On this day in history….15th March 1949

On this day in history : 15th March 1949 – The end of clothing rationing in Britain – after its introduction during World War II….

Clothing coupon books as issued to British civilians during the Second World War – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

When clothing rationing was announced by Oliver Littleton, President of the Board of Trade, on the 1st of June 1941, it came as a complete surprise to many people…. The announcement was made just before a bank holiday to allow the retail trade time to adjust….

Roughly 25% of the British population wore a military uniform at the time….putting pressure on the textile and clothing industries…. The allocation of raw materials prioritised for the war effort – wool for uniforms, leather for boots, silk for parachutes – and so on…. Little was left for civilian use….and by reducing manufacture for civilian purposes more space was created in the factories for war related production….

Rationing was also intended to ensure fairness. Each item of clothing would be allocated points in the form of coupons….the amount varied according to the amount of material used and labour required for its manufacture…. For example – a pair of stockings would be 2 points, whereas a dress would have been 11…. A man’s shirt or a pair of trousers needed 8 coupons….women’s shoes needed 5 and a man’s pair required 7….

Children’s clothes had lower coupon values – as they needed to be purchased more frequently – as kids have a tendency to grow…. Often schools did not relax the school uniform rules and this caused problems for many….

Reinforce Children’s Clothes – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

At the beginning of rationing everybody was allocated 66 points to last a year….but this number decreased as time went on…. At the lowest point there were just 3 coupons available per month – although from 1942 children were allocated an extra 10 points per year…. New mothers received an extra allowance of 50 coupons….and special provisions were made for some professions – such as manual workers and those who wore civilian uniforms….

One of the problems was that no matter the quality of the garment it carried the same coupon value…. This meant those with larger incomes could buy better quality clothes that lasted longer…. The Women’s Voluntary Service set up clothes exchanges to help those having difficulties in clothing their families…. In 1942 the government introduced the Utility Clothing Scheme…. A range of standardised, good quality, well-designed and price controlled garments was made available…. At first people worried that individual style would be lost, everyone would look the same – but most were pleasantly surprised as a considerable amount of choice was offered….

A model wearing a black woollen Utility Artima dress in 1943 – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Women were still expected to look their best….keep standards up by not letting their appearance slip – it was thought to be good for the Country’s morale…. Make-up was still manufactured but in smaller quantities….it was never rationed but became very expensive as a luxury tax was added…. Women improvised, with tricks such as using beetroot juice as lipstick, even boot polish for mascara…. More attention was paid to hairstyles….

Clothing changed….skirts became straighter and shorter to save material…. Even men’s attire changed slightly, gone were the waistcoats and along came the two-piece suit…. Clothing was made with minimal pleating, gathering, pockets and buttons…. Straighter lines, no frills, no fuss….

Then there was the ‘Make-do and Mend’ campaign. Posters and leaflets were issued giving advice on how to make clothes last longer…. How to care for particular fabrics, prevent moth damage, make shoes go that extra mile…. Make-do and Mend classes started up, teaching skills such as dress making…. People became very creative at recycling and renovating existing clothes….and many made their own, spending their coupons on dress fabric – which usually worked out cheaper…. Some used curtain and furnishing fabric – until that too became rationed…. Even blackout material was used, as this did not require coupons…. Parachute silk was the ultimate prize – perfect for underwear, night gowns and of course, wedding dresses….

Make-do and Mend – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

People were to some extent already used to make-do and mend, it had always been a way of life – so different to today’s consumer driven throwaway society….

Useful Jobs that Girls can do – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums
1946 British clothing ration coupons – British government – Public domain

On this day in history….5th February 1953

On this day in history : 5th February 1953 – Sweet rationing finally comes to an end after over 10 years of restrictions – children flock to their nearest sweet-shop….

Rationing came into force on the 8th of January 1940 – shortly after the beginning of World War 2…. Initially it was just for petrol but it wasn’t long before it was introduced for food as well….with bacon, butter and sugar being the first…. By Summer 1942 this had extended to include tea, meat, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and jam….

A shopkeeper cancels the coupons in a British housewife’s ration book for the tea, sugar, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week. Most foods in Britain were rationed and some brand names given the designation ‘National’. Image : Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division – Public domain

Of course, it wasn’t just food and petrol that were rationed….pretty much everything was in short supply….coal, clothing, paper, furniture, frying pans, razor blades….even basic commodities such as soap….

The rationing of sweets and chocolate began on the 26th of July 1942….with an allowance of just 12oz every four weeks…. Generally de-rationing began in 1948 but it was a slow process…. An attempt was made to de-ration sweets in April 1949 – but demand far outweighed supply and it had to be reintroduced four months later….

Image credit: Philip Howard via Flickr

Major Gwilym Lloyd-George, Minister for Food, had to reassure the House of Commons that measures were to be taken to deal with the anticipated surge in demand…. Manufacturers were to be allocated a one-off increased allowance of sugar in preparation – but even so, they still only had 54% of the sugar available to them before the war….

On the day of de-rationing it gave cause for celebration…. One company at Clapham Common gave 800 school children lollipops during their lunch breaks – and another London factory opened its doors and handed out free sweets to all….

Image credit: Claire via Flickr

Queues formed outside sweet-shops, many popular brands sold out quickly…. Among the favourites were toffee apples, chocolates, liquorice, lollipops and nougat…. But whatever your fancied ~ lemon sherberts, barley sugar, jelly babies, gob stoppers, pear drops, liquorice allsorts….they were all available again…. Workers queued in their lunch breaks to buy boxes of chocolates to take home to their loved ones….and the BBC reported – “Children all over Britain have been emptying their piggy banks and heading for the nearest sweet shop”….


However, there was no panic buying – possibly people were used to having a limited supply. Or perhaps another reason being the cost….the price of sweets and chocolates having nearly doubled since the beginning of the war….

As well as the de-rationing of sweets restrictions were also lifted on cheese, butter, margarine, cooking fats, eggs and cream…. Sugar itself was not de-rationed until September 1953 – and this was probably due to pressure from the confectionery manufacturers…. Bread rationing had ended in 1948, clothing in 1949 and petrol in 1950…. Rationing officially ended when meat was de-rationed in July 1954….

In the first year following the de-rationing of sweets spending on confectionery went up by approximately £100m to £250m per year…. Nowadays as a nation we spend in excess of £5.5bn…!