Austerity restrictions in full: part 1 (women’s and girls’ clothing)
If you wanted to trace the rise of modern Britain’s reputation as a nanny state, World War 2 would be a good place to start. Never had the circumstances of life been so minutely regulated by the government. What people ate and how much, where they lived, who they lived with, where they worked and what they paid for the goods they bought, among a myriad other things, were dictated from Whitehall in the drive to mobilize every scrap of the country’s resources for the war effort. Even what people put on in the morning — rationed clothing made to austerity specifications, often ersatz and much-mended — testified to the fact that Britain was at war.
The look of British clothing during the war was largely owing to the Making of Civilian Clothing (Restrictions) Orders, a series of legislative measures passed in 1942 and 1943 whose aim was to minimize the amount of labor and materials diverted from the war effort into the garment industry. These austerity restrictions applied to all clothing sold commercially, whether made by mass producers, by local dressmakers or by high-end bespoke tailors (who tended to kick up the most fuss).
When researching this subject online, I kept coming across the same handful of factoids on austerity restrictions, which were mostly either recycled generalities (the number of pleats in a skirt was limited, trouser turn-ups were forbidden, etc.) or inaccuracies (hemlines were dictated by law). I was frustrated by my inability to get a complete picture of the government’s design decrees. Nowhere could I find the original orders, or even a tolerably complete set of restrictions, reproduced online.
Fortunately for me, I enjoy a unique advantage when seeking out obsolete pieces of 70-year-old secondary legislation. I work for Parliament, which means that the parliamentary archives, where the original austerity orders can be accessed, are a four-minute walk from my desk. After a bit of rummaging, the friendly archivists there dug out a bound and yellowed volume of the Statutory Rules and Orders from 1942. Voilà! My long-sought Making of Civilian Clothing (Restrictions) Orders, which I will be reproducing in a series of posts. I’ve stripped away the preliminary hocus-pocus but left the meat of the orders intact, and put my own comments in [italics and square brackets]. Follow the link below to read all about