Fashion in World War I: February 1917

New hat shapes for February 1917

The February 1917 issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes continued to discuss the two key issues for all branches of the French fashion industry: how to maintain export sales in the short term, and how to counter challenges from German rivals in the long term. This was focussed, somewhat unexpectedly,  on a consideration of millinery fashions. A full-page article headed ‘Le réveil de la mode Parisienne’ (The Re-awakening of Paris fashion) welcomed the greater variety of hat shapes and fabrics being shown for Spring 1917. The author warned that the monotony of millinery fashions for the past few seasons – black toques, black tricornes, black boaters – had led to a sharp drop in sales to the all-important American trade buyers. He foresaw even more serious consequences might follow from French milliners’ distaste for aigrettes, pins, bird wings and other hat trimmings. Prior to 1914, these trimmings had often been imported from Germany – so not using them in wartime could be seen as not only practical but also patriotic. However if French designers were to give up using items that were the speciality of their enemies it would look as if they were unable to make their own versions without German help. Instead, they should be pushing themselves to invent new hat shapes and new combinations of fabrics that would assert French primacy in fashion. The author appealed to French fashion consumers to play their part, since foreign buyers would want to see that new styles were being worn in the salons of Paris before they promoted them in America or Britain. Each item sold to a Parisienne might result in dozens more  sold for export. The difficulty for French consumers, even the Parisian elite, lay in reconciling their role as the avant-garde of fashion with the reality of life in wartime. This is hinted at by a full plate of mourning ensembles, including one with a widow’s veil of black silk crape, captioned ‘the simiplicity required in mourning clothes is in tune with current fashions’.

Smaller reminders of changes in the way of life are present throughout this issue: there is a half page on fancy aprons, for ladies who had to host their own tea parties without the assistance of a maid. Smart hats were being sold with matching umbrellas, for women who were walking to appointments in spite of the weather. Women wearing Paquin dresses are shown on the telephone, or plugging in an electric light -  both forms of new(ish) technology.  In spite of this modernity, there was still a strong medievalist trend, with slashed necks and jewelled girdles

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Fashion in World War I: a Christmas present

Christmas in wartime - according to Eve

One of the disconcerting things about day to day life in World War I is the ease with which servicemen (and women) kept in touch with home, with postal services allowing parcels from home to reach even the furthest-flung theatres of war. In 1916 Sergeant James Kenny, an instructor at the Imperial School of Artillery, received ‘The Eve Book’ as a Christmas gift from a friend in London. Not so surprising – except that the School was in Zeitoun, outside Cairo (part of the British Mandate established on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire). The cartoon character Eve was a fashion-obssessed, flirtatious airhead – the dresses she is shown in would have looked extreme in London, but in Cairo, where most women wore face veils and ankle-length gowns, they must have seemed surreal.  The dedication of this volume is written as a letter from Eve, who says ‘I have – notwithstanding Aunt Matilda’s and Uncle Fred’s disapprovel – kept gay and frivolous to please you and not becasue I didn’t understand and appreciate what you were doing for me’. The Eve cartoons, appearing weekly in the Tatler, were extremely popular and were published in several volumes and adapted for both stage and cinema. Their artist, Anne Harriet Fish, built her career on these cartoons, going on to draw covers for Vogue and Vanity Fair and to illustrate a volume of texts by Dorothy Parker and others. https://magforum.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/miss-fish-and-her-eve-drawings-for-tatler/

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Fashion in World War I: January 1917

Three dresses by Poiret, including 'Cartouche' (right)

The January 1917 edition of Les Élégances Parisiennes revealed that the French fashion industry was being threatened not only by German competitors, but by the actions of British allies. This threat came not so much through British products as through newly imposed trade tariffs. These imposed restrictions on non-essential goods imported to Britain, in addition to high customs fees. The British intention was to ensure that the limited space on incoming ships was devoted to the raw materials needed for the war effort and for civilian subsistence. If this meant that British businesses producing fashionable garments had to close down due to a shortage of imported materials, never mind – their workshops could be taken over for military supplies. The representatives of Paris couture pointed out that this policy was extremely short-sighted, and highly damaging to an industry that was central to the French economy. Moreover, as couture garments were very light in weight, banning their import would have a negligeable effect on the space available in British cargo ships. The article in Les Élégances Parisiennes detailed the quantities involved: a total of 24,000,000 kg of French textiles and clothing had been exported to Britain in the previous year, with a net value of 371 Million FF. Approximately ten percent of these goods, by weight, were feathers prepared for millinery – given how light these are, they probably accounted for more than 10 per cent of the total volume. These impressively large quantities give impetus to the French claims of the economic importance of fashion, and remind us that commercial life was continuing in wartime, in spite of all obstacles.

