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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