University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Second World War, Material Cultures and Making Do: A Golden Age of Self Help?

King, Elspeth (2016) The Second World War, Material Cultures and Making Do: A Golden Age of Self Help? In: 25th Women's History Network Annual Conference, 16th-17th September 2016, Leeds Trinity University. (Unpublished)

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This paper will draw upon the insights provided by two examples of material culture: women’s Magazines and Kay shopping catalogues to discuss the British Home Front Second World War. It will be suggested that making do and getting by came to dominate many women’s lives in the Second World War. Keeping a family well fed and reasonably clothed in the face of increasing workloads and shortages became a war of attrition, tenacity and sheer determination for many housewives. After the growth in consumerism and house ownership for some during the 1930s new skills and ways of homemaking had to be found; the contents of magazines and catalogue shopping became two routes to achieving this.

Arguably the war was the golden age of magazines as a self-help tool. They jumped on the bandwagon of making-do and creativity and were full of hints and tips, sewing ideas and of course knitting patterns. Shortages of print meant they were also widely circulated amongst friends, family and others making their readers feel part of an ‘imagined community’ all reading the same articles and perhaps making the same boys suit out of a mans suit. Catalogue Shopping available through for example Kay’s of Worcester became a means of getting essentials on the ‘never never’. Kay’s somehow kept going during the war, albeit with a decreasing range of stock; they offered everything from clothing to wedding rings and even to start-up-chicken- keeping kits. However much of the ability to use these mediums was both class and wealth determined thus creating a more complex picture of self help in the war years that might reasonably be supposed from the popular histories of equal sacrifice and ‘all in it together’.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Other)
Additional Information:

Conference title: 'Women’s Material Cultures/ Women’s Material Environments'

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Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: material culture, Second World War, golden age of magazines, Kay’s of Worcester, decreasing range of stock
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Elspeth King
Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2016 09:16
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:15

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