Beauty in utility


The Imperial War Museum’s Fashion on the Ration exhibition includes some enviable uniforms (see The enduring appeal of uniform).  Outshone but not outdone, the beauty of the utilitarian also comes through in this exhibition.

Utility clothing was regulated by the government during the war and it commissioned standard garment designs to be used for their efficiency of resources. These clothes were intended for heavy use, for sharing and for occasional re-purposing. Looking at some of the dresses, suits and pinafores, many are strikingly reminiscent of the simplicity we associate today with modern labels like Celine or Yohji Yamamoto.  The latter in particular has acknowledged the influence of working clothes of the twentieth century on his work in Wim Wenders’s fabulous documentary “Notebook on Cities and Clothes” as well as the distinctly Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi in which the patina of age increases the beauty and authenticity of things.

This sentiment seems to be emerging more and more today. Perhaps it is a reaction to the cheap, fast fashion produced under questionable labour conditions. Perhaps it is a desire to pare back and buy only the truly exceptional. The discernment and appreciation of the value of an aging garment that becomes more fully part of one the more it is worn brings us right back to this era. It also brings us right back to the rugged elegance of the flying jacket: the true accessory of a Leading Lady.


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