1940s Fashion – Deborah Kerr models the 1942 British Utility Dress

Deborah Kerr models the 1942 British Utility Dress


Typical Utility dress of pale blue light woolen, it has double-breasted bodice and pleats in the skirt. Spectator model at 62 shillings and 10d.
Everything about it is top flight except the price

Originally published in Picture Post 1942.
Text transcription copyright Glamourdaze.com 2013

Look in your shops for Utility Dresses. They are a fashion revolution. They are excellent clothes at Government controlled prices. They cut out luxury – and defeat the profiteer.
Don’t be misled by the term ‘Utility clothes’. They have nothing to do with boiler suits and gumboots. They are clothes made from cloth which fulfills certain Government requirements and they are sold at fixed prices. These are the  only restrictions upon the Utility dress designer. She can turn out as many different models as she likes, provided she sticks to the specified fabrics and the controlled prices. Mrs brown needn’t look like Mrs Robinson’s twin sister if she doesn’t care to – for there is yet no question of ‘standard clothing’.


A Dereta Utility coat. It is of ice-blue wool with boxy front. at 83 shillings and 11 pence
The quality of some of these clothes is very high for many first class designers are making them. In fact now is your chance to get a dress for 62 shillings and 10 pence, designed and manufactured by one of the best firms in London. The fabrics are not as good as those expensive pre-war clothes. The trimmings are extremely simple. But the best firms are offsetting this necessary lowering of standards by putting good cut, finish and color schemes into their Utility models!
There is considerable variety of designs for you to choose from. You won’t find a Utility dress with a full kilted skirt, or with superfluous material. But you will find some dresses with pleats, some with flares, some with shirt collars, some with draped necks; you’ll find that coats vary from fitted, belted types to the square boxy type; you’ll find soft, lightweight suits and tailored country ones. Colors too are good and varied, and in spite of dye shortage, dyers have contrived to preserve the subtlety of their shades. I have seen Utility clothes in particularly good blues, greens, and raspberry reds.


A Jaeger Utility suit of raspberry colored tweed which fastens high to the neck. 92 shillings and 4 pence.

It is important, I think, that where possible the manufacture of Utility clothes should be entrusted to firms of high standing. The Government is now ” designing” firms to make them – which means that certain firms are picked out and given priority in the matter of retaining their best people. In return, they have to guarantee that 75 per cent of the clothes they make will be Utility. I asked the Board of Trade on what principle they designated firms, and they said that it depended entirely on local labor conditions, which is fair enough. But the woman-on-the-street will hope that wherever it’s possible, the Government will “designate” firms which can turn out top notch designs.


Spectator Utility Dress is of honey yellow. Sleeves are three-quarter, the skirt full at 62 shillings and 11 pence.
So what type of garments are available in Utility ranges? There are already coats, suits, dresses, lingerie, stockings – everything, in fact, except women’s dressing gowns and shoes, and even these will soon be added. The amount of Utility clothes on the market is increasing monthly.


Here’s a coat of quite different cut: single breasted, with pleats in the skirt and all round belt that ties. 83 shillings and 11 pence.

The Wartime Luxury Clothing Trade.

I have nothing but praise for utility dress, but my only complaint is that they do not go far enough. Elaborate day dresses are being made containing six, eight, ten yards of fabric. Evening gowns are made that are laboriously embroidered by hand, and sell for fifty guineas to the wealthier class. Fashion shows are organized, at which women sit for hours watching furs and high fashion gowns parade past – often the same women, afternoon after afternoon.
Good clothes are a commendable things, and its important to preserve dress standard, but it restrictions were applied to the remaining 25 per cent , i think those standards could still be maintained. If Mayfair hasn’t the skill to cut a great looking dress from just three yards of cloth, then maybe they should learn or go under.
If you think all Utility dresses look the same then have a look at these smart outfits modeled by that beautiful twenty year old actress Deborah Kerr. All suits worn by her are ready made but fit Deborah as though tailored to measure.

Typical Utility dress of pale blue light woolen, it has double-breasted bodice and pleats in the skirt. Spectator model at 62 shillings and 10d.
Everything about it is top flight except the price
Article by Anne Scott James

THATS-ALL -Glamourdaze

For more on 1940s fashion in wartime read Tia Craigs ebook  1940s World War two Fashion available for instant free download.


Some more images of 1940s utility dresses from the Imperial war Museum

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2 thoughts on “1940s Fashion – Deborah Kerr models the 1942 British Utility Dress”

  1. I had never thought of fashion and WWII together. I think I always assumed during war time women just didn’t go buy new dresses. Gosh, that 40’s lines are beautiful even for cheap clothes…

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