Yesterday I went on a trip down to London with two of my friends from uni, where we visited a fantastic exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Fashion on the Ration.
The core theme of the exhibition was how fashion survived and even flourished under the strict wartime rationing of WW2.
I learnt that during the war over a quarter of the British population were entitled to wear a uniform, which varied in appearance depending on which service you volunteered for. The Women's Royal Naval Service drew the most popularity amongst female signups due to it's smart uniform of navy blue suit and proper stockings! This was seen to be far more fashionable than the thick green jumper and brown cord trousers which were provided for members of the Women's Land Army. There was even some jealousy amongst members of the British Army when they learnt that American soldiers had a smarter uniform!
Despite the war, women were encouraged to keep up appearances, as it was thought this would help keep up morale. Beetroot juice could be splashed on the lips to add colour if you couldn't afford lipstick, whilst some women painted their legs with gravy in replacement of stockings!
It was also really interesting to learn about how the government coped with shortages - stocks of cotton and wool fell by 80% during the war. As a consequence, clothing styles had to be severely limited. The minimum amount of fabric possible was used to make garments, which included cutting down on features like pockets, tucks, pleats and trouser turn-ups. People were encouraged to 'make do and mend', and whilst a lot of the official advice on this matter was dismissed by most women, they nonetheless found ingenious, inventive ways to make the most out of old garments.
Though it worries me that if I'd grown up in this time, I would almost certainly have lost family members and friends as a result of war, I think the way people pulled together in a time of need was a better way of living. If we, as a nation, were ever to experience something like this again, would we uncomplainingly make the same sacrifices? I somehow doubt it. Despite the rationing, the bombs and the deaths of loved ones, the British population somehow managed to find a way to make it through the war in high spirits, making the most of everything they had. That sense of togetherness is something we lack in modern day society.
I also think that we can learn something from the way women were treated during the war. Today, thanks to the closing gender gap, I often get the impression women feel like they have to be less feminised in order to succeed. However, during the war females could go out to work, whilst at the same time encouraged to remain women. It was accepted that although they wore lipstick and floral headscarves and corsets and stockings, women could do a fantastic job of keeping the country going whilst its men were at war. Although feminism is, of course, a good thing, women should remember that it isn't about becoming men, it's about gaining equality to men in spite of our differences. We can have children AND work, we can wear lipstick AND run our own businesses. We can be feminine AND good at our jobs.
At the end of the exhibition I was drawn into the gift shop, which was rather too tempting to resist! I came away with a book on the history of Make Do and Mend, the Ultimate Trousers sewing pattern from Sew Over It (I can't wait to give this a go!), a gorgeous bag and a pair of scissor earrings!