Seeing Afresh: Wartime Britain Through the Eyes of Fashion

Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style, an exhibition currently on display in the Imperial War Museum North, engages visitors with an eclectic mixture of handmade and designer fashion for men, women and children from 1940s Britain. The exhibition provides an original perspective on rationing and the home front in Britain, moving beyond the usual display of ration books and posters to produce a unique perspective of everyday wartime life.

The collection creates a personal viewpoint, highlighting the everyday sacrifices people made, striving to remain fashionable in a time of limited materials and money. Jewellery made from aeroplane parts and dresses from unwanted silk maps gives a sense of just some of the ingenious methods and compromises women made to create affordable and stylish clothing.

Another interesting element of the exhibition is the collection of silk scarves, including those made by Jacqmar, each printed with a propaganda design and message. Not only did these help the war effort by spreading the message and generating money, but they also became highly fashionable conversation pieces. These, in addition to the Utility clothing range, provide a good counterpoint to the homemade items, demonstrating how the war effort infiltrated fashion not only through rationing but through high profile designs.

The thematic grouping of the collection, creates a dynamic route through the exhibition, allowing comparisons to be drawn between high-end fashion and homemade items. However, I feel the poor lighting and certain colour backdrops of the displays are discordant with certain objects, consequently rendering some patterns and items dull in appearance. Sadly, a combination of these elements, in addition to the reflections on the glass, make photographs of the clothing incredibly difficult.

Despite these small issues however, the exhibition provides an incredible opportunity to delve into the world of 1940s fashion and experience a truly fresh look at life on the home front.

More information available at

‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style’ at the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester- until 1 May 2017.

Emma Healey

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