The Old and the New

There is something rather extraordinary about the way history goes round in cycles. I’m not making a point about history repeating itself. That has been made often. I am talking about a cycle that I observed last week at the launch of Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum. When I was in my twenties we were fascinated by the designs and the clothing from the 1920s. I remember loving the boyish shapes under the flappers’ glorious dresses. There was something so unbelievably refined and beautiful about them and I wanted to look like them, dance like them, smell like them and love like them. But to the generation growing up in the late 1930s and 1940s, those elegant lines and dropped waists were considered ugly and old-fashioned. Completely out of date with the then current thinking about fashion which celebrated curves and divided the bosom into two for the first time in decades. Despite the overriding impression that wartime clothing was dull and depressing, there is a generation of twenty-somethings who today are rediscovering and cherishing the Utility designs of wartime Britain: flat caps and round glasses, Victory rolls and lace-up shoes, tweed suits and rayon dresses. To me it is fascinating to see fashion come full circle and be celebrated in such style.

When I wrote Fashion on the Ration the single most striking thing for me was the colour of clothing in the Second World War. Used to seeing images in black and white it is all too easy for forget that colour was one of the only things in clothing that was not rationed or constrained by the austerity clothing regulations. Colour brings joy and energy to good design and nothing exemplifies that more than the Utility range of clothing on show at the Imperial War Museum in London (5 March to 31 August 2015).

I wonder if anyone, ever, will find anything attractive about bell-bottom jeans and the horrendous designs I wore in my teens in the 1970s…

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