October 8, 2011–May 28, 2012

Beauty as Duty

Textiles and the Home Front in WWII Britain

The British experience during and after WWII was quite different from that of Americans. From the fall of 1940 through the spring of 1941, Britain was subjected to relentless bombing in a terror campaign known as the Blitz. Even after the Allied victory, Britain continued to suffer shortages of everyday supplies, and rationing of both food and clothing continued. This exhibition looks at ways that textiles were put into service on Britain’s Home Front in the 1940s. Mass-produced “utility” clothes had to conform to strict government regulations, yet managed to be fashionable. Colorful scarves printed with motifs relating to British life during and after the War—many by the high-end London textile firm Jacqmar—were a practical way to spruce up a look. Utility dresses and propaganda scarves showed how fashion could be used as a powerful weapon to maintain morale in challenging and austere times. During a decade of extreme hardship, rationing and deprivation in Britain, beauty (in measured amounts) was not frivolous, it was a patriotic duty.

The objects featured are gifts and promised gifts to the Museum from the collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Mr. Sharf's passion for wartime London began in 1952, when he volunteered as a teenager in London's East End, an area especially hard hit by the Blitz. There he witnessed firsthand the resilience of the British people—a theme that resonates in the scarves and fashions presented in the exhibition.

  • Susan Morse Hilles Gallery (Gallery 152)


This exhibition is made possible by the David and Roberta Logie Fund for Textile and Fashion Arts and the Loring Textile Gallery Exhibition Fund.