We might think of upcycling as a 21st Century invention but like so many things, your granny did it first.
During and after World War 2, just like food, cloth and clothing were rationed. Even Queen Elizabeth had to save her coupons to pay for her wedding dress.
Searching for “Fashion on a Ration” even led to the first Swap Shops.
“Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS)…Women could take the clothes that their children had outgrown and were given a number of points for the clothes she handed in. These could be 'spent' on other clothes at the exchange.”
Imperial War Museum Archive
Many luxury fabrics and materials had been used during the war effort, which thrifty seamstresses would use afterwards to create masterpieces on a budget. Parachute silk, in particular, was much sought after. The huge panels of parachutes made them easy to recut and the high quality, lightweight silk was often transformed into stunning wedding dresses.
In 1942, my maternal grandfather parachuted into Greece as part of an SOE operation. I would have thought that saving his parachute was far from his mind as he liaised with the Greek resistance. Yet somehow it made it home with him and he had it turned into a pair of silk pyjamas for himself and a shirt for my mum (pictured). Sadly the silk has begun to perish a little (it is over 70 years old now) but the shirt has been kept safe and serves as a tangible connection to a time I have only ever read about in history books.
With fast fashion taking over the planet (literally) this shirt is a wonderful, and very personal, reminder of how a thing’s purpose can change over the years without becoming obsolete. My grandfather fortunately didn’t plan on doing anymore sky-diving, but recognised that the fabric could serve another use.
It is an example of how previous generations gave due care and attention to their belongings. Let’s follow their lead.