Beauty is Duty

fashion on the ration

war museum

During rationing in wartime, it was tough. Magazines boosted morale, by encouraging women to keep making themselves up. Beetroot became the new red lip stain. Boot polish was used a mascara, and tea stained your legs for the ‘stockings’ effect, complete with a black line drawn up the back. Women were making wedding dresses out of net curtains,  it was time to wave bye bye to luxury. And to British women, that meant make-up.

But, where there is a will, there is a way.


A memo from the Ministry of Supply pointed out make-up was as important to women as tobacco was to men. More than that, beauty was considered a woman’s duty, during the Second World War.

‘Beauty is Duty’, is one of the many themes on display @ the Imperial War Museum’s brilliant exhibition at the moment, ‘Fashion on the Ration’. Marking the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, it examines the lengths to which many women went, to maintain their personal appearance and how fashion survived, and even flourished, during wartime.

And, we know, that in modern times, with financial hardships, lipstick sales have soared, ‘the lipstick effect’, at a record breaking high.

Make up

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Eventually you couldn’t buy ‘whole’ make-up at all.

When they did become available, refills for lipstick were not as we know it today. Metal, for the production compacts and lipstick cases, was banned in 1942, so they were wrapped in different ways, and the powder was minus its puff.

On display are adverts promoting war themed make-up such as Tangee’s lipstick for ‘lips in uniform’.

Fashion embodied the war

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Make up and wardrobe had a patriotic edge.  For example, the colourful display of scarves by Mayfair fashion house Jacqmar, with wartime slogans such as “Salvage Your Rubber” and “Switch That Light Off”. By wearing these items, women were able to overtly demonstrate they were doing their bit for the war effort. Behind the scenes in a way, but much needed, by all means.


Make do and Mend

The Make do and Mend area of the exhibition looks at why clothes rationing  was introduced in 1941, how the scheme worked and how it changed the shopping habits of the nation. With limited options for buying new clothes, people were encouraged to be creative and make clothes last longer by mending, altering, knitting and creating new clothes out of old material. Items on display include a bridesmaid’s dress made from parachute material, and a bracelet made from aircraft components.

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During the Second World War, British men and women had to find new ways to dress as austerity measures and demonstrated amazing adaptability by adopting more casual styles and by renovating, recycling and creating their own clothes.

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Fashion on the Ration demonstrates the way Britain managed to pull through, in the face of adversity, and how fashion and style were maintained and even flourished during the Second World War, the impact of which can still be seen on British style and the high-street today.

The exhibition brings together 300 exhibits including clothing, accessories, photographs and film, official documents and publications, artworks, wartime letters, interviews and ephemera, some of which have never been on display before.

Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to functional fashion, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime.

Britain became a nation in uniform, arguably the biggest visible change to how people dressed at the time, with many key pieces of uniform from the women’s services. The impact of which can still be seen upon British style.

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“When there was government intervention in every part of your life.. Your appearance was the only thing you could control. This was ordinary people’s lives impacted by unprecedented world events,” explains Laura Clouting, curator of Fashion on the Ration, 1940’s Street Style, a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London.

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Fashion on the Ration demonstrates the reality of Second World War austerity Britain and present a sense of what life was like on the home front for men and women during wartime Britain.

The IWM brilliant gift shop, sells these beautiful mini pocket mirrors, with a well known Cecil Beaton photograph on the back. Part of the range which accompanied IWM London’s major exhibition, Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War.

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Museum website

Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style 5 March – 31 August 2015


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This entry was posted in BEAUTY, DESIGN, FASHION, LONDON. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Beauty is Duty

  1. Hey, just stopped to say that I enjoyed going through your post! Very cool and interesting (stylish too!!) Keep it up! I can see you put effort into it, its a good read
    Come check out my blog if you get the time, would love to know what you think?
    Keep Blogging!

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