Fashion on the Ration

When Britain went to war in 1939 it seemingly spelt an end for fashion….

IWM_your country needs youBut it didn’t. The constant air raids, threat of invasion and their generation’s indomitable wartime spirit sparked a wave of creativity and ingenuity amongst British women that is worth remembering, and celebrating, today.

‘Fashion on the Ration’ at the Imperial War Museum is an exhibition celebrating that ingenuity. It shows us how World War II changed how people dressed both at work and at home, and how new commercial opportunities presented themselves (siren suits and handbags with gas mask chambers, anyone?). And it is fascinating.IWM_make do and mend

Most well-known, perhaps, is the ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign, launched in June 1941 by the Ministry of Information, when clothes became subject to rationing. Each adult was allocated 66 clothing coupons per year – which equated to one complete new outfit. Growing children presented a particular challenge, so in August 1941, an extra 50 coupons were given to new mothers for baby clothes.

Rationing and ‘Make Do’ saw individual style flourish – women recycled men’s suits into skirts and jackets, stockings and socks were darned and homemade accessories abounded.   The ‘Treasure Your Clothes’ campaign was a key element – posters were produced extolling the virtues of pressing, hanging and caring for clothes and shoes to prolong their life.

Importantly, clothes had to be both practical and stylish, which also meant it was increasingly acceptable for women to wear trousers. Department store Lillywhites marketed them as ‘practical wear for the home front’.

But it wasn’t just clothing that was expected to be kept up to scratch. IWM_factory fashion notesKeeping up standards in hair and makeup was also expected. As Yardley put it in a 1945 ad, ‘To work for victory is not to say goodbye to charm. For good looks and good morale are the closest of allies’. Or my favourite – ‘Beauty As Duty’ – which became an unofficial motto for women looking to keep up standards.

Although clothes rationing continued until 1949 (and other rationing went on into the 1950s) the launch of Dior’s New Look in 1947 marked the beginning of ‘peace’ in fashion terms…

With made up face and smart hair, a woman could still feel well dressed even if her clothes were last season, stockings darned and accessories homemade.

Fashion on the Ration runs until 31st August. Catch it before it goes !


Influence and our clothes

Influence: The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself (OED)

I recently attended a workshop to launch Her Career Garden, a dedicated development space for professional women to explore, experiment and discover how to make the most of their unique talents.


Launch of Her Career Garden

The theme of the launch was ‘Be more influential at work’ and the women in the room shared their thoughts on what they thought it was, why they don’t have it and how they could get more of it…..

This got me thinking. How does what we wear affect our influence on colleagues, friends and family? We mustn’t underestimate the importance of our clothes. Virginia Woolf says it best: ‘Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.’ Quite.

Research published by the University of Hertfordshire last year found that what people wear has a significant effect on self-esteem and confidence. This is particularly relevant to women, who are often still judged on their appearance rather than on their performance. I believe improved self-esteem and confidence translates into greater influence.

What are my top styling tips for greater influence at work?

  • Understand your office culture and dress accordingly. When you get to the top you can change it!
  • If you work in a conservative or corporate environment, invest in a good suit and add ‘mix and match’ pieces
  • If you work in a creative or informal environment and wear jeans, keep them dark and unripped
  • Skirts should be worn no more than one inch above the knee
  • If you wear heels, choose a height that you can walk, sit and move in comfortably
  • Inject your personality into your accessories using colour and texture
  • The non-negotiables: clean hair, nails and teeth. These small details matter and are vital to good first impressions


Travel in style

We all want to look effortlessly chic when we travel. But unfortunately, in my view, all the glamour has gone out of travel, particularly by air. Long gone are the days when people dressed to get on a boat, plane or train. Add to that the extensive security, the sheer volume of people and the waiting times – even the most chic and put together woman can look a mess by the time she gets to her destination.

Here are a few tips to help you look your best:

  • First of all, dress well. By this I don’t mean wear something dressy, but do look put together. Taking a ‘tonal’ approach is very elegant, for example dark jeans and a navy jumper, or tones of camel and grey. Team these with contrasting accessories that will work with what you’ve packed
  • Wear shoes you can get out of easily. You’re not always asked to take them off – but it’s best to be prepared. Elegant ballet flats, loafers or simple trainers are best. If you choose heels, keep them at a mid-height – remember you’ll be walking miles of corridors at the airport, and your feet will swell on the plane
  • This next tip is something I swear by. I always carry any jewellery I’m taking (and not actually wearing) in my handbag or carry on – I never ever pack it in my case, for security reasons
  • Don’t wear white or linen while you travel – they get grubby and crease like mad– you’ll look a mess at the other end !
  • Wear items that you will also wear while you’re away – so that they do double duty and you’re not packing even more.

Enjoy your holiday !




Guys, look great on your friend’s big day


My readers know that I am not a fan of the traditional wedding look. Many men often wear badly-fitting morning dress or rely on the same old boring office suits. Many people leave it to the last minute, and panic buy. Here are some tips to help you be the best dressed guest this summer, without, of course, upstaging the groom.

I’m sure you don’t want to show up to a friend’s big day looking like you’re going to the office. He won’t appreciate it, and you won’t feel up to scratch. Dressing for a formal wedding is fairly straightforward. There are a number of places on the high street to hire or buy morning suits and formal highland dress. But do plan in advance to ensure your size is available and alterations can be made.

For black tie weddings choose a wool dinner suit in black or midnight blue (the Duke of Windsor’s favourite). Single breasted is the most popular option, although double-breasted is making a comeback. For a modern look, go for a slim leg trouser, and don’t worry about a cummerbund.

For weddings that call for lounge suits or more informal dress, there are a variety of ways to look stylish and up to date:

  • Think three: the three piece suit is back and is a clean and sharp take on the lounge suit
  • Add some colour: suits in bright blue, pale grey, stone or pale grey check are great alternatives to dark grey and navy
  • Beat the heat: keep things cool with lightweight wool, wool-mohair blends or cotton. Or choose linen, but beware the crumpled effect
  • Show some ankle: slim cropped trousers worn with loafers and no socks is a contemporary informal look
  • Lose the tie: a beige or soft grey suit worn with a white shirt, pocket square and no tie looks fantastic while keeping you cool
  • Add pattern and texture: injected into ties, pocket squares and socks – a way to breathe life into an office suit if you can’t stretch to a whole new outfit