in place seemed to fuel creativity and innovation, resulting in one of the most important and influential fashion eras of our time. Wartime fashion is something Britain is quite rightly very proud of and this exhibition really does highlight and celebrate the best of British design.
My (now late) Grandad served in the Second World War so I grew up listening to him talk about his experiences abroad, but having lost my Nana when I was 4, my knowledge of what is was like for her living here during that time is not as good. Therefore, the exhibition really made me think about what it must have been like for her queuing up with her coupons to buy food and other essentials. Having to make her own clothes and mend her old ones at a time where she should have been enjoying unrestricted access to fashion and experimenting with her own style and image. One of my few memories of her was her wooden box filled with old buttons and other bits and bobs for mending and making, so I know that living through that period of austerity installed a life long belief in ‘Make Do and Mend’, where waste was not an option.
I knew from the extensive press surrounding the exhibition what to expect, but actually seeing the clothes, accessories, posters and handwritten notes and designs was brilliant. My personal highlights from Fashion on the Ration were: the ‘Mr and Mrs Sew’ (characters used to promote Make Do and Mend) leaflets and video footage, the air raid shelter ‘onesie’, the personalised gas mask handbag, the snake bangle made from a windscreen of a crashed German plane, a stunning necklace made from old buttons and a gorgeous long red coat designed by Digby Morton, who was one of the fashion designers invited by the Board of Trade to design for the utility clothing range.
Photography is not allowed at Fashion on the Ration, so I can’t share any of the wonderful exhibits in my blog, you will have to visit yourself to see these.
My parting thought for this blog is, it’s funny how we all try to recycle, upcycle and reuse in our lives now, but really when you look back to the Second World War, we are just playing at it aren’t we?!