There has been confusion about this label that shows up in English clothing from the late 1940s. A discussion about it came up on an eBay chatboard 15 years ago. I said it looked like a place setting, with a dinner-plate in the middle. eBay users began calling it the ‘dinner-plate’ mark and the mis-interpretation took off — my bad. It was also felt that because it appeared in better quality garments but resembled the CC41 label that it was a part of the British wartime utility scheme for ‘posh’ pieces of utility clothing.
Britain had a very complicated wartime clothing scheme that limited the amount of clothing anyone could buy, limited the amount of fabric and details used in clothing, and limited the cost and sale prices of cloth and finished clothing, as well as the amount of labour required to make any garment while ensuring a high quality of materials and construction used in all forms of dress. Utility measures, defined by the CC41 ‘Controlled Commodity 1941’ ordnance, covered manufacturing requirements and production costs and rewarded purchasers with lower taxes when acquiring new clothes. Garments made under these rules were marked with a CC41 label but somewhere around the end of the war the ‘dinner-plate’ label showed up. While I was researching my book on 1940s fashion, I was fortunate to talk with someone who had remembered discussions at the Board of Trade about this label, and he remembered it was commonly referred to as ‘Double Elevens’, but that was all he could remember.
I knew there would be something written somewhere about the label and sure enough Liz Treganza found a reference and blogged about it on her Advantage in Vintage website. She found several articles in Fashion Trade Weekly that explain the label:
Fashion Trade Weekly, April 11th 1946 – A Hieroglyphic
A mark has now been designed by the B.o.T. (Board of Trade) for use on women’s and maids’ ready-made non-Utility outerwear sold above the lower set of ceiling prices, and on the cloths from which they are made.
After June 1, no such garments may be sold by manufacturers unless the price-control mark has been applied. A new order will give effect to the arrangements.
The mark of ‘higher grade’ is a ‘hieroglyphic’- imagine — a large dot in the centre, an 11 either side and a horizontal rule top and bottom!
Fashion Trade Weekly, April 18th 1946 – That top-price mark – Who may and who must use it
Current widespread trade cynicism is largely attributable to THAT MARK which is to identify the top categories of non-utility.
Call it, by the way, as people do, eleven-o-eleven; not double-one-o-double one.
Introduction of this strange device has been beset by certain legitimate difficulties; hence the not-at-all-clear manner in which the B.o.T. describes the procedure and requirements of its use.
It applies, of course, to garments subject to the higher set of maximum prices fixed by the Womens’ and Maids’ Outerwear (Manufacturers’ Maximum Prices) Order 1945 (S.R. & O 1945 NO. 1530), and to the cloths not less than the appropriate prices shown in the second schedule to that Order and which are used for the manufacture of such garments.
The maker-up may begin to apply the label right away to garments made from either cloth which is already marked or with cloth bought at above the schedule prices. From June 1 onwards he must apply the mark to garments so made.
The cloth manufacturer is not directly legislated for. He had the option of applying it as he wishes (except in the case of Harris tweed for which a marking scheme is already in operation). The reason for this option is that similar cloths are used for garments (e.g. men’s wear) other than those covered by the Order.
At a later date it is understood that the maker-up will only be able to apply the mark to garments made from cloths which actually bear the mark (and not also to cloths above the schedule price which have not been marked). So in the result cloth manufacturers will mark such materials as they are instructed to do so by their making up customers.
From June 1 no garment may be sold by the maker-up at the higher price range unless it has been marked.
Another requirement is that manufacturers and wholesalers selling cloth or garments which bear the mark must indicate them on their invoices by the use of the code ‘11011”.
Cloth wholesalers who sell a length of cloth cut from a piece to which the mark was applied by the manufacturer are permitted to apply the mark to that length if it does not already appear on it.
As the B.o.T point out, retailers will find that at present it makes no difference to them whether garments are marked or unmarked, although eventually the present ceiling will be applied only to garments which have been marked and a lower set of retail ceilings will be fixed for unmarked goods.
Certain cloth which has been marked may find its way into retail shops, but the make will in this case have no significance whatever.
Number of the Order relating to the mark is S.R. & O 1946 No. 536.
As for the mark itself, there is no restriction on the colour in which it is woven or printed, but it must be placed in the garment where it is “easily seen.” The prescribed measurements are 1 ½ x 1in.
The design is the product of Percy Metcalfe who was commissioned by the Council of Industrial Design, It is understood he was given no sort of direction, except that it must be easily recognizable and easy to apply; the figures 11011 were not, for instance, in mind, but came afterwards when the Price Committee people saw it.
Mr Metcalfe was responsible for the Coronation, Jubilee and George Cross medals. It seems that the trade are not disposed to award him any medal for his latest product.
Opposition to the label appeared in comments in Fashion Trade Weekly:
Ad expert Sir William Crawford, highly critical, asked, ‘What’s it mean?’
‘It’s complicated it’s dispersed; it will cost thousands to educate the public to know it. Even if it was good visually it, it is no good as a mark unless you can put your tongue to it. The Utility mark has become CC41. That is easily said and everyone recognizes it. But you can’t describe this thing. It needs a name. But even then it is too much of a hieroglyphic and too dispersed.’
He calls to one of his principal advisers Mrs. Havinden.
She wanted to know whether it would be in colours and what it would look like in the garment.
‘It has no target in it,’ she said. ‘The circle by itself would have been neater. You need something you recognise out of the corner of your eye.’
Richard Porter, Vivian Porter & Co. Ltd. ‘ I would not mind it on a bath towel- if I had a bath towel!’
H Mitchell, Matita Ltd. : ‘ Much too near the Utility mark. It is a mistake to have something for better class merchandise in the same family. It should have been a mark which could not possibly be confused.’
Henry Scott: ‘It rather reminds me of the brand-marks on the backs of the prisoners-of-war I employ on my farm.’
E.G.Young (Headley and Young Ltd.) ‘I think it is a pity they did not chose a mark which has some meaning.’
E. Seton-Cotterill, chairman of B.F.T.A coat and suit section: ‘Well I suppose it is clear, although it lacks any artistic merit. It is so obviously a government mark that a discriminating public may react to it in the same way as they did to the Utility mark.’
B.M.M. A have raised strong protest against the mark. They were not shown it until they asked to see it, and then immediately protested it was unsuitable- not at all the sort of thing a woman would want to see in a high-price garment. The B.o.T took up the point, but eventually replied that as it was imperative to rush the Order through there was no time for alteration.
Although the purpose of the mark was to denote that it was not a part of the CC41 Utility scheme the government’s decision to mark items as such confused the British public. A government press release in July 1946 tried to succinctly clarify the mark’s purpose:
Press Notice: Some of the women’s costs, suits and dresses now reaching the shops bear the following label (11011). This mark does not mean that the garment is a Utility one. On the contrary, it means that it is in the most expensive range of that manufacturers non utility production, for a manufacturer may use it only if he is using clothing which is not utility and for which he has paid more than a given price. The mark should not be confused with the (CC41) Utility mark.
Presumably, the Double Elevens label was discontinued when the Utility scheme was dropped in March 1952 as there was no longer any need to identify under what guidelines any garment was made.