1940s Fashion - Utility scheme

detail of shoe

Restriction Orders introduced


The utility scheme was introduced into Britain by the Board of Trade on 1st June 1941 to ensure low and medium quality consumer goods were produced to high standards at reasonable prices. Utility applied to furniture and other consumer goods as well as clothes. Clothes were made from Utility cloth, which was defined in terms of minimum quality levels (weight and fibre content per sq.yard) and maximum allowed retail prices. Brown wool coat with utility label (CC41)

Clothes were identified by the CC41 label. Once manufacturers had met their utility clothing quota of production - 85 % of total production - they were then permitted to make clothes using non utility cloth, but still had to follow the same style regulations.

To further economise, the Making of Civilian Clothing (restriction orders) was passed in 1942. This forbade wasteful cutting of clothes and set list of restrictions that Tailors and dressmakers had to work to. For example, dresses could have no more than 2 pockets, 5 button, 6 seams in a skirt, 2 inverted or box pleats or 4 knife pleats and no more than 4 metres of stitching. No unnecessary decoration was allowed.

Dress Restrictions - Yes : Fashion Restrictions - No


To demonstrate that these limitations didn't necessarily signal an end to style and fashion, London's top fashion designers were asked by the Board of Trade to create a year-round collection. The focus was on line and cut, and the collection was elegant and simple. This tailored and slim line silhouette, with pronounced shoulders and nipped in waists became the standard wartime look. Jackets were short and boxy, or long and lean.

Skirts were straight with a kick pleat or gently flared, and hemlines were 18 inches from the ground, just below the knee. Surface interest was created by imaginative placement of pockets or buttons which sometimes featured the CC41 utility motif. Some designs copied the military style with breast pockets or belts and small collars. Utility clothing also extended into children's wear, which also bore the same CC41 label. pair of shoes

Shoe designs were chunky and solid, with wedges or low 2" heels. Open toe shoes were banned as impractical and unsafe. Men's shoes adhered to the usual formula of hard wearing Oxfords or Brogued lace-ups.

Civilian clothing for men became less formal, with many opting for open necked shirts, pullovers and cord trousers. Styles in men's clothes were also restricted under the utility rules. The waistcoat was abolished making it a 2 not 3 piece suit, pocket flaps eliminated, turn ups on trousers and braces.