A brief history of CC41 – The Utility Clothing Scheme
Examples of CC41 clothes and lingerie from my personal collection.
I’ve been fascinated by the history of CC41 – The Utility Clothing Scheme in Britain for years and I have a very strong penchant for buying garments with the CC41 logo, even multiples of the same item. What can I tell you, I can never resist, yet another pair of 1940s knickers or a teddy. It’s simply beyond my control!
Considering my large, and yet, still growing collection of clothes and lingerie bearing the CC41 tag, some might say that I’m a little bit obsessed with it. I, however, prefer the word passionate.
There are many wonderful, well-researched books about the Utility Clothing Scheme in Britain. So why the need for yet another post about CC41, you may ask? Well, the reason why I decided to venture bravely into writing an article about a subject that has been covered by some of the best fashion historians is to give a short but backed up by facts, history of one of my favourite topics. I sincerely hope that my little post will pique enough of your interest so that you shall succumb to reading at least one of the books I mentioned below.
My book recommendations on the topic of the Utility Clothing Scheme and rationing during WWII in Britain. These, in my humble opinion, are the best from what’s available on the market.
- Fashion on the Ration by Julie Summers
- Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look by Jonathan Walford * This is my favourite book about 1940s fashion, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the era.
- Wartime Fashion: From Haute Couture to Homemade, 1939-1945 by Geraldine Howell
- CC41 Utility Clothing: The Label that Transformed British Fashion by Mike Brown
- Imperial War Museum in London has a vast collection of photographs of Utility clothes as well as the actual clothes and accessories bearing the CC41 mark.
- UK Parliament-The Parliamentary Archives
- The National Archives in Kew
I’ve been very thorough with research on the Utility Clothing Scheme, like with all of my articles, and as always, I left no stone unturned. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, and implemented restrictions, I was unable to visit The National Archives, based in Kew in order to confirm certain information. Sadly, not everything is digitalized, at least not the documents I was looking for. I will, however, be updating this post in due course so please bear with me. During my research, I’ve stumbled across a lot of mixed-up dates, so I’ve decided to focus on finding the source of all my data and posting it here.
A brief history of CC41-The Utility Clothing Scheme
1. THE EXACT DATE OF THE CLOTHING RATIONING ORDER IN BRITAIN
HC Deb 10 June 1941 vol 372 cc9-109
“The Order was signed in the afternoon of Thursday, 29th May, and came into operation on 1st June. Notice of the Order was sent to the Press on the morning of 31st May with an instruction in regard to the hour of publication, which was fixed for Sunday morning, 1st June. I had a confidential conference with the Editors of the principal newspapers in the afternoon of 30th May, as is the normal custom, and on this, as on other occasions, there is no evidence whatever of any breach of confidence.”
2. THE INTRODUCTION OF COUPONS
Every Brit received initially 66 clothing coupons to last for a year. This was to allow every person to buy only necessary garments and prevent wastefulness amongst the more well-to-do class. The Board of Trade issued a Notice to the Public asking Brits to make-do and not buy more clothes than they absolutely had to. People realised early in the days of clothing rationing the value of their precious coupons. Wealthy spent the same amount of coupons on good quality clothes, such as coats, suits, dresses, as did the less well-to-do on clothes that would wear out in a short period of time. The Utility Clothing Scheme was designed to offer quality control of cloth and clothing at a reasonable, controlled price. The coupon system was very complicated and the HMSO had to publish ” The Clothing Quiz” every year in order for people to make any sense of it.
Examples of coupons needed for a particular garment in years 1941-1944
- a women’s coat required 14 coupons to be surrendered.
I found an example in “Fashion on the Ration” by Julie Summers, that a Winter coat would take as many as 18 coupons and a thick dress, up to 11. The number of coupons issued every year was significantly smaller than the previous one. In 1942 the clothes ration book had 60 coupons instead of 66, and the number went down to 48 coupons to last 12 months. By August 1944 the British public had to survive on 41 coupons and that was not an easy task.
