Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style

Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style

Now open until 1 May 2017

IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums in Manchester, presents the major exhibition Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of clothes rationing.

This exhibition explores how fashion survived and even flourished under the strict rules of rationing and how despite the restrictions, austerity did not put an end to creative design or fashionable trends on the British home front.

Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring by Laura Knight - Copyright IWMFashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style brings together 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.

IWM’s Amanda Mason, Curator of the exhibition, said: “Exploring the clothes that people wore throughout the 1940s gives us a whole new understanding and insight into life in Britain during and immediately after the Second World War. The exhibition also makes us think about the way we dress today and how British style is still influenced by wartime and the changes it brought to the fashion industry.”

Tickets are available online at

In addition to the exhibition:

  • A Fashion on the Ration Weekender will take place at IWM North on 4 – 5 June including creative workshops, a talk from the author of the Fashion on the Ration book Julie Summers and a fragrance tour of the exhibition by scent historian Odette Toilette. Modern milliner and make do and mend expert, Mary Jane Baxter will bring her campervan-come-craft-mobile, Bambi, to offer visitors a t-shirt turban making masterclass.
  • A major events series will take place at IWM North including an In Conversation event with fashion designer Wayne Hemingway and journalist Lucy Siegle on Fashion and Sustainability, taking lessons from the Second World War as a starting point to discuss modern challenges and modern solutions.
  • IWM is encouraging the public to become part of the exhibition experience by tweeting their wartime family photos using #WhatMyFamilyWore. Any photos that depict family members at the height of wartime fashion and clothes rationing could be shown on a screen as part of theFashion on the Ration exhibition.

Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style explores the following areas:

  • Into Uniform looks at how Second World War Britain became a nation in uniform, arguably the biggest visible change to how people dressed at the time. Many key pieces of uniform, both from the men’s and women’s services, will be on display revealing the pride and even jealousies felt by those stepping into uniform for war service.
  • Functional Fashion explores how the demands of wartime life changed the way civilians dressed at work and at home, inspiring retailers to sell innovative and stylish products such as gas-mask handbags and siren suits, examples of which will be on display. Practical work wear also features in this section including original overalls worn by Edith Forsdyke at the A V Roe aircraft factory in Chadderton, Manchester.
  • Rationing and Make Do and Mend will look at how these schemes 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, a bracelet made from aircraft components, a child’s cloak made from a blanket and on display for the first time, and stylish wedge heeled shoes made from scraps picked up from a factory floor.Silk map underwear
  • Utility Clothing was introduced in 1941 to tackle unfairness in the rationing scheme and standardise production to help the war effort. Utility fashion ranges were made from a limited range of quality controlled fabrics and this section will feature a catwalk of pieces, ranging from women’s summer dresses, underwear, a tweed sports jacket, winter coat and twin set, and a girl’s green velvet winter dress.
    Clothing restricted by Austerity Regulations such as shoes with a maximum two inch heel will also be featured.
  • Beauty as Duty examines the lengths which many women went to maintain their personal appearance – and the pressure that they felt to do so. Cosmetics and clothing often had a patriotic edge to them as shown in a colourful display of scarves by Mayfair fashion house Jacqmar, with wartime slogans such as “Keep it Under Your Hat” and “Careless Talk Costs Lives”. By wearing these items, women were able to overtly demonstrate they were doing their bit for the war effort.
  • Peace and a new look? This section looks at how the end of the war meant a return to wearing civilian clothing for demobilised servicemen and women.  While clothes rationing continued and Britain struggled with austerity, in 1947, the launch of Christian Dior’s ostentatious New Look shook the fashion world desperate for something new and glamorous.
  • Legacy The exhibition ends with a special installation capturing the thoughts of leading fashion commentators, such as Great British Sewing Bee’s Patrick Grant and fashion historian Amber Butchart discussing the legacy of the Second World War upon British fashion.

Tickets are available at for Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style.

Admission:  Adults £6, Concessions £4.50, Children (15 and under) £3, Groups of 10+ Adults £5.40, Groups of 10+ Concessions £4.

For news and alerts on ticket sales and associated events go to or call 0161 836 4000. 

Be a part of the Fashion on the Ration exhibition experience and share your 1940s family stories and photographs with @IWMNorth #WhatMyFamilyWore | #FashionontheRation

Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style is kindly supported by Little Greene Paint Company and Metrolink.