Austerity Fashion 1945-1951: Rebuilding fashion cultures in post-war London

Bethan Bide

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis considers the relationship between fashion, austerity and London in the
years 1945 to 1951—categorised by popular history as a period of austerity in
Britain. London in the late 1940s is commonly remembered as a drab city in a state
of disrepair, leading fashion historians to look instead to Paris and New York for
signs of post-war energy and change. Yet, looking closer at the business of making
and selling fashion in London, it becomes clear that, behind the shortages, rubble
and government regulation, something was stirring.

The main empirical section of the thesis is divided into four chapters that explore
different facets of London’s fashionable networks. These consider how looking
closely at the writing, making, selling and watching of austerity fashion can help us
build a better understanding of London fashion in the late 1940s. Together, these
chapters reveal that austerity was a driving force for dynamic processes of change—
particularly in relation to how women’s ready-to-wear fashions were made and sold
in the city—and that a variety of social, economic and political conditions in postwar
Britain changed the way manufacturers, retailers and consumers understood
the symbolic capital of London fashion.

Placing material culture at the centre of this story and taking a ‘more-than-representational’ approach to research creates new historical perspectives and
exposes the processes and networks concealed within the social and gender
hierarchies of London fashion at this time. It redraws the map of the fashion city,
making connections between the city-centre and suburb, West End stores and East
End workrooms, and national government policies and local business strategies. In
mapping these connections, the thesis reveals how this period of austerity, and
Londoners’ responses to it, formed the mould that would shape London’s trajectory
as a fashion city for the rest of the twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gilbert, David, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Sept 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • fashion
  • London
  • austerity
  • 1940s
  • fashion cities
  • museum
  • material culture
  • shopping
  • film
  • garment industry

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