US poster urging mending clothes, 1943
In our green times, we say, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but the 1940s woman puts us to shame. For her, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do” was more than a slogan, it was a necessary, patriotic lifestyle.
Many consumer goods, such as rubber goods and some spices, were scarce because they were produced by Japanese-occupied countries. Metal goods, clothing, and leather were rationed to take care of higher needs in the military or to allow factories to convert from civilian to military production. Coffee and sugar were rationed to save shipping capacity for military purposes. Canned goods were rationed to reduce metal packaging. The famous stocking shortage was caused by the need to save silk and nylon for parachutes. And gasoline was rationed primarily to save rubber – the less you drove, the fewer tires you wore out.
US poster, 1943
These shortages and a complicated rationing system led women to creative ways of meeting their families’ needs. Women adopted fashions with knee-length, gently flared skirts, with few fabric-wasting ruffles, pockets, and pleats. Cloth espadrilles became fashionable since women were limited to two to three pairs of leather shoes each year. Women shared recipes for meatless meals and reduced-sugar desserts, and found creative uses for Spam. They planted Victory Gardens to supplement their rations. And – like my grandmother – they washed diapers by hand and line-dried them when they couldn’t buy new appliances.
US poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII
This generation knew how to recycle! They collected leftover cooking fats, which provided crucial ingredients for explosives. They peeled tin foil off the back of chewing gum wrappers. They turned in old toothpaste tubes in order to get new ones. Paper drives, rubber drives, and scrap metal drives brought in tons of materials for the war effort. Their hard work helped win the war.
How about you? Whether you’re motivated by a desire to conserve resources or to save money, what are some new ways you could “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do?”