Double Elevens label, June 1946 – March 1952

imgp2051There 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.

unknownBritain 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!


Brown wool tweed coat, c. 1946 – 1947, with ‘Double Elevens’ label

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.

cc41Although 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.

Message in a sweater

I ran across this fascinating story from a local history blog and couldn’t wait until November 11 to post it… Jim Alexander was a resident of Hespeler, Ontario and a Corporal with the Li­ncoln and Wel­land Re­gi­ment in WWII. In March 1945 he was in Veen, Ger­many when he was or­dered back to En­gland to be decorated by the King for bravery.

330 Image41Al­though great­coats were supplied to sol­di­ers when needed, Alexander’s re­gi­ment was await­ing sup­pl­ies, in­clud­ing great­coats, and so he gave his coat to a fellow soldier before leaving for England. Upon ar­riv­ing in rainy, cold Al­dershot, Alexander went to a Red Cross Centre where he picked out a khaki, hand-knit wool sweat­er. After re­ceiv­ing his medal for brave­ry, Alexander re­joined his re­gi­ment and was given a new great­coat. The sweat­er was pac­ked away in his kit.

When Alexander returned home to Hespeler in Janua­ry, 1946, his mother found the sweater as she sorted through his clot­hes for laundry. She recognized it as one she had knitted herself and proved it by snipping the seam between the double collar to reveal a two dollar bill with a hand written note in her hand requesting the recipient to write her to let her know how he was doing. Apparently it was common for women who had knitted socks, scarves, and sweaters for overseas to include money and notes in the hems and seams of their garments. It was pure coincidence that Alexander had picked the sweater his own mother had knitted and yet never looked inside the collar.

Added 19.9.14: Here is a similar story about a note found in WW1 kilt.

Buttoning it up right

There are several theories as to why men and women’s clothes are buttoned on opposite sides. I subscribe to the theory that mens’ buttons are on the wearer’s right side because men have tended to dress themselves over the centuries whereas women had help in getting dressed by a maid, mother, husband, or sister, and so the buttons are placed to make it easier for someone else to use. In fact, buttons on women’s outfits were rare until the 1870s, hooks and eyes were more commonly used, and before that, straight pins.

Last weekend I acquired a women’s Royal Canadian Air Force jacket from 1942 for the collection. I don’t normally acquire partial uniforms without provenance, but this piece intrigued me. Founded in July 1941 as the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) their name was changed to the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division in February 1942. Women in this branch were commonly referred to as WDs. They were disbanded in December 1946.

The woman on the far left is the only WD with left hand buttoning and the WD on the far right has fake pockets.

What I thought was  interesting about this jacket was that it buttoned like a man’s, and the pockets are fake. I am by no means a Canadian military uniform historian, but I thought those features made the jacket worthy of acquiring for the collection. In researching this combination of men’s buttoning and fake pockets I came across this image that showed several versions for women’s uniforms, including real and fake pockets, and left and right hand buttoning. All of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) uniforms in the collection have the traditional left hand side buttoning for women, so I don’t know if this is an air force thing or what the explanation is – anybody know?

Canadian Fashion Connection – Veronica Foster

Veronica Foster walking behind the John Inglis Company in Toronto in 1941. Inglis made kitchen appliances in peace time, but switched to making Bren guns, a lightweight, reliable machine gun, during World War II. The factory is now gone, replaced by condos.

Two days ago I was driving home from Toronto and looked to my right from the highway as I exited downtown, noticing that all the old wartime factories are gone now, replaced by Condos. The only remnant of the past is evident in the name for this new neighbourhood – Liberty Village. As part of the war effort in early 1941, a pretty munitions worker from the Inglis factory (the main factory in the Liberty Village area) was asked to pose for a series of photos to show how young women were necessary for the war effort. Veronica Foster was Canada’s Rosie the Riveter, although she actually predates Rosie by over a year.

Veronica Foster posing with a completed Bren gun and enjoying a smoke, when you could still do that in the work place. spring 1941

“Ronnie the Bren gun girl” posed for several images, from making Bren guns and taking a break admiring her handiwork, to playing softball with the other women employees. She was also photographed during her leisure time, trying on a new hat, drinking with friends at a club, and dancing the jitterbug. The photo spread was to show how Canadian women were important to the war effort, but could still have a good time. The Inglis factory was just one of many factories that offered employment to about a million Canadian women during the war.

Veronica Foster trying on a new hat, spring 1941 – working in a munitions factory was patriotic but it also gave young women money for frivolous purchases.

After the war, Veronica Foster went into modelling, and then became a singer with the Mart Kenney dance band. The band was around for decades (I even danced to the Mart Kenney band once in 1982 and again in the early 1990s when I was taking ballroom dancing classes.) However, Ronnie was long gone by the time I saw the band. After a few years of singing, Ronnie had married the trombone player and retired to the suburbs to raise her family. Veronica Foster died in 2000.


Wedding dress worn July 19, 1947, made from parachute used in 1944. From the collection of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

A reader of my Forties Fashion book sent me a link to a blog about a wedding dress made from a parachute. I have seen, read about or heard of maybe two dozen garments made from parachutes, including underwear, baby clothes, and raincoats, but most of the time it’s wedding dresses that were made from parachutes.

Because of the lack of available material during and immediately following the war, parachute silk (which was rarely ever silk but rather nylon or some other man made material) was used to make civilian clothes. It was illegal to use found parachutes during the war because authorities required them to be turned over for investigation. All of the surviving garments made from parachutes I have seen were made from postwar surplus rather than wartime finds.

This wedding dress was made from the nylon parachute that saved the life of the groom, Major Claude Hensinger. In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, was returning from a bombing raid over Japan, when the engine caught fire and the crew had to bail. Years later, when Hensinger proposed, he offered his bride-to-be the parachute for making her wedding dress. The couple were married July 19, 1947 and the dress was later worn by their daughter and daughter-in-law before being donated to the Smithsonian Institution.