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The War Years

Until late 1942, the war had little impact on the clothes that civilians in Cottesloe or anywhere else in Australia were wearing. When it was rumoured that rationing might be introduced, many women went on a panic buying spree to avoid the shortages that were sure to come.

Rationing brought strict regulations about things like the length of women's dresses and the width of men's trousers. All 'extras' like buttons on men's jacket sleeves were a casualty of the war. Styles were influenced by the times also, often showing a military flavour.

Many fabrics were unavailable as mills and clothing manufacturers turned their production over to products for the war effort.


Government flyer - 'Avoid waste, gossip, panic'

Government flyer - 'Avoid Waste - Gossip - Panic'



Clothing became quite plain during the war. John Dedman, the Minister for War Organisation of Industry introduced 'victory garments' for both men and women. These garments had straight lines and used less fabric than pre-war styles.

A Cottesloe man who bought a suit once rationing began could expect no matching waist coat, single breasted styling, two buttons on the coat and none on the sleeves. The trouser legs could be no more than twenty centimeters wide and had no cuffs.

A man needed 38 coupons to buy a suit and a further 12 coupons for a shirt, almost half his annual ration allowance of 112 coupons.

Dressed up for Saturday morning shopping in Perth, c 1943

Dressed up for Saturday morning shopping in Perth city, 1945.

Courtesy Evelyn Christie


Women's clothing was regulated by the National Council of Clothing Styles. Elderly ladies in Cottesloe would have been unimpressed by the fact that dresses could be no longer than just below the knee but they would not have been too concerned by the banning of puffy sleeves.

Women needed 12 coupons to buy an ordinary day dress and 6 for a hat. Many women in Cottesloe owned foot operated treadle sewing machines and made their own and their children's clothing.

The Commonwealth Rationing Commission put out pamphlets like 'New Clothes from Old' that were accompanied by paper patterns for 9 pence. The Board of Trade issued other pamphlets like 'Make Do and Mend' which provided hints on washing, unpicking and knitting again and decorative patches.

'New clothes from old' booklet

'New Clothes from Old' - Commonwealth Rationing Commission booklet



Children's clothing was made from old items that had been cut down and restyled and women even made their own underwear. Wide legged underpants called 'scanties' could be made from discarded flour bags that had been unpicked and boiled clean. Buttons and hooks made do when elastic became hard to get.

Silk stockings were in short supply during the war. It was considered rude for women to go around bare legged but the government had forbidden employers to make women wear stockings. Women working in factories could overcome the problem by wearing trousers but nurses found it hard to get around a demanding matron. Many a young Cottesloe nurse walked to work in order to save enough money to buy stockings rather than deal with the wrath of the matron. Where employers were not so concerned about dress ettiqette, like at McAllister's Grocery Store or the Cottesloe Picture Theatre, girls painted their legs with makeup and drew a line down the back to look like a seam. This was fine until it rained.

'Make do and mend' booklet

'Make do and mend' booklet



Children's clothing during the war years was similar to that of the 1930's but military styling did influence bought clothes. Mothers made their children new clothes from the hand-me-downs of relatives and friends. Girls wore short dresses, sometimes with ribbons in their hair.

School photographs from Cottesloe in the period indicate that girls were more likely to wear shoes than boys, especially in the lower grades. Boys wore shorts and a shirt sometimes with a tie and a jacket or knitted jumper. Teenage girls also wore short dresses. If a Cottesloe girl visited the city, a hat and jacket (in winter), shoes and socks were the expected attire. Older boys were expected to wear shoes, especially if they travelled into the city where the standard of dress was more formal.

Young people in Perth, 1944

Young people who travelled in Perth city were expected to dress well, Perth, 1944

Courtesy Evelyn Christie


There were many weddings in Cottesloe during the war and these included the marriages of both of John Curtin's children. Once rationing was introduced wedding fabrics were virtually unobtainable. Brides could choose to wear someone else's gown, made before rationing was introduced, wear a street dress or suit or opt for mosquito net and any other material available like the lounge room curtains. Servicemen wore their dress uniform. Civilian men who had a pre-war or pre-rationing suit would have worn it in preference to buying one as the fabric and styling were superior to suits made from 1943.

A new suit required just over a third of a man's clothing rations for 12 months which was a very substantial outlay. When John Curtin junior married in early 1945, he wore his airforce uniform and his bride wore a traditional white dress.

War-time wedding, 1942

War-time wedding in Perth of Syd Gray and Roma Milbourne, the groom in uniform and the bride in traditional white, 1942.


  The post-war years

In the years immediately following the war, rationing remained in place and so there was little initial change in fashion. Returned service men were anxious to discard their uniforms but found civilian clothing in very short supply.

Materials left over from the war effort in khakis, light blues and navy, were now used to make civilian clothing and it wasn't long before little girls could be seen in white silky dresses made of parachute material.

By the late 1940's a Cottesloe man could once again buy a double breasted suit with wide pants and deep cuffs. The fashion for younger men was very wide legged casual trousers and for girls it was puffed sleeves and full skirts.


Young couple in fashionable post-war clothes

Young couple wearing fashionable post-war clothes, c 1947

Courtesy Evelyn Christie


Shorts continued to be popular with women after the war.

Evelyn Christie, a regular visitor to Cottesloe Beach in the post war era, recalls that her mother would not allow her to wear shorts until she was old enough to go out to work in 1945.

Bathers for both men and women had become briefer. Women bared their midrift and men their torsos.

Shorts for women remained popular post-war, c 1947

Shorts for women remained popular post-war, c 1947

Courtesy Evelyn Christie


Brides were still wearing borrowed dresses in 1946 but gradually wedding dress materials became available. By 1947 voiles and satins could be purchased and long evening dresses, which had been discouraged during the war, could be made once again. Post war evening wear was characterised by fuller skirts and puffy sleeves. Men were able to buy double breasted suits and evening suits became available again.

Christian Dior's new Paris Collection swept the world in 1947 but it was somewhat slower to reach sleepy Perth and Cottesloe. This new fashion collection featured soft rounded shoulders, small waist lines with padded hips and full billowing skirts. Large hats, gloves and low cut high heeled court shoes finished the outfit. An altogether very flattering look.

Evening wear post-war

Long evening dresses and double breasted suits were available for purchase again post-war.

Courtesy Evelyn Christie

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