‘Fashion on the Ration’ at Imperial War Museum

To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1945, IWM London is launching a major new exhibition Fashion on the Ration, exploring how fashion survived and even flourished during wartime.

Ruby Loftus (1943) © IWM, Painting Laura Knight

A new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum will explore the fascinating connection between fashion and war when it opens on 5 March 2015.

Fashion on the Ration will show how crucial style and beauty were to those on the home front during the Second World War. Men and women had to find new ways to dress as austerity measures and clothes rationing took hold, demonstrating amazing adaptability and ingenuity, as clothes were recycled and new trends emerged out of necessity.

The exhibition will bring together 300 exhibits including clothing, accessories, photographs and film, official documents and publications, artworks, wartime letters, interviews and ephemera, some of which have never been on display before, to present a sense of what life was like on the home front for men and women during wartime Britain.

Divided into six sections, Fashion on the Ration will reveal the reality of living in Second World War austerity Britain, by focusing on what people wore, their sense of identity and how they coped with the demands and deprivations of wartime restrictions and shortages. Into Uniform looks at how Second World War Britain became a nation in uniform, arguably the biggest visible change to how people dressed at the time. Functional Fashion explores how the demands of wartime life changed the way civilians dressed at work and at home, inspiring retailers to sell innovative and stylish products, such as gas-mask handbags, blackout buttons and siren suits, all of which will be on display.

Air Raid Wardens Wanted (1939) © IWM, Poster Cecil Beaton

Rationing and Make do and Mend will look at why clothes rationing was introduced in 1941, how the scheme worked and how it changed the shopping habits of the nation. Items on display include a bridesmaid’s dress made from parachute material, a bracelet made from aircraft components, a child’s coat made from a blanket and on display for the first time a bra and knickers set made from RAF silk maps for Countess Mountbatten.

Beauty as Duty examines the lengths to which many women went to maintain their personal appearance – and the pressure they felt to do so. On display will be adverts promoting war- themed make-up such as Tangee’s lipstick for ‘lips in uniform’. Cosmetics and clothing often had a patriotic edge to them as shown in a colourful display of scarves by Mayfair fashion house Jacqmar, with wartime slogans such as “Salvage Your Rubber” and “Switch That Light Off”.

Blackout accessories for sale, Selfridges London, (1940) © IWM

Peace and a new look? This section looks at how the end of the war impacted upon fashion, and considers its long-term sartorial legacy. In 1947, the launch of Christian Dior’s ostentatious ‘New Look’ shook the fashion world desperate for something new after years of pared down wartime fashion. The exhibition ends with a special installation capturing the thoughts of leading fashion commentators, such as Great British Sewing Bee’s Patrick Grant and fashion historian Amber Butchart discussing the legacy of the Second World War upon fashion.

Free entry for Members. Admission: Adults £10, Concessions £7, Children (aged 15 and under) £5. Box office 020 7416 5000, tickets are also available online, please visit the iwm website.




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