Fashion in World War I: March 1918

Two evening dresses by Doeuillet - one in silver lace for export

IN March 1918 Les Modes was not publicshed, so we have to turn to New York Vogue for news of Paris couture. Their reports can be summed up in the title of one of their articels: ‘The world and Paris grow simpler’. This simplification is related to changing modes of life, both in Paris and New York, with couture clients spending their days on relief committees or volunteering at canteens and hospitals. One fashionable Parisienne is quoted as saying:  ‘I buy only two gowns a season, since the war. I am doing so much war work that I really have no more time to devote to chiffons. And the two frocks that I do buy are only to show my good-will and to give work to those who need it’. Shortages of petrol (and chauffeurs) for private cars meant that fashionable women were taking public transport, and going from daytime obligations straight to evening engagements, and fashionable clothing reflected these changes with a trend towards simplicity and a blurring of dress codes. Elaborately draped and trimmed evening dresses like those shown above were still being made, but it was generally understood that they were intended ‘for some other city than Paris’.

An overblouse in satin with silver fringe

The conundrum faced by Paris designers was how to create new looks within the limits of wartime restrictions on fabric, with dresses and two-pieces cut from four yards of wool jersey. To add fullness they made floating panels or over tunics, or spiral draperies wound round the skirt. They added contrast linings or under layers, visible through slits or under hanging panels. They also used contrast fabrics in removable collars, waistcoats or false fronts; these could be made up from the previous season’s garments for added economy. For afternoon entertaining, there were loose tabards or kimono style blouses of silk or embroidered fabric that could be slipped over the day dress, accessorised with scarves or turbans to cover messy hair that there was no time to restyle

The jersey fabric that Chanel had used for her debut fashion collections three years earlier was now an accepted fashion staple, in wool, silk or artificial silk. Chanel herself was expanding her range, dressing the actress Cecile Sorel in the play LAbbe Constantin ‘with charming and simple elegance, quite in accord with the ideas of the moment’. Vogue also noted a girl’s coat by Chanel, in brown wool jersey embroidered in gold and green: ‘no coat could be more unpretentious in line than this one of brown wool jersey, but Chanel, who designed it, felt that her duty to simplicity ended there and embroidered it to her heart’s content’. Another name noted in this issue was Burberry – not for their serviceable overcoats, but for a fashionablecape trimmed with fur and embroidery.

Burberry cape with contrast embroidery and fur trim

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