- 7 coupons for a skirt
- 3 coupons for knickers
It’s important to note that there were no extra coupons given to pregnant women or to workers in need of protective overalls or boiler suits.
Not everything was rationed however, hats, for instance, were exempt but they came at a price that many could simply not afford.
Clothes rationing did not bring enough savings which lead to the birth of the Utility Clothing Scheme and the austerity regulations of May 1942.
A brief history of CC41-The Utility Clothing Scheme
History of CC41
3. CC41 UTILITY CLOTHING SCHEME
The Board of Trade have no wish to adopt the role of fashiondictator…the Board recognises, however, that the art of styling belongs essentially to the clothing industry and the encouragement of good styling is one of the ways in which the Government can assist that industry.
Board of Trade press notice, 12 May 1942
The CC41 logo designed by Reginald Shipp stood for Civilian Clothing Orders 1941. I’ve seen it many times referred to as Controlled Commodity. The tag appeared on all clothes made of Utility cloth and symbolised good quality for a reasonable price. In theory at least.
Despite what you might have read or heard, the Utility Clothing Scheme was not well received. And it had nothing to do with the quality of fabrics or the actual designs. After all, the public had not seen any examples of utility garments for several months from the initial announcement.
The word Utility had a very negative connotation and the public associated it with something rather sombre, standardised and definitely not fashion-forward. That, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, as there was no restriction on colour or pattern. To convince the public that Utility clothes were as good as non-utility, the government asked fashion editors to help to get the message across which was at least partially achieved.
The garments are styled and made from constructed on specified lines or price-stipulated by the Board of Trade. The margin of profit is controlled at every stage. Utility represents reliable value; but of course, there’s no control over style.
Draper’s Record, 14 March 1942, p.37
The first Utility clothes that appeared in shops failed to make an impression on the buyers and the quality of clothes left a lot to be desired. The Board of Trade had to implement much stricter specifications and quality control tests. On a side note, all of my Utility clothes, in particular, the Winter skirts and suit seem to be of the highest quality. Hence my obsession with buying CC41 fashions.
In order to attract and persuade the public to choose Utility over non-Utility clothes, The Board of Trade commissioned IncSoc.
The Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers ( IncSoc) was founded in 1942 to promote British designs abroad. The members included the most prominent British couturiers:
- Norman Hartnell – dressmaker to the Queen
- Digby Morton
- Peter Russell
- Victor Stiebel
- Bianca Mosca
- Elspeth Champcommunal – chief designer for Worth London
- Hardy Amies
- Edward Molyneux
- Charles Creed.
Each of the participating couturiers was to design a dress, a skirt suit and a coat made of Utility cloth and under strict austerity regulations, 32 designs in total. All garments were meant to be fashionable, practical, suitable for all seasons and ready for mass-production. Manufacturers who commissioned their own stylists were less than thrilled about the idea and felt resentment
Unfortunately, since the designs were not signed by the couturiers, the buyers had no way of knowing who designed them. Also, the IncSoc Utility collection didn’t differ much from the already existing fashions of military-inspired jackets and pleated skirts.
In 1942 the President of the Board of Trade gifted the prototype Utility clothes designed by IncSoc to the V&A. Here is a beautiful example of Utility skirt suit designed by Digby Morton who left his initials on a paper tag.
A wonderful example of the new to me 1940s CC41 skirt suit made by Jancourt Sports.
The beauteous 1940s skirt suit is my latest addition to the growing CC41 collection. I paired it with a 1950s purse and Wolford tights. Nothing better for colder weather than a vintage suit made of great quality wool!
AUSTERITY REGULATIONS FOR UTILITY AND NON-UTILITY CLOTHES INTRODUCED IN MAY, 1942.
Source: 16 March 1943, Volume 387
“These regulations were introduced in May, 1942, after consultation with the trade. Their purpose was to effect a substantial economy in shipping space, materials and labour, and in this they have succeeded. (…)
May I thank my right hon. Friend for being prepared to receive representatives of the bespoke tailoring trade and ask him whether the austerity regulations were originally intended to apply only to utility clothing and not to non-utility? Is it not a fact that trousers with turn-ups wear longer than non-turn-ups?
