Fashion in World War I: March 1916

Trying out fashionable fabrics for the new 'Marie Antoinette' styles

For March 1916, we return to American Vogue, where the war was seen as having a broadly positive effect on the fashion industry. An article with the long-winded title  ‘The Warp and Woof of Spring: France is producing some of the most Interesting Fabrics Which Ever Came from Her Looms, and America Comes Forward with Some Prodigies of Her Infant industry’ highlighted recent advances in American textile manufacturing. The anonymous author begun with a picture of the relationship between textiles and culture to delight a textile historian like myself:

From bits of the materials woven in the various countries during the different ages, even those uninitiated in the study of textiles can read an intelligible story….The materials which to-day are scattered over the counters in the shops of Fifth Avenue or which hang on the little brass hooks in the pretty salons of the dressmakers, are all part of this great story in textiles and they, like the materials of long ago, speak of things more important than their own beauty or charm. This gay silk which a vivacious matron has just chosen for an evening frock will, a thousand years from now…give mute testimony to the fortitude of France under the stress of a great war; that soft stuff which a brown-haired debutante has just decided upon for a new skating costume may prove to some bespectacled student in the future that in the year 1916 there was at least one mill in America which wove wool materials as fine as any in the world

This emphasis on fashionable fabrics, reminds us that in 1916 Vogue readers might be having garments made by small dressmakers, or even at home. This early March issue of presented the new season’s range of dressmaking patterns, a major aspect of the magazine’s success; they might be used by professionals as well as amateurs for information on the latest cut.

Alongside the rich silk brocades and metallic laces recommended for evening gowns, and light foulards and taffetas for summer frocks, Vogue also noted the continued importance of wool jersey. This had first been mentioned in February 1915, as a novel fabric for casual jackets worn at the seaside resorts of Deauville and Monte Carlo. By March 1916 jersey was being made into dresses and suits – as Le Style Parisien had noted – and one designer in particular was specialising in these chic but comfortable garments:

One see modest tailored frocks of more or less familiar shape, muslin gowns under fur-trimmed coats of jersey, and smart suits of jersey combined with cloth or silk; and each one, to the knowing eye, is labelled large, ‘Chanel’.

A Chanel suit in white jersey trimmed in green for Spring 1916

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