Fashion in World War I: August 1917

Evening dresses referencing ‘Ancien Regime’ and ‘Empire’ styles

The August 1917 edition of Les Élégances Parisiennes looked resolutely ahead to the future, both immediate and long-term. For the immediate future, couturiers and fabric manufacturers were preparing their new ranges for the coming winter. These showed some recognition of the worsening conditions of civilian life in Paris, with full-length coats of heavy furs such as beaver, and day ensembles in thick wool. The accessories pages highlighted useful inventions such as foot muffs, indoor mittens, and fancy shawls to make up for the lack of coal to heat houses.

Cozy accessories for cold houses

The fashionable cut was still very varied, with some dresses and blouses showing intricate arrangements of ties that slotted through belts, zigzag armholes, and draped panels. The waist was usually high, though wide sashes brought the level down somewhat. There were historical references to the court of the Emperor Napoleon in evening gowns with high waists and lace trains, and to Revolutionary ‘incroyables’ in tailored suits with wide lapels and high-necked cravats. These styles were closer to those of 1914 than to the loose chemises that would prevail after 1919. However the fabrics in vogue were more forward-looking, with much use of knit jersey in a variety of fibres and finishes.  Artificial silk (rayon) jersey was recommended not as a substitute but for its increased brilliance and weight compared to natural silk. Rather than fancy weaves, fabrics were plain but trimmed with machine or hand embroidery in contrast shades. This could add an exotic note with designs taken from Berber textiles, or emphasize construction with lines of top stitching at seams and hems.

Looking further ahead, editorials in Les Élégances Parisiennes reflected on the likely role of American investors after the war. Citing a new study by Victor Cambon, they warned that outside investment would be needed in order to win the peace – as it had been before the war. They claimed that this would not be to the detriment of local investors, since American industrialists were happy to take a chance on new areas while French bankers hung back until they could see a certain return. However, they saw a limit to American collaboration in French fashion industries, claiming that attempts to co-produce fashion lines had failed as American manufacturers did not understand the French mentality. French textile producers, fashion designers and seamstresses were in such perfect harmony that none of them could work effectively if transplanted to American firms. This is an early example of the argument used to combat German attempts to co-opt French fashion during the 1940s occupation.

Embroidery inspired by Berber designs adds an exotic note

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