Thrifty fashion secrets from our wartime mums

Thrifty fashion secrets from our wartime mums

When it comes to being resourceful, there are few people who cracked that skill better than the ladies of the Forties. Nice fabrics, cosmetics and anything of luxury were all in short supply, and yet our mothers still managed to look fabulous. But just how did they do it?

We had a rummage through some of our favourite frugal fashion tips of the era, as well as taking a peek at how we can bring some make do and mend to our own lives today.

1. Use beetroot juice to add a splash of lip colour

Luscious lipsticks had just vanished off the shelves as more and more rationing shortages came into play. Yet the beauty brands were still pushing their message of 'Beauty is a Duty', keen to make sure standards didn't slip and women didn't lose all interest in cosmetics ready for once the hard times were over. So what was a girl to do?

Root vegetables were surprisingly the answer for a lot of women. It turned out that beetroot gave a lovely dark coloured stain on our lips that was relatively harmless and so became a favourite among ladies who wanted to look their best.

2. Who says tea is just for drinking?

Some people say we won the war on the back of tea and there's certainly no doubt that we are a nation of tea lovers. But for the beauty belles of the 1940s, tea wasn't just for sipping- it played a vital role in the morning beauty routine too. Lots of Forties girls, longing for perfect pins, would soak their stockings in a pot of tea before drawing a pencil line at the back to make it look like the real thing! If tea wasn't available, gravy would also do the job. 

3. Boot polish was a beauty must-have

Forget the fancy brands of cosmetics that might line our make-up bags today- for a Forties girl the item at the top of their must-have list was boot polish. She used this to darken her lashes as a make-shift mascara. It was certainly effective enough to catch on but this is one trick we perhaps won't be trying ourselves at home anytime soon!

4. Recycle an old blanket into a warm winter dress
When clothing coupons were few and far between, you had to calculate rather carefully how you were going to spend these golden tickets of fashion. Making your own clothes was a nifty way of spending less coupons so it was time for the Forties girls to get out their sewing kits and go on the hunt for usebale fabrics.

Old blankets were a firm favourite as they were one of the few fabrics that were perfect for winter clothes as well as not being rationed- they also made great black-out curtains.

When surplus 'escape maps' issued to Allied aircrew during the Second World War were sold off, they were also quickly whipped up by thrifty housewives wanting to make their new frock from the luxurious map silks.

5. Repair, recycle, re-use


This was the mantra of all discerning housewives, looking to do their best in ration times. Shops and businesses also got whole-heartedly behind this campaign for thrift. This propoganda scarf from Jacqmar of London urges people to recycle goods, and especially rubber, as well as being a fashion statement in itself. It's now one the gems from the Imperial War Museum's Fashion on the Ration exhibition.

Jacqmar made propaganda scarves from 1940-1945 and were based in Mayfair. They produced these scarves for the export market as well as for wartime sweethearts, particularly in London. The chief designer was Arnold Lever who continued working for the company even after he had joined the RAF.

  • There's more fashion and nostalgia in every issue of Yours