The developments of fashion discussed in this issue seem to have taken a step backwards; while the ‘barrel’ line of the previous issue is still prominent, it is rivalled by a range of complex cuts, with over-drapes, flying panels, straps and gathers. There is a trend for mixtures of fabrics, even in daywear, such as wool serge and silk crepe de chine, and for contrasting colours and textures in visible linings. The overall effect is somewhat fussy, with looped up over-drapes and oversized pockets producing bulging silhouettes reminiscent of 1880. These skirts would require great care in cutting and construction, and may represent a fightback from the fashion trade against the chemise-like smocks shown by couturiers such as Poiret and Jenny, which were alll too easy for amateurs to copy at home. To our eyes, they make the simplicity of Poiret even more desirable.

skirt designs with multiple layers and panels

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Fashion in World War I: December 1916

Couture dresses in silk and fur trim in the 'barrel' line

The December 1916 issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes, in the section on the fashion industry, gave some figures which revealed the scale of the problem facing French fashion. In 1913, German textile and clothing manufacturers had exported goods worth £60,142,000 to England, and 652 million rubles of goods to Russia. The sums for French manufacturers were £46,533,000 and 57 million rubles – 77% and 9% of the German exports. The committee for the French fashion industries was hoping to close the gap by establishing trade fairs in Paris and in Lyon, and by clamping down on sales to middlemen. There was an assumption that German products were being passed off as ‘Paris fashions’, which was what the customers wanted. But it seems likely that these large sales were gained by providing ready-to-wear garments for the mass market, rather than the one-off creations of Paris couture.

Too often, the fashion press in this period writes as if couture houses were the only source of fashionable clothing, ignoring the competition from independent dressmakers, department stores, and mail-order companies. This is addressed by an article in this issue which discusses trends in millinery through an imagined dialogue between a Parisian woman and an American fashion buyer. The American complains that she has found no hats in Paris that would sell in the USA – to which the Frenchwoman replies that it’s difficult for milliners to be inventive when the main headgear requested by their clients is a mourning veil. Only foreigners and the vulgar nouveaux riches are  buying fashionable hats. The American’s response is sharp: foreigners and nouveaux riches are exactly the clients that Paris fashion should be courting! Milliners need to come up with new shapes and new materials and trimmings – otherwise women will buy a plain hat from a department store and trim it themselves, and the fashionable trade will collapse. If there was little new in Paris millinery the same could not be said about shoes; another article in this issue describes day and evening shoes from Hellstern (below) made in a new shape, buttoning down both sides of the vamp, and decorated with cutwork and contrasting embroidery. It is likely that these impractical items were aimed at the export trade rather than at Frenchwomen living in war conditions.

The article on fashion trends in this issue confirms the dominance of the wide, ‘barrel’ line – in spite of its unflattering silhouette, narrowing from hips to knees. This is illustrated in couture gowns in rich silk brocades, trimmed with lace and fur. The cut of these gowns, with wide necklines, long straight sleeves, and loose waistlines, was so simple as to be well within the reach of amateur dressmakers. The unfitted bodices, often covered by hanging tabards of contrast fabric, also made this shape eminently suitable for mass production in stock sizes. In images such as the one above we can see the origins not only of 1920s styles, but of ready-to-wear clothing as a leading force in the fashion industry.

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k65584939?rk=150215;2

Shoes by Hellstern, with cutwork and embroidery to show off coloured stockings

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Fashion in World War I: November 1916

