Tonight’s object may at first seem an odd choice for the blog as it is just a vintage tweed overcoat:This single breasted garment is of extremely high quality and was made by the famous firm of Burtons:What makes this coat of interest to us, however, is a tiny ‘CC41’ label sewn into the lining:This mark indicates that the coat was made during wartime to utility specifications to save materials. CC41 stood originally for ‘Civilian Clothing 41’ and the label would become iconic in its own right. After the same principles were extended to other goods the ‘CC’ came to represent the words ‘controlled commodity’.The Utility Clothing Scheme was a rationing scheme introduced in the United Kingdom by the British government during World War II. In response to the shortage of clothing materials and labour due to the requirements of wartime austerity, the Board of Trade sponsored the creation of ranges of “utility clothing” meeting tight regulations regarding the amount of material and labour allowed to be used in their construction. Utility clothing, and later utility furniture, was marked with the CC41 tag.
In spite of its austere specifications, utility clothing designs were commissioned from leading fashion designers including Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell and other members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers. Designs had certain restrictions- double breasted suits and coats, turn-ups and superfluous pleats were all banned to save fabric. Dresses could have no more than two pockets and five buttons, six seams in the skirt of a woollen dress, two inverted or box pleats, or four knife pleats. No unnecessary decoration was allowed. This economy of style can be seen in the overcoat above which is single breasted and secured with three large plastic buttons.Utility clothing was also subject to price regulations.
Profits were restricted for both manufactures and retailers which resulted in Utility clothing being significantly cheaper than non-utility clothing when first introduced. This together with the initial dislike by some retailers of reduced profits may have given utility clothing its bad name. Although initially there was a great deal of hostility directed at Utility clothing by the general public this reduced as more of the clothing reached the shops. The public was surprised to discover that the clothing varied in style & colour and was generally hard wearing and good quality.