Posted in Activity, Fashion History, History, Vintage

Make Do and Mend – Recycling Fashion 1940s Style

My 2011 twist on the 1940s Make Do and Mend ethos. Take one length of 1940s dress fabric.
Add modern trimmings and buttons. Transform spare fabric into a matching purse.
Turn rest of spare fabric into a rose brooch with button detail.

Recently my friend and I found ourselves flicking through the rails in our favourite vintage clothing store, Foxtrot Vintage Shop in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  My friend found a lovely 1940s summer dress, with knitting motifs on the fabric and matching belt detail.   It fitted her perfectly, the only problem was that it was just too long.  Sensing my friend’s disappointed and possible decline to purchase, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration.   I could cut the excess fabric off of the bottom and turn it into a matching purse and rose brooch, the latter perfect for pinning on to a matching cardigan.  Both of us left the shop thrilled, my friend had purchased a charming dress that fitted her like a glove and I had a craft project on my hands. This got me thinking just how relevant the 1940s government campaign, Make Do and Mend, was to us today in these cash strapped times.  

What was the Make Do and Mend campaign?   By Spring 1941 the amount of clothing reaching Britain was in short supply.  On 1st June 1941 the UK Government introduced clothes rationing, allowing each person 66 clothing coupons per year.  In 1943 The Ministry of Information distributed the pamphlet ‘Make Do and Mend’, supported by advertisements in magazines and on newsreels.  DIY fashion was born.  One advertisement issued by the Board of Trade in 1942 declared:

‘If you care for clothes you naturally want to take care of your clothes.  This is a really important War job for every woman to take seriously today.    Fortunately, you are rewarded for the extra trouble, not only by feeling that you are helping to win the War, but also by looking your best all the time.  And you save money as well as coupons.’

Here are a few examples of 1940s Make Do and Mend advice:
  • Turn worn-out sheets into tea-towels or glass cloths;
  • Join a Make Do and Mend class;
  • Rayon – don’t soak, dip them.  Don’t boil them, use lukewarm water, don’t wring or twist them.  Hang evenly so they do not pull out of shape;
  • Always keep a needle and thread handy.  Deal with a ladder or tear straight-away;
  • Old bath towels can be turned into flannels and the more badly worn towels can be used for dusters or floor cloths.  A swimsuit can also be made out of bath towels;
  • Unpick dog biscuit or sugar bags and turn into tea towels;
  • Hat netting can be made into fish net stockings;
  • If your suspenders need renewing, knit 4 inch-wide bands and replace worn suspenders.  Re-attach old grips to knitted bands;
  • Sew loops on your towels and hang them up, they will last longer.

Clothing and shoe exchanges were also very popular.  These would have been run by local schools or women’s organisations such as the WVS/WRVS.   Clothing rationing ended on 15th March 1949.