During World War II (1939-1945), as part of their overall effort to involve all citizens in the war effort, the government of Great Britain declared that all nonmilitary clothing should be simply and plainly designed. Practicality, rather than style, was the rule, and not an extra inch of fabric was to be wasted in the manufacture of clothing. The garments produced under the new rules were called utility clothes, and they first made their way onto the marketplace in 1941.

In order to smooth the progress of the war effort, the British government took control of the import and production of raw materials and provided fabrics to clothing producers. Clothes makers were encouraged to manufacture clothing in a narrow range of styles. Utility garments were like military uniforms in that they were simple and standardized. They even were labeled with a "CC41" insignia, which stood for "Civilian Clothing 1941" or "Clothing Control 1941." To conserve fabric, utility clothing had small pockets and men's pants had no cuffs. Shirt, skirt, and dress lengths were shortened. Garments had no more than three buttons. Shoes were plain and sturdy. Utility clothing prices were controlled to make them affordable to all.

Then in 1942, the British government issued the Civilian Clothing Order, which added the weight of the law to utility styles. Under the order it became illegal to decorate clothing with extra embroidery, buttons, or pockets. Law or no law, ornate clothing designs and accessories had come to be viewed as being in bad taste.

At first consumers expected to be displeased with utility clothing, which they assumed would be drab and boring. Once the clothing reached stores, however, shoppers realized that utility clothing was durable and, while generally lacking flair and distinctiveness, did come in different styles and colors. In fact, in 1942 members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers united to create thirty-four utility clothing designs. These were approved by the government, mass-produced, and came with the "CC41" label.

Great Britain was so weakened by the war that clothing rationing had to be maintained until 1949. The utility clothing concept, meanwhile, became such a part of the fabric of British life that it was eventually introduced for furniture. Utility clothes remained on the marketplace until 1952, seven full years after the war's end.

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