The coat and hat pictured were made under the ‘Utility’ scheme between 1942 and 1948. Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 and both countries began to focus their time and resources on the war effort. The UK government set limits on the use of resources for any purpose other than the war, and there were shortages of paper, petrol, furniture, food and clothes. After clothes rationing was introduced in 1941, the British wartime government department, the Ministry of Information, produced a booklet called ‘Make do and mend’, which encouraged restraint, repair and re-use of materials wherever possible.

In response to the shortage of clothing materials, the Board of Trade sponsored the creation of ranges of “utility clothing” which were designed to meet tight specifications regarding the amount of material and labour used in their production. Introduced in 1941, utility clothing and later utility furniture, was marked with the distinctive ‘CC41’ logo, designed by Reginald Shipp.

Utility clothing ranges aimed to avoid wastage and the use of unnecessary detailing. The coat pictured for example, has one row of buttons instead of the usual two that were typical of this style.

At this time, purchasing new garments was quite difficult as they cost money, as well as coupons. Families were allocated a small number of clothing coupons each year and would often use their adult coupons to obtain new clothes for their rapidly growing children. One alternative to utility clothing was to buy second-hand garments, another was obtaining the goods via the ‘black market’. Although the ‘black market’ avoided the tight regulations imposed by the Board of Trade, it was illegal.