Fashion in World War I: January 1915

Military braid used to refresh worn garments - Vogue, 1 January 1915

High fashion and modern warfare make uneasy bedfellows, and the fashion journals in January 1915 contain some strange juxtapositions. Les Modes for January 1915, though published in Paris, resolutely ignored the war, describing the garments seen in theatres and at Society weddings. An article on shoes claimed that the current trend was for footwear that was both showy and impractical:

‘I saw an elegantly dressed woman getting out of her car, stretching out a leg which appeared up to the knee through the slit in her tight skirt, poured into cobweb-fine stockings, the foot in shoes which appeared to be designed less to cover them than to support a buckle, a crystal, or some other very noticeable ornament’

These shoes and stockings were being worn without any regard for winter weather – but with enough furs to suit an inhabitant of the Arctic, highlighting the internal inconsistencies of fashion.  The author noted that evening shoes were being made with heels studded with crystals – though these were more suited to racy nightclubs like Maxim’s than to polite soirees. The tight focus of Les Modes on the fashions and manners of a conventional social elite would prove difficult to maintain under war conditions; the magazine was on a hiatus during 1915, and when it returned in 1916 it was with a wider and more socially aware viewpoint.

The January edition of American Vogue, in contrast, devoted several articles to the activities of the American Women’s War Relief Fund in London, which ranged from the self-indulgent (commissioning Belgian lace accessories from Belgian refugees) to the strictly practical (collecting warm underwear for troops in the trenches). The regular column on ‘Smart Fashions for Limited Incomes’ welcomed the current trend for military trimmings, as:

‘The military braiding used on some of the late models of the season is one of the few pleasant effects of the war on clothes. Not only is braiding strikingly smart, but it serves a double purpose, as it may cover a multitude of shortcomings; the suit, gown or blouse which is slightly worn may be renovated quite simply at times by binding a frayed or worn edge or trimming the front and sleeves in slightly worn spots with braid.’

Perhaps the most telling Vogue article was the one which, though optimistically titled ‘Paris at the Turning- Point – Glimpsing, Despite the Troubles of War, a Return of Normal Conditions’ opened with a description of thousands of mourners paying their respects at cemeteries on All Souls’ Day.

‘France is mourning this year as never before, although her grief is tempered with pride in her fallen heroes and she wears her mourning with the air of a conqueror’

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