Wednesday, 24 November 2021

CC41 Utility blouse

A recent workshop provided the opportunity to look a little closer at a number of synthetic garments in MoDiP’s collections, and this blouse (refer image below) particularly caught my attention.

AIBDC : 000824
Image credit: MoDiP

It is very popular and gets used for research by students and teaching by staff every year but we know very little about it. The original catalogue record simply stated:

A Utility mark labelled blouse with three-quarter length sleeves, popper front fasteners and shoulder pads. Size 44. The fabric is a multi-coloured print based on the traditional paisley design.

The CC41 Utility label
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The blouse has a CC41 Utility label (refer image above) that includes the number 1051/2. I found a book that explained that the four-figure number denotes the material as rayon (numbers 1000-1206) with the 2 indicating that the blouse was originally sold as part of a two-piece set. However, a conversation with AUB’s Sarah Magill (Course Leader BA (Hons) Costume and BA (Hons) Performance Design and Film Costume), provided some additional information. She was able to show me a page from the Statutory Rules and Orders for cloth 1942, that listed the rayon specifically as Marocain (crepe) and explained that the suffixes were brought in to differentiate between finishes: /1 referring to a dyed fabric; /2 referring to a printed fabric.

Statutory Rules and Orders for cloth, 1942
Image credit: Sarah Magill

Although clothing from this period is often thought of as being drab, it is evident by this blouse that there was still lots of colour. The busy pattern could be easily joined together without matching up, thereby reducing material wastage which was important in those times of austerity. Interestingly, one of the shoulder pads has a completely different material patch on the underside (refer image below).

The unmatched patch can be seen at the top of the shoulder pad.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The blouse has three-quarter length sleeves, with popper front fasteners beneath five false buttons. I was able to find out that the Civilian Clothing (Restrictions) No. 6 Order (dated 20/06/1942), introduced rules that blouses could have no more than seven buttons and buttonholes on a full-length sleeve style or five on one with shorter sleeves. Whilst the number of buttons on MoDiP’s example met this requirement, the spacing of them is incorrect and false buttons were actually prohibited within the restrictions of 1942 – 1946. 

Furthermore, press-studs would likely have been unavailable during that period as the metal would have been diverted for military use (as it was for zips). It is possible that old stock might have been used or alternatively, the blouse could be post-war, dating from 1946 – 1952 when the Utility clothing scheme ended. To further complicate matters, Sarah advised that evasion of the rules was rife!

We think the blouse is poorly stitched, not particularly straight in places and the tension is not good either. This leads us to believe that it is inconsistent with being factory made for sale in a shop, which is what we had originally believed. It possesses clear 1940s styling through the fit and the roll collar, with the shoulder pads providing the square silhouette that was popular at that time, but the seam allowances appear too generous.

The more we examine this object, the more questions we have about it so I can’t wait for Sarah to come into the museum to study the construction (she has kindly agreed to come in and help us). We have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been altered from a different original garment, but whether that was during the era of ‘make do and mend’ or post-war we are not sure. Hopefully Sarah will be able to answer some of these anomalies.

If you want to view this blouse and let us know what you think, contact us to arrange an appointment.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

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