Monday, February 3, 2014

History's Runway: A Skirt Suit by Digby Morton, 1942

Utility Suit
Digby Morton, 1942
This and all images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Though made in 1942, this women’s suit is timeless and variations of the same design have been seen in offices for decades. This gray herringbone wool jacket, skirt and blouse is the work of the designer Digby Morton. The buttons were commissioned by the Board of Trade, and bear a wartime message: CC41 (Civilian Clothing 1941).
“The Utility Scheme” was introduced in 1941 as a way of ensuring that consumer goods were produced to the highest possible standards at “reasonable” prices while complying to restrictions and rationing of raw materials. Such clothes were easily identified by a distinctive double crescent CC41 (Civilian Clothing) label. The button design was the work of an artist called Reginald Schipp who was asked to disguise the “CC” so that the public would not recognize the letters as such. This stylized emblem became known to the public as “the cheeses” due to the crescent shape.

This suit was part of a collection that was commissioned by The British Board of Trade from the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers. This was one of over thirty stylish yet economical outfits meant for general consumption. In October 1942, Vogue Magazine said of the collection: “All the designs are, of course, within the New Austerity specifications: only so many buttons, this much cuff and that much skirt...but they are an object lesson in the power of pure style over mere elegance.”

This suit has Digby Morton's initials inked on a paper tag. This is rare since the designers were asked to remain anonymous. It is one of only two Utility prototype garments labeled by the original designer.

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