Evening dresses by Jenny and by Martial et Armand referencing 1820s style

The November 1916 issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes gives some interesting insights into the ways that fashion uses and reworks the past. As  Ulrich Lehmann’s Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity pointed out, uses of the past in fashion are not neutral but are ways of commenting on or reframing contemporary culture. From 1910 onwards, the prevailing shape in women’s dresses had been high-waisted and narrow, recalling the cut of the Napoleonic Empire from 1805-15. Since 1915, as skirts became shorter and wider, there had been references to dresses of the following decade – particularly the puffed sleeves and sloping shoulders in fashion around 1830. In this issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes there are several ensembles described as in the style of the ‘Premier Empire’ or of the 1830s, but with important modifications. This image shows an afternoon ensemble by Jenny of dark blue wool and white organdie, described as a ‘robe 1830′. It has the sloping shoulders and sleeve fullness of the earlier period, emphasized by a wide pelerine collar of organdie. But the buttoned front opening and prominent gathers at the raised waist are very much of 1916, as is the diagonally tilted hat. The merging of styles is most evident in the shoes shown with the dress: sandal uppers with crossed ties from the 1820s, on top of high 1916 heels. To the right is a dress by Martial et Armand called ‘Tallien’, in tribute to Madame Tallien, a participant in the politics of the French Revolution who was notorious for her beauty, her adoption of extreme Neoclassical dress, and her complex love life. This gown has the high-waisted silhouette of c1800, but the bodice is skimpier even than neoclassical styles, sleeveless and with narrow shoulder straps. The soft fabric of the bodice allows the shape of the breasts to be seen – validating the need for the supportive bust bodices described in the previous issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes. The neat hairstyle and discreet makeup worn by the model add to the sense of modernity.

Sleeveless shift dress by Beer

Other dresses illustrated in the November issue are even more striking, and prefigure the lines of the 1920s to a disconcerting extent. One such is a sleeveless shift dress by Beer with loose, flowing lines, a dropped waist marked by a loose sash, made in panels of fabric with stark colour contrasts. This is accessorised with quintessentially 1920s jewellery: a bangle and a long string of beads with a tassel. Although many of the other dresses shown were more conventionally constructed, these avant-garde styles remind us that the apparent rupture between the styles of 1914 and 1925 was in fact a gradual evolution, and one that was sanctioned by refernces back to the past.

These shift dresses embody the ethos of ‘sober originality’ highlighted indiscussions in the accompanying articles. They may also epitomise the ways in which French fashion, under the pressure of wartime, was diverging from the expectations of its international customers. The all-important American trade buyers who braved the dangerous Atalantic crossing to come to Paris couture shows were apparently complaining that the garments were not elaborate or decorative enough for their clients – when they were not complaining about new regulations limiting access to the collections in order to deter illegal copying. Les Élégances Parisiennes noted that one American fashion wholesaler had set up a Paris showroom where they presented the latest fashions in advance of the couture shows, so that copies could be available in the USA as soon as the new season’s styles were launched.  This could not have functioned without some degree of industrial espionage – unless the advance models were based on guesswork. Even more sinister, to French commentators, was the existence in Paris of fashion middlemen funded by German manufacturers. These apparently ‘interpreted’ French fashions using German fabrics and trimmings, which were then ordered in bulk by US manufacturers to reproduce what they thought was the latest Paris model. These middlemen had a double-blind system of record-keeping, with designers, fabric suppliers, and purchasers all referred to by code numbers, making it very difficult to identify their nationalities or to prove illegal trade activity.

The tension between the desire to promote French fashion primacy with seasonal collections that were visually distinctive (and hence copiable for the mass market) and the need to maintain exclusivity for individual clients is visible in these discussions – and is still an issue today. One solution was to emphasize fine handwork or luxurious materials, which was the route taken by the couture House of Boue Soeurs, known for their elaborate lace and ribbon trimmings.   In November 1916 they were applying ribbon flowers to the underneath of the hem; in the 1920s this decoration was expanded to cover whole dresses with lavish ribbon bouquets. Ribbon flowers,  while far from the streamlined modernist aesthetic that domainated the 1920s, were the foundation of the Boue Soeurs success over a period of forty years. This reminds us that the development of fashion is not linear or consistent, operating both through forward ‘Tigersprings’ and backward turns.

