Fashion in World War I: November 1914

In November 1914, American designers launched an initiative to capture the US market for themselves, capitalising on the difficulties facing French fashion houses. The New York Day-Book on November 6th reviewed a glittering event held at the Ritz, but was not convinced by the designs on show:

“Made-in-USA fashions for the USA maiden are being formally presented today to some of our young multi-millionairesses, who until Wednesday night had never given a thought to the possibility of a gown daring to hail from any other place than dear Paree, with the accent and father’s thoughts on the ‘dear’. The coming-out party for American fashions started last night at the Ritz.

One hundred and twenty-five gowns with accompaniments calculated to put any ordinary father or husband in a bankruptcy court, and each one guaranteed to have been designed and executed right on the Island of Manhattan, were exhibited, the Manequins being volunteers from the homes of some of New York’s and Newport’s idlest rich…a start has been made and in all seriousness the present exhibit seems certain to lead to a state of affairs where the effects of the Rue de la Paix may be obtained by the American woman of fashion without the necessity of suffering either from mal de mer or an import duty. If nothing else has been accomplished it will be possible after the present exhibit for American designers to sew their own labels on their frocks and sell them on their merits. Heretofore it took an imported label to command a desirable price on any American-made garment”

On November 17th the New-York Tribune featured a lengthy interview with Mr Ortiz, the U.S. representative of the French Dressmakers’ Protective Society. Not surprisingly, he was not impressed by the new initiative:

“You insist upon having my opinion on American fashions? I must say, frankly, that I do not believe in the future of American styles, as represented at present, at least, nor in the success of the present movement. What need is there for American styles for American women, when every idea and every trick susceptible of adding to woman’s attractiveness have long since been excelled in by the Parisian wizards….It has been said that French fashions as originally planned are seldom suited to American women. That may be true. An American girl does not walk, does not talk and does not act like a Parisienne, and what might make the latter still more attractive might be disadvantageous to the former, but Parisian couturiers know that.”

Ortiz also pointed out that contrary to rumor the Paris fashion houses were not closed – or in the case of Poiret were soon to reopen – so that American followers of fashion need not settle for imitations of true Parisian styles. Imitating Paris fashion, it seemed, was all that American designers were good for!

Parisian fashion by Jenny, New York Tribune, November 17 1914

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