I wasn’t around during either World War so can only use my imagination, history texts and those oh-so-accurate Hollywood movies for my impressions of it. My parents both had been in the tail-end of WWII. I can also take memories as my mother has told me a few stories about those times.
When I was a child my mother had this drawer in the china cabinet (a pretty old and shoddy one) that was full of stuff. It had playing cards, some with girly pinups (of my father’s), ashtrays, rumoli chips, cribbage boards, coasters and whatnot. It also had a small stack of postcards. Where they came from I’m not sure. Some were joke or funny postcards but all were illustrated as opposed to photographs. A few of these had those classic pictures of a woman, pin-up style of course, showing stockings and peeks of underwear.
One particular card I remember had a woman holding her hand over her mouth as her underwear puddled around her feet while she watched a man change her tire. I recall other cards with the dropping underwear thing and just never got it. It wasn’t until my mother told me that rubber was rationed in the war that I started to understand.
When the Japanese and Germans cut off supply lines for various items, the UK, Canada and US (along with needing various items to feed the troops) brought in war rationing as well as other countries affected by the war. Rationing lasted from 1942-47 in Canada, from 1942-46 in the US and from 1939-1954 in the UK. Obviously European countries were harder hit as they were directly in the line of fire and did not have the range of resources that N. America had.
Rubber was needed for tires and other items so it was rationed on civilian cars, but it also affected fashion. There were no elastic waistbands in underwear, nor straps on bras. And no wonder women cherished the silk stocking from France. Clothing in general, especially in Europe was rationed as well and people were only allowed to buy so much in a year and had to use ration coupons for everything. Of course rationing affected all types of food as well.
My mother told me about the problems of wearing the button underwear of yesteryear. The buttonholes were given to stretching, which often caused a malfunction of the underwear. She said she saw this well-dressed woman walking along the street one day and slowly this pink fabric began to creep below her coat. The woman stopped, stepped out of her underwear and kept walking, leaving the pink offender behind. Women often put safety pins into their underwear to secure it better. Imagine our world now, if we had nothing that stretched. That would eliminate almost all underwear out there including yoga and exercise wear, bumpers, steering wheels, tires, boots, shoes, electronics from phones to kettles, you name it.
We don’t realize how much we have and in a world of the world wars, people were cut off from various supplies. My mother also commented on chocolate and while she was stationed in England a friend was sent several squares of chocolate. Not even a whole bar. Her friend shared with my mother and they would take one small bite of chocolate. She’d stare in windows at pastries she couldn’t afford with her rations.
We live in the have and have not world now. A third world country has people who won’t read this. They’re not thinking of internets or blogs or social networking. They’re thinking of how to get another meal and finding enough shelter. In North America, for almost all countries, the poorest people have TVs and phones and several sets of clothes. They may be of poor quality and made of stretchy material that was so hard to get so long ago, but they have the essentials. We toss out clothing that is out of fashion by a few months. We get rid of clothes that are too tight or too big.
During the war, people would have made do, or would have taken up needle and thread to adapt. In some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back some rationing. Too many countries are using resources at a phenomenal rate, depleting trees, water, minerals beyond our ancestors’ wildest nightmares. We waste millions of tons of stuff a year that gets sent to landfills, and yet, we want more. If our society continues to live in the more is better attitude and that a person’s success is judged by how much they accrue, well then, we certainly won’t have more in fifty years.
Everyone needs to take a history lesson, thank their lucky stars and consider how we could use those mindsets that were done for war but could be done for economy today. I’m sure I would moan with everyone else if rationing came in (where backyard gardens also flourished) but I would make do and be no worse for wear.