Above: 1940s cotton floral print day dress
Wartime restrictions on labour and materials meant that when clothing became subject to rationing in the early 1940s, the everyday lives of women were much more active and hands-on assisting with the war effort - so fashion needed to become functional and hard-wearing as well as stylish.
Rationing began in 1941, and the following year the Utility Clothing Scheme was introduced. Clothing was subject to severe restrictions such as the amount of fabric to be used, the length and width of skirts, the amount of buttons or trimmings allowed and even the number of pleats permitted.
Above: 1940s red wool cc41 utility marked coat with sheepskin trim
Leading designers such as Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Edward Molyneux produced garments for the Utility wardrobe, illustrating the fact that wartime fashion may have been restricted, but it was certainly stylish. Garments were well-tailored and made to last many seasons, hence the quality and great condition of many of the 1940s pieces we find today.
Above: cc41 marked stunning tailored 1940s linen skirt suit with soutache pockets in military green
Utility clothing was well-cut, stylish and surprisingly creative as designers found new ways to make their garments appeal to a mindful wartime clientele despite of the limitations. The utility marked day dress above has a fun and cheerful print sure to lift one's spirits!
Man-made fabrics came to the fore, with rayon crepe being used frequently for day and eveningwear. Linen was also a popular fabric for garments, many of which were decorated with appliques and soutache braiding to add some detail to otherwise plain outfits.
Naturally, daytime outfits took on a functional military look with well tailored jackets, padded shoulders and straight knee length skirts a common sight.
This suit by Belle Mode bears the CC41 utility mark, and is in a classic military-inspired style with the trademark forties padded shoulders, deep pockets, narrow belt and straight skirt. Greens and browns were often used, further emphasizing the influence of forces uniforms on civilian style.
Above: emerald green satin 1940s utility marked evening dress
Many dresses were designed as day-to-evening garments, bearing in mind that during periods of austerity often women would not be able to afford more than one dress so the dress they did buy would need to be suitable for more than one type of occasion.
Nipped waists, cap and dolman sleeves and colourful prints were prominent, as well as pleated and draped skirts.
Eveningwear was elegant and flattering and often decorated with lots of sequins, which were not subject to rationing. Many evening gowns echoed the Grecian draped style, with shirring and soutache designs common.
The dress on the left is a green satin cocktail frock with shirred bodice and white broderie anglaise trim to the frill collar. The elasicated bodice omitted the need for any sort of fastenings - very clever!
This original 1940's fish and shell patterned wool swimsuit by Capstan proves that Utility clothing did not have to be austere and humourless, despite the hardships of the war!
The CC41 label design
The CC41 label was designed by a London-based commercial artist named Reginald Shipp. The CC is generally thought to stand for 'civilian clothing', but other sources suggest this may have actually stood for 'controlled commodity' which makes more sense given that furniture was also produced under the utility scheme. 41 is the year that clothing rationing first started - 1941.
Two pairs of utility stamped 1940's shoes - cherry red leather babydoll heels, and nubuck suede peep-toe platforms with slingbacks.
As well as the standard CC41 label, clothing was also produced under the luxury Utility label, which had a bold circle with two strokes either side.
This label was designed to be used on luxury garments after 1945, when rationing was still in force. Garments bearing this label would have been made from better fabric, been more elaborate or have been made using more material, and were therefore subject to more purchase tax. Hence these luxury labelled items are much harder to come by nowadays.
Below is the standard CC41 label (left) next to the luxury utility label (right).
Clothing rationing ended on March 15th 1949, so after this date utility labels were no longer used in garments. A more extravagant era of fashion was starting to emerge as the 1950s arrived, ushered in by Dior's groundbreaking 'New Look' collection of 1947.