The Make Do and Mend Movement
We live in a throwaway society. When our clothes get threadbare, stained or the seams of our trousers show wear, most of us simply dispose of them by throwing them in the bin or donating them to charity before going on the next shopping trip down the high-street.
Clothing has become cheaper and cheaper over the last decade as high street retailers have pushed margins and suppliers so hard that we now see T-shirts that cost less than a loaf of bread.
This reduction in price has led to a devaluation of how we see and feel about our clothes. We don´t see the value in repairing a T-shirt when we can get a brand new one for £3 when we next go down to the local supermarket to do our weekly food shopping. This throwaway society seems a far cry from how people saw and related to their clothes in Britain during the second world war (1939-1945).
Ministry of Information publications gave practical advice for example on how to 'dig for victory', a basic guide to growing vegetable crops in the garden or allotment, how the British citizen can help the war effort by using a 'little less', tips on how to save on various household items, from string to electricity or how to 'make do and mend' – by re-knitting garments, darning clothes or making a skirt out of an old pair of trousers.
The make do and mend movement played an important part in the daily life during world war two. The war caused a shortage of supplies which was down to the sinking of ships trying to bring supplies across the channel to England. Another reason for a shortage of clothes was that „clothing manufacturers were commissioned to manufacture uniforms as a priority instead of civilian fashion...“ and the introduction of “clothes rationing“ in 1941. Everybody was given ration books which had coupons inside them which had to be used in order to buy clothes or food. “Everybody had the same number of tokens so people could not buy more than their fair share...“. Everyone was given 66 coupons a year – which was later reduced due to intensified shortages. A women’s blouse was 12 coupons for example and head wear such as hats were coupon free.
Because of this shortage of clothes and through publications/campaigns like „Make Do and Mend“ by the Ministry of Information in 1943, which intended to help women to get the last possible ounce of wear out of all their and their families clothes (4). People started making new clothes from old ones and from all other household linen. „During the world wars women became masterminds of make do and mend, so resourceful they fashioned up sexy knickers out of parachutes" (5).
Clothes now had to last longer in order to save precious coupons , they needed to be washed and ironed more carefully, were turned out & renovated, and even unpicked and knitted again in order to save materials. Nothing was thrown away, especially if it could be made into something else.
Making stuff was a way of life because daily necessities like clothes were not so readily available to buy.
„Fashion advice focused on making do rather than new styles..." (6) and was still available throughout the war by „Good Housekeeping“ a magazine which was still allowed to continue publishing throughout the war, „due , in part, to the Good Housekeeping Institutes collaboration with the Ministry of Food, showing the nation how to make delicious and nutritious meals with their rations" (7)
Even magazines like “American Home”, whose readers were mainly buying rather than sewing their dresses and skirts, offered patterns for making clothes out of worn out shirts etc.
Fashion advice today focuses on abandoning the old and buying new to be up to date.
Magazines show us how to copy stars styles and where we can get the outfit on the high-street without paying the “celebrity” price. Advertisers encourage us to constantly buy new and make our old clothes become obsolete.
Today we can laugh at some of the problems and worries of the 20s, 30s and 40s but in the dire economic circumstance currently being experienced in the UK and the ever increasing danger of global warming the relevance of MDM is just as apparent. A return to parts of the pre-industrial society, to do it yourself and make it yourself, to dressmaking and re-using, being more resourceful, darning and mending is a real alternative to our current clothes consumption behaviour.
This website is not advocating the return of clothes rationing. However a reduction in the quantity of clothes we buy wouldn´t hurt any of us. We can learn a lot from the Make Do and Mend movement about how to look after our clothes and how to make them last longer. Sewing on a button or darning a hole in a jumper is far more satisfying than going out and buying a new one.
Please click on the links above for Make Do and Mend Projects and for Hints and Tips on how you can make your clothes last longer.
(4) Make Do and Mend, first published by the Ministry of Information in 1943 and in 2007 by the Imperial War Museum, London, p.1
(5) Quote, Victoria Woodcock, Making Stuff , p.7
(6) Quote, Good Housekeeping – The Best of the 1940s, Collins & Brown, 2007, p.5
(7) Quote, Good Housekeeping – The Best of the 1940s, Collins & Brown, 2007, p.5
(8) Susan Strasser, Waste and Want, p.232