Fashion in World War I: September 1914

September 1914 was a turning point for the French fashion industry. The fashion press was publishing predictions for the new season, such as – ‘Cloth of silver, cloth of bronze, cloth of gold and other iridescent, tinselled materials are going to be very popular, it would seem from the array displayed in the manufacturing houses and ordered by such establishments as those of Chéruit, Callot, Premet, Poiret, Paquin and Beer’ (Vogue, 1 September 1914, p.106). The image below gives an idea of how these metallic fabrics were make up.

However the  Vogue article was based on information received weeks earlier; the situation in Paris was very different by September. Many couture houses were closed, and fashion shows for the new season cancelled. American fashion buyers who had travelled to Paris found their visits not only fruitless but dangerous, with every berth in trains and boats leaving France packed to overflowing by refugees.

One intrepid American buyer did manage to bring back some garments which could then be copied and adapted for the US market, as the New York Day Book reported on the 9th September:

“HOW I ESCAPED FROM FRANCE WITH 71 FALL GOWNS!” WOMAN BRAVES DANGERS. New York. The gowns are here! Seventy-one model gowns and wraps! A plucky little U. S. A. girl sails into port with the first and only Paris fall model gowns…”

The lack of Paris originals was no problem for houses such as the London-based Madame Handley Seymour, who specialised in copies of French designs, marketed through sketches like the one below

fashion design by Madame Handley Seymour, V&A E.1103-1958

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