On 1st June 1942 the government announced that clothing was to be rationed. Men , women and children would get a set number of ration coupons a year that could be exchanged, with money, for different pieces of clothing. Fabric was desperately needed for the war effort so civilian clothing production had to be limited and most people received 66 coupons for a year. Those who already had extensive wardrobes were not too badly affected, but for many people this then created great difficulties in getting enough clothes to last them. A coat required 16 coupons, a jacket 13, trousers eight, a shirt five, shoes seven and underwear eight. This shortage became more acute in 1945 when the number of coupons issued dropped to 45 a year.
The clothing ration book had a red cover, rather than the buff of the food ration book and tonight we have the ration book for a child from 1944/45:The inside of the front cover explains how to use the book:The interior pages had coupons that were clipped out by the retailer, some are brown:Others orange:Further spaces for coupons were printed on both sides of the rear cover:Extra coupons were given for children and they needed less coupons for each garment as they used less fabric, both helpful considering how fast children could grow. The WVS also organised swapping systems to allow clothes that children had grown out of to be handed on to other younger children and replacement garments passed down from older boys and girls who had now grown out of them.
Monica Flook explains how clothing rationing impacted her:
All clothes (expect I think hats) were rationed by coupon, 26 coupons every six months. A fully-lined coat was 18 coupons, a half lined one 15. Stockings were 3 coupons a pair silk, 2 a pair lisle. Even underwear cost coupons. I can’t remember about shoes, whether coupons were required, or their very scarcity was a form of rationing. Large shoe shops like Dolcis and Saxone would open at 9.00 a.m., admit the first say 10 people in the queue, serve them, then shut up shop till the next day. Once I queued in the town centre 3 days running at 8.30 a.m. to get a pair of shoes to wear with my “going-away outfit” after my wedding.
There was one good thing about living in Leicester, it was famous of its manufacture of boots and shoes, and hosiery and knitwear. During the 6 years of war I was lucky enough to get 2 pairs of shoes “off ration” — and not quite on the Black Market. A family friend worked in a shoe factory, and once a pair of shoes in my size had a serious mark in the leather and she was able to buy them for me, as shops wouldn’t accept them. The other time was when another friend’s son, who was unfit for the Services, was learning the shoe trade and he had to make a pair by hand. He provided the leather soles, and uppers were from a blue linen skirt. I was discarding. I didn’t cultivate “friends” just because they were useful, but a third family friend often springs to mind. He was too old for military service, and had a small knitwear factory. He made rolls of “Lock knit”, mostly white but some coloured, and tightly woven 1 inch wide strips which were sewn round cardigans to accommodate the buttons and button holes, or round the necks of men’s pullovers. Occasionally a short piece would have a pulled thread, or it might get slightly soiled by machine oil. These pieces were seized upon by his wife and her friends and her friend’s children and their friends. My sister and I, over time, amassed a few yards of white edging, and some red, some green knitted pieces. Sheer desperation helped us to make a kind of bikini each, hers red, mine green, to take on holiday — and the weather was warm enough in Devon to wear them!