Fashion in World War I: May 1915

Drian, Gazette du Bon Ton, Spring 1915

In May 1915 there was an apparent improvement in the French position. The Gazette du Bon Ton published its first issue since the outbreak of war in Spring 1915 – and a belated revision of the issue that should have appeared in September 1914. Their editorial philosophised on the importance of fashion in wartime:

When it was recognised that France had escaped the worst danger and was marching towards a certain victory… from the moment when the masters of Fashion reaffirmed that they would never resign their duty to represent the continuing evolution of French good taste

This was a reference to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, which leading couturiers such as Paquin were using as an opportunity to promote their designs to the all-important American market. The garments shown in San Francisco may have been intended not for sale to private clients but as models for American fashion houses to copy.

American clients were understandably reluctant to travel to France at a time of attacks on shipping (the Lusitania was sunk by U-boats on May 7) and Zeppelin raids. Vogue’s Paris correspondent made light of the terror of being woken by the air-raid alarm; while there were as yet no air-raid shelters, blackouts were imposed, which made evening events difficult to plan. Fashionable life now centred on daytime events, such as visits to the  exhibit of  war trophies at Les Invalides: ‘Your concierge and your valet, your maid and your chauffeur, alike demand a holiday every Sunday in order to inspect the cannon and the aeroplanes which have been taken from the enemy’. There were also fundraising concerts for military charities, to which servicemen were of course admitted free. Women’s suits were often tailored with military details such as heavy leather belts and ‘pockets big enough to carry ammunition’. Many men were in uniform – and boys too, with groups of youths doing military drill in the Tuileries gardens.

Wartime brought opportunities for fashion retailers who were able to supply clothing that suited the more relaxed wartime dress codes. Among these was Chanel, who had established boutiques selling accessories and ready-to-wear garments in the resorts of Biarritz, Deauville and Monte Carlo. These towns became year-round havens for Parisians escaping the air-raids and blackouts of the capital, boosting Chanel’s sales of casual ensembles such as ‘jersey coats of white, mulberry, red and various shades of blue, including the new bleu soldat. They are buttoned down the middle front, and they are loosely belted, quite long, and slashed to the belt on each hip’ (Vogue, May 1 1915, p126). Jersey jackets were also recommended in the Gazette du Bon Ton, for war work and for wearing at home.

Silk jersey jacket, Gazette du Bon Ton, Spring 1915

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