A dance dress by Boue Soeurs, with ribbon flowers under the hem

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Fashion in World War I: October 1916

Dinner and evening gowns with strapless effects, worn with a slouch

The October 1916 of Les Élégances Parisiennes included an article on the somewhat surprising topic of lace – surprising in that sheer lace insertions are normally associated with light summer dresses rather than winter ensembles. The focus was, in fact, not so much on the ways that lace would be used in the coming season, and more on the economics of the hand lace trade. The author acknowledged that hand lace production by outworkers had been especially hard hit by the war, as lacemakers had been displaced, or had been forced to take up occupations that did not allow time for lace work. She also claimed that traditional lacemakers had combined work in the fields during the day with work with lacemaking at night – if true, this speaks less of the devotion to craft claimed in the article and more of the need to bring extra income into impoverished households. There is an acknowledgement that under these conditions the quality of lace design had suffered, driven down by an emphasis on price over quality. The author calls for design-led lace schools like the one that had been set up in Vienna around 1900, with close links to the fashion trade, and a budget underwritten by the state. A contrast is drawn with the small lace revival projects led by ‘nobles dames’ – who were too often well-intentioned but unbusinesslike. It was perhaps these lace schools, copying rather than innovating, which were responsible for the large number of modern forgeries of antique lace that had recently been identified – including a piece which had been exhibited in an international exhibition as eighteenth-century! The unwillingness of consumers to pay for the hand skills and time required to produce high quality lace unless the product carried the apparent cachet of age was probably at the root of these forgeries – and of the incursion of quicker techniques such as crochet and embroidery on net into traditional lace production.

New styles in chemises, with 'soutien gorge' bodices

One new use for lace discussed in Les Élégances Parisiennes was in the shoulder and neck areas of chemises and corset-covers. Apparently both evening bodices and afternoon blouses were being made so sheer that the undergarments could be seen through them. This meant that the necklines and shoulder straps of different layers needed to be aligned in order to create unsightly clashes – unless one layer was made of transparent net or lace. This article notes another innovation in lingerie, the chemises worn under the corset were now being made with a shaped ‘soutien gorge’ bodice. Supportive bust bodices had been introduced around 1908 when the corset was redesigned to cover the area from ribs to thighs, rather than from breasts to hips, but were often boned or padded. The bodices illustrated in this article were much lighter, closer to the innovative support garments designed by the iconoclastic Paul Poiret for his wife Denise in 1913. The corsets to be worn over the new chemises had also been redesigned to follow the natural lines of the body more closely, and were being made with elasticated laces to allow more movement.

Interestingly, this issue also includes several designs by Poiret, one of them a flowing gown shaped like a peasant smock adorned with a panel of embroidery based on Breton traditions. Both this and two other Poiret designs illustrated were credited to Max Grab, New York – presumably licenced for the US market. The other gowns had a dropped waist, long narrow sleeves and a fur-trimmed over bodice creating a medieval silhouette. This silhouette, and the supple curves of the wearer’s body, had been iconoclastic when first introduced by Poiret in 1912, but by 1916 were in tune with mainstream trends. The slouched posture of the couture-clad young women illustrated in the large plate of evening dresses in this October issue would have been unthinkable – not to mention impractical – only a few years previously. There could be no return to pre-war rigidity from this point.

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'Bretonne' by Poiret, licenced to Max Grab, New York

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Fashion in World War I: September 1916

Three day ensembles of soft wool trimmed with Chinese embroidery

The September 1916 issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes contained some articles that laid bare the very real economic and political rivalry between the French and German fashion industries. It reported with approval on an initiative to mark all goods produced in France (not just garments, but automobiles and household items) with a ‘Unis-France’ label supported by a union of French manufacturers. The Ministry of Commerce intended to back up this initiative with legislation imposing severe penalties for infringement – fines and even imprisonment for manufacturers or wholesalers who claimed French status for imported goods. There was a clear economic rationale for the Unis-France label, as another article in the magazine revealed. Under the heading ‘Keep our Gold in France’ the writer explained that the French luxury trades, even in the midst of war, were still highly dependent on imports. In 1915, eight MILLION francs had been spent on imported silk fabrics, even though Lyon was recognised as the centre of the European silk industry. Exotic trimmings, such as the Chine embroideries in the plate above, were not the problem: the main concern was the import of goods produced in enemy states such as Germany.

