CC41 Utility Clothing

Page last updated 16th December 2013



By the time civilian clothing became subject to rationing in Britain in the early 1940's, the everyday lives of women had become much more active both in the home and assisting with the war-effort. So, fashion needed to become functional and hard-wearing as well as being stylish. Due to shortages caused by wartime restrictions on labour and materials, inflation saw clothing prices in Britain double between September 1939 and May 1941, and quality fall just as dramatically.


To fight inflation, better direct labour and materials, and to ensure consumer goods were produced to a suitably high quality and durable standard at reasonable prices, the Utility Apparel Order was initiated by the Board of Trade in 1941, and came into force in February 1942. The retail prices of Utility items were kept deliberately low through their exemption from purchase tax and strict control of manufacturing costs. Utility manufacturing standards were eventually applied to furniture and all manner of other household and consumer goods as well as clothing.

Under the Utility Apparel scheme, clothing had to be made from Utility material, which was strictly defined in terms of minimum quality levels (weight and fibre content per square yard) and maximum permitted retail prices. To further economise on resources, the Making of Civilian Clothing (Restriction Order) was passed in 1942. This forbade wasteful cutting of clothes and set a list of restrictions that tailors and dressmakers had to work to. For example, dresses could have no more than 2 pockets, 5 buttons, 6 seams in a skirt, 2 inverted or box pleats or 4 knife pleats, and no more than 4 metres of stitching. No unnecessary decoration was allowed. Only after manufacturers had fulfilled their Utility clothing production quota (85% of their total output) were they then permitted to make clothes using non-utility cloth, but still had to follow the same Utility manufacture regulations. Utility clothing items (and, later, all other Utility products) were clearly identified by the CC41 label (see left), sometimes called the 'Two Cheeses', which was designed by a London-based commercial artist named Reginald Shipp. The 'CC' originally stood for 'Civilian Clothing' but later, as all manner of other goods were included in the Utility scheme, it became 'Controlled Commodity', and the 41 represented the year the scheme was first proposed.


In January 1942 the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (known as Inc.Soc.) was formed and included leading fashion designers of the day, such as Digby Morton, Peter Russell, Bianca Mosca, Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Elspeth Champcommunal, Victor Stiebel, Charles Creed and Edward Molyneux. In May 1942 the Board of Trade invited each Inc.Soc. member to submit four designs for garments for the CC41 Utility wardrobe. In September 1942 thirty-two of the commissioned designs were publicly shown, all modelled by female war-workers who volunteered their time for the fashion parade. No individual designers were credited, so these Utility garments could have been created by any one of the leading names involved in the scheme. These designs became the standard patterns for the Utility clothing produced between 1942 and late 1945.

After the war ended in 1945, but whilst rationing was still in force, some clothing was permitted to be produced under the luxury "Double Eleven" Utility label, identified by a bold circle with two strokes either side (see left). Garments bearing this label were made from better fabric, were more elaborate or made using more material, and were subject to purchase tax. Clothing rationing finally ended on March 15th 1949, so after this date utility labels were no longer used in garments.

The advantage of the CC41 label system is that it allows 1940s clothing to be fairly accurately dated. In fact, it is almost the only way to be certain that vintage clothing items advertised for sale as 'forties' are really that. Whilst it's true that an unlabelled item may have been made prior to 1941, the presence of a CC41 mark does at least guarantee it was made between 1941 and early 1949. Garments were well-tailored and made to last, hence the quality and good condition of many of the CC41-labelled pieces still available today.