The advent of World War II put an end to a period when garments—at once newly plentiful and thus purportedly reflective of individual choice—rendered wearers at the mercy of their clothes in British fiction and nonfiction. As rationing (instituted on June 1, 1941) restricted access to new clothing, garments came to seem increasingly precious. The war changed all: official rhetoric suggested that funding weapons was far more important than purchasing clothing. Oliver Lyttleton, president of the British Board of Trade, advised his compatriots that “when you feel tired of your old clothes, remember that by making them do you are contributing some part of an aeroplane or a gun or a tank,”...
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