The interrelated nature of the European fashion industries was highlighted by two other features in this issue of the magazine. One gave a sarcastic account of a meeting of German and Austrian fashion designers congratulating themselves on the extent to which the Paris fashion magazines were following German designs. This was ridiculed – of course German fashion was completely dependent on the pirating of French ideas. The author reassured his readers that French fashion could only be worn effectively by French women: Germans were too plain, and Americans too lacking in restraint, to be really tasteful. The complexity of the international fashion trade was shown by another article reporting on a court case where the fashion house Drecoll sued the director of Aine-Montaillé, a rival couturier, for slander. Aine-Montaillé had claimed Drecoll were an Austrian-German enterprise which did not have the right to trade in France, and had encouraged a French senator to denounce Drecoll in public. An investigation showed that Drecoll had originally been founded in Vienna, then taken over by two Germans (one naturalised French), and one Swiss backer, who had registered the company in England and set up a Paris house. Since 1915 the German backer and German employees of Drecoll had had their bank accounts sequestered, and the firm had been been denounced in the newspapers. The judgement in the case was harsh: Aine-Montaillé had only reported the truth, so the claims of slander were dismissed. As a result, Drecoll could be liable for prosecution under the ‘Unis-France’ legislation, in addition to losing access to funding from their backers – and presumably losing the goodwill of their clients as well. This court case reveals the real damage caused by attempts to ‘purify’ or ‘nationalise’ international enterprises, whether in Germany in 1935 or in France in 1915.

A playful detail: male braces imitated in ribbon on female underwear

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Fashion in World War I: August 1916

'France' day ensemble with patch pockets, by Jenny

The August edition of Les Elégances Parisiennes was deeply concerned with the shifting relationship between Paris couturiers and American fashion houses and retailers. There was a lengthy report on a new initiative to control and monetise the reproduction of French designs in America, which had been an issue even before 1913. Apparently there were five different levels of businesses involved in copying French couture models – from designers making one-off copies for individual clients, through manufacturers churning out reproductions for the mass market, to textile firms lending Paris originals to manufacturers who agreed to buy the fabric to make them up. Interestingly, the main objection to mass copying was framed in terms of undercutting prices, rather than cheapening the quality of the originals. There was a proposal that American manufacturers could be licenced to copy French fashions, with a special label to reassure the client that they were getting an accurate version. This would be enforced by an elaborate system of certificates and receipts, adding to the cost of the American copies – and lessening the extent to which they were undercutting French originals. However the means of enforcing this detailed system, and of punishing any infringements (given the ambiguous legal status of fashion designs in the US law) was not clarified.

Looking ahead, another article predicted that American capital would be needed to rebuild French industry after the end of the war. It reassured French readers that American investors would be happy to support French business practices and employ French professionals – unlike German financiers, who were accused of economic imperialism, staffing French firms with German technicians. Again, this sounds more like wishful thinking than a viable economic model. In reality, French fashion industries were already being underwritten by American funds, not least in the many charitable collections made for fashion worker. In one example the American fund for subsidising fashion workers’ rents had collected 115,000 FF.

The fashion designs in this issue fall into two categories, those for summer wear (beach and sports outfits) and those for the coming winter (heavy coats in checked wool). The sportswear is interesting as it shows a continuation of the trend for fluid, wearable garments so successfully fulfilled by Chanel. There are unstructured dresses held at the waist with loose belts or sashes, and mix and match ensembles of skirts with Russian-style blouses or knitted jackets (seee below). The main stylistic features in this issue were belts – in leather or plaited braid – and pockets. Most of the day dresses and suits (like the one by Jenny above) incorporated large pockets, some highlighted with tabbed fastenings or contrast trimming, others hidden in skirt gather, but all large enough to substitute for a handbag. These pockets speak of the changes in elite women’s lives since 1914, travelling and working independently – and no longer able to rely on a maid to fetch and carry for them.

Tennis outfits: a jacket with Ottoman style sleeves, and a pinafore with vents showing a silk under dress

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Fashion in World War I – July 1916