No, Sir. There was never any limitation of these regulations for utility clothing.”
- a limited number of pleates and seams.
- regulated amount of buttons allowed on a dress or a jacket. Only 4 for a coat.
- Ban on turn-up of men’s and women’s trousers/slacks.
Source: HC Deb 10 March 1942 vol 378 cc906-7906
“§9. Mr. Keeling asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the permanent turn-up of men’s and women’s trousers is not used in Service and civilian uniforms, serves no useful purpose and wastes cloth; and whether he will issue an Order prohibiting it?
I am taking steps, in consultation with representatives of the trades concerned, to eliminate the wasteful use of materials and labour in the manufacture of clothing. (…)”
- No applique allowed on lingerie
- There was also a limit of the number of designs in order to save on labour, and increase longer production runs.
5 templates for knickers.
50 templates per year for dresses.
Austerity regulations applied only to commercial clothes!
CLOTHES UNDER THE UTILITY CLOTHING SCHEME FIRST APPEARED IN THE SHOPS IN FEBRUARY 1942.
Source: HC Deb 21 January 1942 vol 377 cc379-80W379W
§Sir A. Duncan
“Suits produced under the utility clothing scheme are beginning to appear in the shops but will not be available in quantity until the spring.”
DECODING THE CODE- History of CC41
The code that consists of numbers and letters printed under, sometimes above, the CC41 logo refers to the cloth specifications.
I have no physical proof to show you which number relates to what type of cloth. With the exception of cloth No 206 and 210.
Source: HC Deb 03 July 1951 vol 489 cc2248-88
Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
“I have been told that utility cloth No. 206, a grey flannel for boys’ suits, is a very poor cloth, yet it has been in existence for some time. It is liable to pull out from the seams under the armholes; it is so soft and raglike in substance that not even the most careful mother can mend it. A suit made from this cloth cost £2 6s. last year, and it had holes in it in less than six months. It would be tragic if confidence in the utility scheme was lost because of such examples, and I ask my hon. Friend to give some assurance that everything is being done to prevent debasement of standards of the utility mark.”
I believe that the letter that follows the cloth No. describes the grade of the cloth as well as the price. I’ve often seen the letter X placed before the cloth No. but I haven’t found written evidence of its meaning. Some believe that it stands for the best quality of a particular fabric.
Source: HC Deb 03 June 1946 vol 423 cc1585-61585
§14. “Sir W. Smithers asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the fact that the largest selling wool dress cloth comes in class 210A and is now sold 54 inches wide for three coupons a yard, and that, owing to in creases in costs and wages, manufacturers cannot continue this cloth at the price, which entails it going into four and a half coupons per yard, he will raise the specification for this cloth from 210A to 210B, for three coupons. “
Over the years austerity restrictions became more relaxed which can be seen in the later designs of Utility garments, and I will be posting examples in due course.
ABOLITION OF CLOTHES RATIONING
Source: HC Deb 14 March 1949 vol 462 cc1738-441738
§The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)
“Mr. Speaker, with your permission I should like to inform the House that I have today signed an Order ending completely the clothes rationing system. From tomorrow morning coupons will no longer be required for the purchase of any kind of clothing or textiles.”
THE END OF UTILITY CLOTHING SCHEME – 1952
Utility clothing was made in Britain until 1952. Tired of the military silhouettes yearning for a change of style, women wanted nothing to do with clothes bearing the CC41 tag. The Utility Clothing Scheme was seen as a necessity rather than a choice, and once the rationing of clothing was abolished, it was time for a change. A wardrobe change, perhaps, inspired by the 1947 Christian Dior’s “New Look” collection. Featuring long skirts and hour-glass shape silhouette that shocked the world but gave women hope for a new and better reality.
I can understand why the CC41 tag can bring negative connotation to those who had to wear it. I, however, appreciate it for its quality and beautiful designs that suit me rather well. And I will always be in search of yet another black dress or a suit to cater to my CC41 addiction.
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it!