I’ve just realised, we’re three quarters of the way through my third year of wartime clothes rationing and I’ve barely written about my rationing experiment. I’ve certainly not ditched the experiment so far into the journey. Nor am I counting the days till the end. I am actually just struggling to spend my clothing coupons.
Yes, I have purchased garments this year but a cream top, black cardigan, sensible shoes… are hardly riveting reading. Even my three pairs of nude fishnet tights are not going to make the headlines, no matter how delighted I was to find them after hearing “there’s no call for them, madam” for the last six years!
Why the struggle?
Has rationing extinguished my desire for nice clothes? Hardly. I am desperate for a new pair of smart casual trousers, and I mean desperate. My trusty black corduroys have been patched and darned in the most unseemly places to squeeze a few more weeks or months… out of them. I would replace them in a flash if only I could find another pair that is appropriate.
Unfortunately, “an appropriate pair” is proving very difficult to find. Perhaps I am being picky but for me it means:
- well-cut in a style that flatters my body so I will wear the garment again and again, i.e. full-length and wide legged (think Katherine Hepburn);
- made from quality cruelty-free wool or heavy cotton, ideally organic cotton but if the cloth and workmanship suggests the trousers will last at least five years I can be flexible here;
- made in ethically acceptable conditions. In practice, this usually means made in the European Union. Although there are some sustainable fashion companies that adhere to very good labour and environmental standards in China and South East Asia, their clothes generally don’t appeal to me as I like well-cut elegance rather than a boho look or hipster style.
- available in a colour that suits me, rather than one that some style-setter has dictated is de rigueur;
- available at a fair but sensible price.
Although I don’t consider these particularly exacting standards, I’ve not yet succeeded in my quest for a new pair of trousers. Replacing my go-to black jersey dress has also been a challenge.
In the past nine months I ordered and returned seven dresses from four tried and tested online stores before finally finding one that ticked enough of boxes to pass muster. To be fair, two just didn’t flatter me, no matter how lovely they looked on paper, but I returned the other items for quality reasons: fabric you could shoot a pea through (not a classy look); seams that were already fraying; twisted sleeve seams before the dress was out of the packet (never a good sign); and some really appalling pattern cutting. One of the dresses I tried on seemed to have mismatched front and back bodice sizes; and another came with sleeves that were nearly an inch different in length!
I have always believed in quality over quantity but my clothes rationing experiment has made me even more of a stickler for good materials and workmanship. What is particularly disheartening is how much quality standards seem to have fallen in the last three to five years alone, i.e. since I last purchased items from these stores. This decline is in marked contrast to what happened during the war with the introduction of Utility Clothing. For all the restrictions on style and features (pockets, turn-ups, embellishments…), the majority of people actually saw the quality of clothes improve!
So after this rant, what have actually I spent my clothing coupons on this year? Three organic cotton tops (5 each) ate up 15 coupons. A pair of black Mary Jane shoes (5) and the abovementioned tights (2 each) accounted for a further 11 coupons.
Twelve more coupons went on replacing my threadbare denim skirt (7) and cosy black cardigan (5). The former is now definitely relegated to garden use only and the latter was so heavily darned that the darns eventually fell out. (I have patched it for use as a bed cardigan. After many years clothes seem to take on the shape of my body and you have to pry them out of my hands!)
And to add colour, frivolity, warmth and my own style I spent coupons on yarn for knitting: one beret (2); a pair of bed socks for my legendary ice cold feet (1); and two shawls (2 each). One is knitted in a gorgeous semi-solid shade that reminds me of rich gingerbread and smoky brandy, a colour that definitely defies the diktats of what is currently fashionable!
Finally, I’m in the process of seaming a cosy winter sweater (2.5), one that will serve me well when out and about in the wet and windy months to come, and I have a smart green top on the needles (2.5).
Coupons spent: 50
That leaves me with 16 to use in the last quarter. I am allocating six to a pair of trousers, in the hope I will find that elusive pair. The remaining coupons will probably go on yarn to knit socks, after all Socktober started yesterday, and woollen tights to keep my legs warm in winter, particularly if I don’t find a new pair of trousers…
*Photo source: Imperial War Museum
As in previous years, I have avoided spending coupons by mending, unravelling and re-making. Knitting a cardigan from unravelled wool saved 2.5 coupons. Patching my trusty trousers has avoided me spending six, leaving them for a really good pair rather than a poor emergency purchase. And I’ve darned more socks and tights than I can be bothered to count but let’s call it half a dozen to quantify it.
My next project is to turn my old staple jersey dress into a skirt as the bodice is worn to threads but there is still some wear in the skirt fabric, which will avoid a further seven coupons