The 1940s marked a difficult time in history throughout the world. The world embarked on World War II in 1939, so times were tight for many families. Because of the hardships associated with war, fashion took a back seat for most people. Children often got the short end of the stick clothing-wise. As a matter of convenience and in an effort to save money, most children's wardrobes consisted of hand-me-downs and rationed clothing. The styles and colours of children's clothing in the 1940s reflected the rather sombre mood of the decade.
Because of the limited supplies available during the war, things like food and clothing had to be obtained through rations. Rations allotted families certain amount of an item per year. The website Fashion Era notes that in 1941, families received 66 ration coupons per person per year. As the war went on, the number of coupons dwindled to 48 and finally 36 per year by 1945. Ration coupons were issued until 1949 and rationing ended fully in 1952. With ration coupons, families could purchase clothing and footwear items for a specified number of coupons. A lined coat over 28 inches long for children cost 11 coupons, for instance, whereas socks and stockings cost 1 coupon per pair.
Not all children's clothes had to be purchased via ration coupons. Infants were excluded from the rationing system up until four months old. People could also purchase clothing second-hand without a ration coupon, such as items found in a consignment store or thrift store. Other items that were available for kids without using ration coupons included overalls, shoelaces and ribbons.
Make Do and Mend
As supplies like cloth became more scarce, families were encouraged to be resourceful with the things they already had. Around the world, the motto "make do and mend" became a mantra for women. Women were expected to stretch clothing for as long as possible, which proves somewhat more difficult with young children constantly growing. Because of this mentality of making clothes last much longer, children often wore second-hand clothing and clothes that their mothers patched up. Pant hems were altered accordingly, rips and tears from playing were sewn up to make clothing good as new.
Prior to the war, fashion in the United States borrowed heavily from fashion in Europe. With this becoming nearly out of the question during wartime, American designers began to develop their own fashion sense. Instead of little boys wearing knickers, boys began to don blue jeans and T-shirts more often. Girls wore shorter dresses that saved on fabric. Like adult clothing, children's clothing focused on practicality rather than fashion sense. The clothes children wore tended to be rather plain in colour, usually in shades of grey or other neutral colours.