Knitting and fashion in the Second World War – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Knitting and fashion in the Second World War

In discussing the fashions during the Second World War, we turn to the pages of Britannia and Eve.  Along with providing general news, this paper has dedicated sections on such topics as fashion, home, and knitting. Wonderful illustrations and photographs are included amongst its pages.

Explore all our fashion findings here!

Knitting

Knitting advice and patterns are no strangers to the pages of our newspapers. It could be said that the value of such readily available information was made all the more valuable during wartime economy: hand-made clothing could save a person coupons and, if desired, clothing could be unraveled and re-made. Britannia and Eve‘s knitting section is a treasure trove and can provide additional insight into the mindset of women in wartime.

Hand knitteds conserve coupons
Hand knitteds conserve coupons | Britannia and Eve | 1 March 1943
hand mades save coupons
Hand-mades save coupons | Britannia and Eve | 1 August 1941

The knitting section is overflowing with patterns for all occasions. Here is a (very small) sampling of what you can find:

Fashions by Jean Burnup

Jean Burnup’s regular column on fashions provides a wealth of insight and information on the styles, innovations, and fashion-related advice of the times.

In an article aimed to assist one in paring down one’s yearly clothing needs, Jean Burnup writes the following: ‘In fifteen short months, with the adaptability that has characterised all their activities in these changing times, women have dropped the free-and-easy, buy-on-sight habits of a lifetime and have acquired the more valuable habit of knowing what not to buy. We have learned to take the long view about clothes, and not to be circumscribed by seasons. We exploit interchangeability to its limit, we plan wardrobes whose future is just as important as their present’. Explore the chart below (click to enlarge) to see what one’s yearly musts entail.

yearly musts
Yearly musts | Britannia and Eve | 1 September 1942

Utility clothing

stockings
Stockings are every woman’s problem | Britannia and Eve | 1 January 1943

Certain sacrifices were felt more deeply amongst women in war-time; the necessity of utility clothing and its impact on stockings was a particular sore point: ‘A snooper, eavesdropping on any group of civilian women anywhere, might be puzzled that it could talk so emotionally and so incessantly about stockings. How could a poor snooper know that talking about stockings is just our rather pathetic little way of making up to ourselves for being compelled to wear Utility, non-fully-fashioned lisle, rayon or wool for the duration?’

stockings, utility clothes
Britannia and Eve | 1 January 1943

A continued flexibility in one’s approach to clothing was required for the duration of the war, as expressed in an article detailing the additional limitations brought about by the need for ‘austerity’. Having adjusted to utility clothing, ‘along came the Board of Trade with another tough word for us to chew, this time “Austerity,” implying restrictions in cut and trimming. And already these restrictions are giving our clothes a crisp editing which puts them in tune with the wave-length of our lives to-day. Utility, austerity–we eat the words with ease, and do not call upon the Board of Trade to eat theirs’.

utility and austerity
Britannia and Eve | 1 November 1942

Illustrative of the perseverance and adaptability of women in war-time, we see articles showing the positive side effects of limitations and economy in fashion — and an enterprising spirit to boot!

dress restrictions
Dress restrictions give clothes clean cut elegance | Britannia and Eve | 1 August 1942
clothing substitutes
Substitutes | Britannia and Eve | 1 June 1941

Explore more on economy and utility in wartime fashion

Additional advice

Of course, the advice found did not always run towards clothing. Advice could pertain to new fabrics, how to care for existing fabrics, and footwear, amongst other topics.

The latest in fabric can be both useful and a boost for morale: ‘Go in for gay fabrics this spring if gaiety is limited in other senses. The new silks and light-weight woollens give encouragement, if you need any’.

New fabrics, hats
New fabrics, new hats | Britannia and Eve | 1 March 1941

Unsurprisingly, the topics of conserving fabrics and making them last were of particular interest during war-time. The following article on the topic of buying, storing, and mending linen to make it last begins as follows: ‘We used to buy things to look nice and not so much to last. Now they have to do both’. Learn all you need to know about the purchase and care of linen here:

linen
Linen forever | Britannia and Eve | 1 April 1941

The practicalness of accessories was not always the dominating factor; the latest in shoes were noted for their ‘startling innovations’, ‘some of them eccentric, but in most cases based on the principle of greater comfort, increased health and more flattery to feet’.

shoes
Walking on air | Britannia and Eve | 1 December 1940

 

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