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Tightening our belts? Fashion versus the credit crunch!

24 November 2008 by Lisa

So the prices of new potatoes and i-pods are going up and we’re being told to be prepared for a measly Christmas. But what does this mean for fashion? Will we be wearing polyester smocks for spring/summer 2009? Well one theory is that hemlines rise and fall with the stock market, so maybe we can expect ankle-skimming skirts to be everywhere. Though a recent article in the Guardian argues that this rule doesn’t really work as; ‘During the wartime years, arguably the period of greatest privation in modern history, hemlines were shorter than before or after the war.’

I think the tenacious fashion world will be ok as it’s been through harder times than this and still made it to the other side with great style. Times are of course not as tough as during the second world war, when people had to ‘make do and mend’ while also facing the rationing of clothes and the introduction of ‘utility’ wear.  And this didn’t mean combat trousers from Gap!

One of our curators, Alyson Pollard, will be giving an insight into these hard times for fashion, in a talk about our 1950s dresses display at the Walker Art Gallery.

A pale green dress

Recovering from an economic crisis can inspire a whole new fasion trend!  Silk, satin and chiffon dress with sequins and silk thread decoration, by Jean Dessès

She explains; ‘From 1939 women had learnt how to cope with the shortages caused by the war. However, in June 1941 the shortage of material for clothing was so severe that the government introduced clothing rationing. Clothing could only be purchased by giving up a fixed number of coupons from a very limited quota. Each person was given 60 coupons for the year; a skirt was seven coupons, a short jacket  was 11 and shoes were five coupons. Buying enough clothing for a whole year was a struggle.’

Though despite these restrictions on clothes, the ‘1940s look’ is still one that remains extremely popular – remember Kate Moss and her tea-dresses from this summer? After the war ended, gradually the fashion world got back on its feet and was able to celebrate the end of rationing by designing dresses using acres of fabric – the classic fifties look was born! Our object of the month, a stunning evening dress by the designer Jean Dessès, is a great example of this.

If you want to find out more about the dresses of this period, then come along to Alyson’s gallery talk on Wednesday 26 November at 1pm at the Walker. And the best thing is that like all our talks, it’s absolutley free. So beat the credit crunch and come along!


There are two new exhibitions for 2009 that explore different aspects of fashion; ‘Fashion V Sport’ at the Walker and a Francesco Mellina photographic exhibition at the National Conservation Centre. Check our forthcoming exhibition listings for more information.

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