M is for… the ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme

The Second World War saw unparalleled government intervention in all aspects of everyday life on the home front in Britain. From 1 June 1941 clothes were rationed across the country, as fabric was essential for the war effort and this made what little was available accessible for everyone.[1] Not only this but reducing civilian clothing production also meant that both factory space and labour could be used for war production instead.[2] The rationing came as a complete surprise to people, and was introduced just before a Bank Holiday to allow time to brief retailers before the shops reopened.[3]

Make-Do and Mend Says Mrs Sew-and-Sew

In 1942 the ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme was given official support by the Board of Trade to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes, rather than replacing them with their limited supply of clothing coupons.[4] Like other forms of propaganda, materials such as promotional posters, booklets and instructional leaflets were produced to encourage people to get involved with the scheme. Clothes care was the most central part to the ‘Make Do and Mend’ message, with posters depicting how to prevent moth damage to clothes, ‘Darning Do’s and Don’ts’ and advice from ‘Mrs Sew and Sew’ who offered important sewing tips.[5]

People from all walks of life were encouraged to learn how to sew, as can be seen in this photograph from 1943.[6] Boy Scouts were learning to patch their clothes alongside their leaders to do their bit for the war effort. Knitting was also very popular, with underwear and headgear being two of the most prominent knitted items used during the Second World War.[7] Knitting comforts for servicemen also allowed people to feel they were doing their bit for the war effort, as well as providing the servicemen some home comfort.

A small group of Boy Scouts patch and mend their clothes, assisted by the Scout Master (left), at a fruit-picking camp near Cambridge

At the start of the scheme, every adult was given an allocation of 66 coupon points to last one year.[8] However, as the war progressed this allocation shrank considerably. It hit its lowest from 1945 – 1946, in which only 24 coupons were issued to adults across Britain.[9] Shoppers in Britain were constantly reminded of the need to plan their clothes purchases carefully, as well as making difficult clothing choices dependant on coupon value.[10] Children’s clothes did have a lower coupon value, as it was recognised that they would need new clothes as they grew.[11] However, with the need for a school uniform along with regular clothes, many families struggled to meet the demand.

Making clothes was cheaper and used far fewer coupons than buying ready-made clothes. Women would use un-rationed fabrics, such as old blankets, blackout curtains and the suits serving troops had left behind to create new skirts and jackets for themselves and their children.[12] Clothing exchanges was another scheme set up by the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) to help meet the need of parents struggling to clothe their children.[13] The scheme worked by handing in outgrown clothes, earning ‘points’ and spending those points on other items of clothing.[14] It was schemes such as these that kept Britain clothed throughout the war period.

Ration lasted, and gradually reduced, until March 1949.[15] Overall, the clothing rationing seen in Britain during the war years was far more beneficial than it was bad. Dress makers and home sewers alike were imaginative and experimental in their choice of fabrics, cuts, and colours. People demonstrated both creativity and adaptability while dealing with the rations, allowing for individuality to thrive. Many of the changes brought about by the war continue to shape fashion today, most notably the turn towards a more relaxed and informal style of dress.


[1] The National Archives (TNA), ‘Everyday Life: Why did people have to make do and mend?,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/homefront/life/make/default.htm

[2] Imperial War Museum (IWM), ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[3] IWM, ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[4] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[5] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[6] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[7] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[8] TNA, ‘Everyday Life: Why did people have to make do and mend?,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/homefront/life/make/default.htm

[9] IWM, ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[10] IWM, ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[11] IWM, ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[12] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[13] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[14] IWM, ’10 Top Tips for Winning at Make Do and Mend,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/10-top-tips-for-winning-at-make-do-and-mend

[15] IWM, ‘8 Facts about Clothing Rationing in Britain during the Second World War,’ last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/8-facts-about-clothes-rationing-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war

[Image 1] IWM, ‘Make-Do and Mend Says Mrs Sew-and-Sew,’ Art.IWM PST 14963, last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/32396

[Image 2] IWM, ‘Boy Scouts pick fruit for jam: life on a fruit-picking farm near Cambridge, England, UK, 1943, D 16202, last accessed 3 October 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205200381


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