Last Saturday, we took a trip out to the Imperial War Museum North to visit the ‘Fashion on the Ration – 1940s Street Style’ exhibition. I was really heartened when i heard this special exhibition was on in Manchester. Sometimes, despite the will, the time isn’t there and i was very cross with myself for missing it when it was on in London.

(Note to self – Freezing day – should have worn warmer clothes. Chose to wear our new 40s pussy bow blouse in primrose delight in homage to the exhibition and caring more about style than warmth did not pair with thermal underwear. My Granny would have turned in her grave.)

Anyway, this is our little review of the exhibition which ends in May. I dont know if it will travel elsewhere after that…but I say to all fans of the 40s – you MUST try and visit this exhibition. It was fairly small but fabulous! Despite having a humungous number of books on 1940s clothing and original items in my collection – i learnt so many new bits and pieces.

What I particularly liked were the personal letters and soundbites from ladies who gave real accounts of their approach to how they dressed during a period when clothing rationing took hold. These women talked about their uniforms, how they rarely fitted properly and what they did to get around rules.

I also loved seeing the examples of dresses that had been reworked from older styles from the 1930s but particularly one interesting dress reworked from a victorian one! These wartime ladies were adept at adjustments, reworks, resizing and I have always admired the creativity that comes from it. Here were many examples of this.

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The exhibition was laid out very well, moving from uniforms through to siren suits and practical clothing then onto ‘make do and mend’ and then a section dedicated to the 1940s utility clothing designers that tried to demonstrate how the rules ‘could’ produce stylish clothing to a very unconvinced nation of women. I loved the films from the period demonstrating how they might make a stylish hat from an old fedora in the cupboard or a suit from their husband’s sunday best. Accordingly, there was a plethora of men returning from war to find they had nothing left to wear 🙂

The utility clothing section featured many examples of branded garments and propaganda films from the period. Rationing and coupons was certainly a real leveller – and it broke down class boundaries. This is really interesting – but it explained also how many were worried about how self expression though clothing might therefore be restricted. It was very interesting to see how the rules were implemented and how many examples of design showed that this clothing wasn’t as dowdy as we are perhaps led to believe. There was information on prints and fabric too – again something I have a lot of interest in – there were some original prints that proved wartime wasn’t all grey and khaki.

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The exhibition concluded with some examples of the ‘New Look’ styles that were born from Dior in 1946. I didn’t realise that the reaction from Britain at the time to these styles was extremely negative – exclaiming that they were completely out of touch. Of course, rationing didn’t relent for many years and as the country was bankrupt, there was no chance that women could adopt these styles. Plus, most manufacture in Britain was dedicated to selling abroad.

I don’t want to say too much more about the exhibition for fear of ruining the experience for those who have yet to see it but the highlights were:-
– many original garments demonstrating reworking
– the audio and films from the period – some of which are very lovely and humorous
– a fabulous original siren suit
– stories about wedding dresses – some that were worn by 17 women

Downsides:-
– it was very dark and you couldn’t always see the details (maybe that won’t matter to all – but I wanted to see ALL the detail)
– very little on the menswear

In conclusion, an excellent exhibition well worth braving the cold for and paying £6. The exhibition runs until 1st may 2017 at IWM Noth, The Quays, Manchester www.iwm.org.uk

Fashion on the Ration book – click here

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January 24th, 2017

Posted In: 1940s Fashion

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