Detail of utility shirt
Detail of a utility shirt

I was recently asked to research working-class men’s shirts for a company that is interested in re-making them for sale. After researching shirts from 1840 to 1940 the company selected 1940s utility shirts as the ones I was to create a detailed report on. I knew about utility clothing but had never researched it and found the project fascinating. I undertook my research in the London College of Fashion archives, Museum of London and Imperial War Museum. Shirts are an often overlooked garment in fashion history, most likely due to the minor changes in styles and utilitarian nature. During the Second World War, however, there absolute necessity caused the Government to create laws solely surrounding the production of shirts.

CC41 logo
CC41 logo

The shirts I studied were issued under the CC41 logo and were collarless with a front opening and long tails. The CC41 (Controlled Commodity) utility logo first appeared towards the end of 1941 and was issued by the British Board of Trade. The logo appeared on all clothing made in accordance with government regulations.

It wasn’t until April 1942 that the board issued a pamphlet outlining the new regulations surrounding the making of men’s collarless shirts. The laws dictated that men’s and boy’s shirts could not have:

  • Double cuffs
  • Double fronts
  • Pockets
  • Starched neck band
  • Sleeve guards
  • Or more than two buttons on the front placket excluding button (if any) for fastening neckband.
CC41 cotton utility shirt. Museum of London 45.30.1a.
CC41 cotton utility shirt. Museum of London 45.30.1a.

There were also laws dictating how long the tails could be in relation to the neck band. This was all in an effort to conserve fabric, construction time and free up factory space.  It is amazing to think of the Government controlling something so every day and echoes the sumptuary laws.

The regulations  would continue till 1949. Eventually cotton coat opening styles of shirts would overtake the earlier tunic style made of wool.

The Imperial War museum is putting on a exhibition of war-time utility clothing this year called ‘Fashion on the Ration’ – opening on the 3rd of March 2014. Here is the link:

http://www.iwm.org.uk/exhibitions/iwm-london/fashion-on-the-ration

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