Utility Clothing Scheme

Today shops are full of lots of different styles of clothes. There is plenty of choice at a wide range of prices. There was not always as much choice.

World War II started in 1939. During the War, clothes and the materials for making them were in short supply. Materials for clothing, such as cotton, had to be imported from other countries by ship.  But between enemy attacks on vessels preventing the raw materials for clothes getting to Britain and factories being turned from clothes to parachute and military uniform production, clothing became scarce.  What is scarce tends to become expensive.  There was a danger only the rich would have been able to afford new clothes.

So, towards the end of 1941 the British Government introduced the Utility Clothing Scheme. This scheme meant material had to be used carefully.  Prices were kept down so that people could afford clothing. Utility clothing was marked with a 'utility mark' - 'CC41' (Civilian Clothing 1941). The style of utility clothing was carefully designed to use as little cloth as possible so as many garments as possible could be made from the material available. Ways of using only the minimum of cloth included leaving off pockets,  sticking to a maximum length for men's shirts and there was a ban on turn-ups on men's trousers.

Utility clothes were affordable.  They were also good quality. During World War II, the government limited what each person could buy, so that everybody got a fair share of what was available. This was called rationing. Because the amount of clothing that people could buy was limited, it was important that it was good quality and would last a long time.

The Utility Scheme was eventually extended to furniture as well as clothing. The Utility Scheme continued after the war until 1952 as material for making clothes remained in short supply until then.

Utility Mark Boots Utility Mark Clothing Utility Mark Furniture

Related Timelines

World History - Events

Activities

  1. Look at your own clothes and pictures of clothes in magazines or catalogues - work out which styles use more material than others.
  2. Find the siren suit in the timeline. Siren suits were  popular during World War II. Would you like to wear a suit like this? What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? What do you think it would have been like to wear?
  3. Find the picture of the utility boots. Try to imagine what life was like for the child who wore these boots. Think about what it would have been like to live during a world war, with lots of shortages, such as food and clothes.  What would you find most difficult to do without?