Jersey outfits trimmed with embroidery by Chanel, July 1916

In July 1917, the contradictions underpinning Paris haute couture were more apparent than ever. On July 1 the Allied armies embarked on the assault that was to become known as the Battle of the Somme, costing an unprecedented 1 million lives by the time it finally ended 180 days later. French life was more constrained than ever by the war; even the wealthy elite were unable to travel and were planning summer holidays in French resorts. Manufacturing industry continued, but with shortages of both materials and manpower causing difficulties. As Les Elégances Parisiennes explained, some factories had been moved out of German-occupied zones, but faced problems recruiting skilled workers. Two effective solutions were to train women or to adapt manufacturing processes to the capabilities of war wounded men. There was also some switching of production, with the silk looms of Lyon adapted to produce cotton cloth for military uniforms. By doing this French textile manufacturers managed to maintain or even increase on pre-1914 exports.
One increasingly important export market was South America, and there were various initiatives to improve sales of French couture there. One was a theatrical tour by popular French actors and actresses, with on-stage and off-stage wardrobes provided by leading couturiers. Theatrical performances (and the new moving pictures) were one of the ways of showcasing new styles, which would be viewed by hundreds, and read about by thousands in illustrated reviews. Les Elégances Parisiennes for July 1916 describes gowns for the theatre covered with metallic lace or bold embroidery that would show up well on stage. In cut and materials, many couture gowns were referencing styles from past centuries: Victorian crinolines, Romantic sleeves, Rococo silks and Renaissance lace were combined in ensembles like the ones below. There was a tendency towards excess, driven by couturiers’ need to justify their high prices and manufacturers’ wish to promote costly materials. Les Elégances Parisiennes warned against this, tactfully blaming excessive decoration on the demands of  uneducated clients, rather than on designers. Wherever it came from, this tendency was to be resisted as it threatened to undermine the global reputation of French good taste.
Opposing the  elaborate confections of lace, embroidery and fine silks were some simpler styles which could be worn for practical activities such as seaside walks. For these, wool or cotton jersey fabric was now a firm favourite, as it allowed the body to move and did not need careful maintenance. The difficulty for designers lay in persuading elite clients to pay couture prices for garments made from such commonplace materials. Gabrielle Chanel was at the forefront of the designers working in jersey, varying her styles with unusual details such as the double belt in the image above, or by adding trimmings like embroidery. One of her rivals took the stretch properties of jersey to their logical conclusion, in a shift dress with a wide neck and elasticated waist. In dresses like these we can see the origins of the radical simplicity of the 1920s.

Day dresses with historical references in silk and lace for July 1916

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Fashion in World War I: June 1916

Fashionable outfits - including mourning - for a wedding, Les Elegances Parisiennes

The June 1916 issue of Les Elégances Parisiennes had a slightly different format from the first two numbers. The tension between information relevant to fashion professionals and articles advising couture clients what to buy was resolved by cutting the section for consumers. Instead, there was a fact-filled account of the state of French fashion exports in 1916. This is extremely interesting as it gives a precise value to exports of different types of garments and to specific markets. Apparently lingerie exports had been especially badly affected, falling from 56.5 million francs pre-war to 39 million in 1915, and again to 24 million in 1915. This may have been because 30% of French lingerie exports pre-war went to Britain, now struggling under war conditions. The British Board of Trade had recently introduced a stringent ban on imports of cotton and wool clothing in order to protect their own manufactures. Belgium, another important market for French lingerie, was currently under German occupation and closed to imports from France. Another factor that had severely affected the French clothing trade was the geography of production, as war-torn north of the country had previously been the base for the production of wool and cotton clothing. Some manufacturers had managed to move their factories to a safer location, pushing exports back to 75% of their pre-war value.

Other sectors of French fashion were less badly hit; exports of silk clothing had actually increased since 1913, even for Britain. There were also new markets opening up in South America, notably Brazil, where exports of French silk garments had increased fivefold since 1913, and Argentina. Even so, the overall value of French fashion exports for the first two months of 1916 showed a 40% drop from 1914. The total value of fashion exports, 16 million francs for two months, clarifies why the health of the fashion trade was such a vital concern, and why French products were so zealously promoted against foreign competitors.

MOURNING: One of the interesting points of the couture fashion press is the interaction with the realities of consumers’ lives. There are some acid remarks in the June 1916 Les Elégances Parisiennes about the couture clients who ask for ‘special wartime prices’ because their incomes have been affected by the war – failing to recognise that manufacturers’ costs have risen, and any reduction would have to come out of the wages of hard-pressed workers. While this was undoubtedly true, it was also the case that many clients’ incomes had been hit by the economic disruption of war, to say nothing of the death of husbands, sons and fathers in the ongoing slaughter. When we look closely at the fashion plates in Les Elégances Parisiennes the evidence for these losses is plain: the June bride is flanked by two young women in black dresses. They could well be in mourning (though not new widows, whose clothing would be covered in matt black crape). Another plate shows fashionable ensembles for the second stage of mourning, in black and white checks with soft lilac trim. Prior to 1914 the different stages of mourning had extended over two or even three years for a close relative (husband, father or son). However the growing toll of losses meant that some families would never be out of mourning clothes, making them less of a sign of a specific loss.

Fashionable 'half mourning' in black and white for June 1916

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