Fashion in World War I: June 1918

Afternoon dress in silk, day dress in cotton jersey with toning embroidery, and evening dress in lace and silk crepe

In June 1918 Les Modes was not published, but Vogue reported from a Paris still subject to bread rationing – although the flight of elite families to their country estates meant that luxuries like taxis and cream were now easier to find. A letter from Phillipe Ortiz, dated April 14, gave a vivid picture of the vagaries of life under bombardment both from long-distance guns and from aircraft. The author notes members of the artistic world killed or injured – Graffin, a former secretary to Poiret, was mortally wounded in the street, while the fashion illustrator Marcel Lejeune was injured while dining in a fashionable restaurant. As the editor comments drily: ‘that, under such conditions, any work at all is done in Paris, except that necessary for life, is but another of the wonders that are France.’ This article was illustrated with some natty waistcoats made from panels of striped silk tricot by Marthe Guthier, the designer of the remarkable air-raid shelter garment featured in Les Modes. These would brighten up a plain dress or skirt and blouse, without requiring too much fabric.

Waistcoats in striped silk tricot by Marthe Gauthier

The main report on Paris fashion acknowledged the exceptional situation of Spring 1918 from its title onwards: ‘Paris Takes its summer Early – Bombardments in Paris Give a Sudden Charm to the Watering-places Which Generally Have Their Popularity in July’. The reported trends in daywear were for simple dresses or two-pieces enlivened by contrasting colours in different sections, or contrasting trimmings. There is a continuation of the complex interlaced cut, with sashes, scarves and even collars threaded through slots in the main garment to provide contrast and to tie down floating panels. For dinner and evening wear, even at fashionable resorts, there was some relaxation of dress codes, with Doucet proposing a silver sheaf covered by two panels of  beaded gauze draped diagonally from each shoulder; while Cheruit offered a ‘Gandourah’, an adaptation of a loose African tunic, for dining alone in one’s room.

The June 15 edition of Vogue addressed the serious topic of war mourning, acknowledging that practices were changing swiftly as a result of the war. once again, the article title sums up its key points: Whether American Women Will Abolish Mourning During the War, as Many Englishwomen Have, or, Like the Frenchwomen, Wear a Lighter Mourning Than Formerly, Is Still a Question. The author addresses the paradox that in France and Britain, where war casualties have been heavy, there are fewer visible signs of mourning than in the USA. This is not because bereaved women are shutting themselves away; they are resuming social functions and of course their voluntary work much earlier than was previously thought decent. This change is attributed to a recognition that personal loss must be subsumed into national effort, since ‘the wearing of mourning is a selfish thing, a gratification of personal sorrow. True mourning is of the heart not the garments’. Active engagement in war volunteering is recommended not only as therapy, but also as a way of memorializing the dead by carrying on their work. With this in mind, modern mourning clothes should avoid the ‘ theatrical…veils with becoming folds which set off their complexions and their profiles’ formerly worn by fashionable women, aiming instead for discreet sobriety. Some of the ensembles illustrated, by Madame Hayward and by Lucile, achieve this goal with fashionable shapes made up in soft dull-surfaced fabrics. Others, such as a dinner dress with sleeves of sheer ‘point d’esprit’ net, use the contrast between black fabrics and pale skin to draw attention to the wearer’s pale beauty.

Two mourning ensembles: black silk and net for afternoon wear, and silk crepe for a young girl

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