The combined forces of a global pandemic and the on-going climate change crisis have evoked a rush of wartime metaphors. There are many parallels to draw from and one that seems as relevant today is as it was during WWII is a small manifesto, printed for every household, calling ‘to make clothes last longer’.
By 1941 the UK textile and garment industries were under a massive strain to produce not just civilian clothing but also to fulfil the growing demand for uniforms. With at least a quarter of the population in uniform, the clothing industry was facing a huge crisis. In an effort to contain this, the Government introduced a ration on clothing. To assist the British public with these new restrictions, in 1943, the Board of Trade published ‘Make Do and Mend’. A pamphlet with a clear manifesto: ‘to get the last possible ounce of wear out of your clothes and household things’.
Extending beyond the everyday of sock darning and sewing on buttons, the pamphlet, whose advisory panel was made of ‘a body of practical people, mostly women,’ was a detailed guide to caring for the very fabric and essence of garments and accessories. It gave advice on folding, storing, handling, hanging and even taking them outside for some fresh air in an effort to combat the dreaded moth. “Give clothes a good brushing and airing in the open air – in the sun if possible – taking care to turn out pockets and look behind collars”.
Make Do and Mend’s care guidance extended to a variety of apparel; from gloves, hats, corsets, rubber aprons and Mackintoshes, right the way through to the very relevant advice on recycling children’s shoes. “In countless cupboards throughout the country, children’s shoes are lying idle, not because they are outworn but because they are outgrown” – the pamphlet reads as the very precursor to ‘Reduce, Recycle, Reuse’.
Currently we see a very different set of issues surrounding the fashion industry. As Lauren Bravo writes in her book, How to Break Up With Fast Fashion, “Every year in the UK, an estimated 3000,000 tonnes of used clothing now ends up in a landfill”, “garments are reportedly worn on average just seven times before they’re thrown, more often than not, in the bin”.
Along with these mountains of waste there are the dangers to the environment from toxic waste, water consumption and a poorly paid workforce of millions. Now could be the very time to re examine the valuable advice set out by the ‘practical women’ of 1943. As it says in Make do and Mend “No material must lie idle, so be a magician and turn old clothes into new”.
Our thanks to the author of this weeks Volunteer Voices, Danielle Higgins.
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