The role of clothing and fashion in the household budget and popular culture, Britain, 1919-1949
The central theme of the thesis is how clothing and, to a lesser degree, fashion affected the lives of women in the period from 1919 to 1949. The practical impact of clothing on women is rarely assessed to the same degree as other essentials of life such as food and housing, yet obtaining, maintaining and renewing clothing stocks were issues of the utmost importance to women, particularly those from low-income households, in the inter-war period and the Second World War. The first half of the thesis concentrates upon the role of clothing in the home and in popular culture in the inter-war period. Of particular importance is the role of clothing in the household budget, a subject which has received limited attention from social historians. In households with limited incomes, finding the means to purchase clothing was problematic, and women often resorted to unconventional methods of saving and spending. The role of clothing in middle-class households is examined as well, with an emphasis on the many varieties of shops which supplied ready- to-wear clothing, as well as souces of made-to-measure clothing. And, while antiquarian and sociological studies of fashion abound, little has been written on the practical impact of fashion in the lives of ordinary people. With the development of a mass market after the First World War, the influence of fashion was extended to most of the social classes. Rather than re-examining the changing modes themselves, it is useful to study the impact these fashions had upon people: in the way they regarded and treated one another; and in the way they perceived themselves. The study of the inter-war years thus offers a foundation from which to examine the role of clothing in the Second World War. The price of clothing and footwear rose steeply in the early months of the war, but stabilised once rationing and austerity measures took hold. The ways in which women budgeted, saved for and purchased clothing are discussed, with an emphasis on how these methods differed from pre-war habits. Although the development and implementation of government initiatives is described, the latter portion of the thesis concentrates on the practical effects of such schemes in the day-to-day lives of the British people. The role of fashion in the wartime economy is addressed as well. Austerity programmes stalled any extreme changes in fashion, people wore the same clothing year after year, and uniforms were almost universal. Nevertheless, issues of fashion and style remained important to the public, who in any case were encouraged to maintain high standards of dress and appearance as a sign of patriotism.