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Three months to go

Wartime Wardrobe Challenge

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!

Quality and simple elegance from the Utility Clothing Scheme*

Quality and simple elegance from the Utility Clothing Scheme*

Accounting

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!

Slow fashion

Brandy coloured gorgeousness in the making

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

Coupons avoided

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

 

 

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9 comments
  • Anne Marie October 2, 2015, 12:45 pm

    I could use some new clothes but, like you, I find it nearly impossible to find anything that meets my standards. I have such a hard time finding natural fibers. A few years ago, I could easily find linen pants in a store near me but now everything is polyester 🙁 And of course, almost everything is made in China. I wish hemp would hurry up and become mainstream and cost less. Right now it’s very expensive here. I think I’ll have to go the expensive route…or join a nudist colony.

    Reply
    • Meg and Gosia October 2, 2015, 1:41 pm

      Glad to here it is not just me being a curmudgeonly soul… Yes, in the last five years, to make their % profit margin, fabric quality has been slashed and polyester content has skyrocketed. I would imagine that the US could be partially self-sufficient for clothes because of the fibre growing possibilities, from cotton in the south to wool in the north. Of course, that only works if wardrobes shrink and local manufacturing returns. Good luck finding the hemp trousers! Nudist colony wouldn’t work here… far too chilly 😉

      Reply
  • Jacqueline Manni October 2, 2015, 4:54 pm

    I think I would have to go to the nudist colony if I only bought within my ideals 100% — which is a real shame. Even with making items, I don’t always find fabric I like produced ethically. Yarn I like that is ethically produced has been easier to find. I feel like a small, ethical, aesthetically pleasing wardrobe should be attainable. I don’t mind hard work, but I do mind impossible! I’ll keep trying 🙂

    Reply
    • Meg and Gosia October 2, 2015, 5:17 pm

      I am with you. I am after a modest sage wardrobe, i.e. as green as feasible and based on wise, kind choices!

      I’d hope to improve my sewing skills more during this experiment but the limitation on materials has actually made me wary for fear of major fails. The aim for next year though is to make a linen skirt or dress for summer and a woollen skirt for winter. I’m aware that with the knitting I can cover off a lot of the winter needs but sewing will help me fill some of gaps.

      As to fabrics… I also want to start exploring natural dyes next year. I love the idea of ultimately finding a quality, responsible produced linen/cotton as a staple and adding variety with plant dyes. It is one of the many strands of my Felix Ford/Knitsonik-style 10-year wardrobe 😉

      Reply
      • Jacqueline Manni October 3, 2015, 1:39 pm

        That’s a good idea, as I do love the process of dyeing! I’ve also seen some lovely peace silk that could make blouses in a variety of hues with low impact dyes… This is why conversations are so important 🙂 Thanks for these great ideas!

        I also struggle with “ruining” expensive ethical fabric with my beginner sewing skills, which is why I’m allowing myself a little wiggle room with less expensive fabric right now. I’m also trying to learn one blouse, one dress, and one skirt well with them, then I will get better fabric onward. I’ve put sewing on the back burner for the next month or so as I get Midnight used to the house. A new cat, fabric, tissue, and pins — ah! Knitting is working better right now. I’m relieved he is not a yarn attacker! Woody isn’t either – I lucked out!

        Reply
        • Meg and Gosia October 3, 2015, 6:32 pm

          Dante is not interested in wool either, unlike little Zoe who was more of a tinker. She used to chew the ball off the working yarn and was also known to chew through a phone charger cord…

          Reply
  • Typo @wooleyaphid October 3, 2015, 8:00 am

    I find your experiment fascinating. One I can applaud but could not undertake myself. My obsession is with organics including wearing organic clothing. This has become more difficult rather than easier over the past ten years as suppliers close down (eg Bishopston), reduce organic content (eg Howies) or cease to supply online (eg Jackpot).
    Greenfibres, Seasalt and Patagonia all have good quality items but it’s a lottery getting something to suit and fit. The organic cotton cords from Patagonia are excellent – look at the men’s as well as women’s – tho sadly, neither is the cut you want.

    Reply
    • Meg and Gosia October 3, 2015, 12:38 pm

      Yes, I used to like Jackpot. It’s organic cotton was excellent quality, I still have a teeshirt from the company that is 8-9 years old and holding up well. Thanks for flagging up Patagonia as an option. I’ll add them to my very short resources list.

      Reply
  • Naomi Alexander November 6, 2015, 10:12 am

    Love reading about your clothing experiment. So true about the Utility Clothing quality (I went to see Fashion on the Ration and absolutely loved that dark red coat that was on display – do you remember it?) Where do you buy your organic cotton T shirts from? I buy all my clothes from charity shops (and alter/rework it if necessary) I was going to suggest you make yourself some new trousers but it’s probably difficult (and expensive) to get sustainable fabric.

    Reply

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