1940s Fashion - Hard times for fashion

ATS badge

Hard Times for Fashion


The Second World War signalled radical changes to British Society. Resources were rationed, men were called up and the Home Front production was geared towards supporting the war effort. This was also a significant era for British fashion. As clothes became scarce, rationed and regulated by government design, the ability to assert individuality and style became increasingly difficult. With limited access to new clothing the British population were forced to "Make do and mend" the items they already owned. With limited cosmetics women had to be creative and inventive in their ways to keep looking beautiful.

After the end of the war, the 'New Look' signalled a sharp contrast to the austere wartime fashion. After years of strict dress regulations and scarcity of fabrics, this ostentatious style seemed wasteful and unpatriotic.

Restrained and Austere


War-time restrictions and shortages had a big influence on fashion. Fashion took on a military look with boxy square shoulders on jackets, waist belt and military-style pockets, knee length pencil skirt which was not too tight, allowing freedom of movement. This look was restrained and austere. It was thought un-patriotic and in bad taste to have fancy embellishments on clothes when there were so many shortages.

Because leather was in short supply, wedge heels made of cork or wood were worn. This kind of sole also made it easier for women to walk longer distances or stand for longer periods of time due to their feet being better supported. Even though wool was short supply hand knitting was widely employed for cardigans, jumpers and waistcoats for men.

Hats remained un-rationed throughout the war. Woman could make a real statement with their hats and were encouraged to re-trim old hats and not buy new - the "Make Do and Mend" ethos. Dungarees, trousers and siren suits (jumpsuit) became acceptable wear at work and for leisure because they were practical and didn't require coupons to buy.