Fashion in World War I – September 1917

Blouses decorated and constructed with fancy ribbons

In the September 1917 issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes the emphasis was on textile houses rather than Maisons de Couture as innovators of the new season’s fashions. The leading article on ‘Les Dernières Créations de la Mode’ discussed lace and hand embroidered textiles which rendered designs from Byzantine, Japanese and Chinese art on a large scale for use in panels to trim dresses in plain fabrics. There were also new types of fabrics in a combination of techniques for added richness – velvets with brocaded designs, or metallic lamés with  motifs printed in ikat or woven in different metallic yarns. Some of these lavish textiles were featured in the fashion plates of this issue – but there were also many designs made up in plain fabrics trimmed with bands of stitching or of decorative ribbon. There were several fashion plates showing ideas for using ribbon, in narrow widths to create a striped effect, or in wide breadths to construct a simple bodice. These ideas would support the French ribbon weaving firms based around St Étienne, and would also provide an economical alternative to expensive fashion fabrics. A similar spirit lay behind the trend for contrast linings which added variety to scarves and sashes – and extra warmth as well.

Following on from previous discussions about the future of the French fashion trades, there was an article about post-war competition from German textile and clothing manufacturers, following a report in the American press on the highly organized state of German industry. The German government was apparently subsidising promotional ventures such as a forthcoming showcase of German fashions in neutral Switzerland. Apparently there was not only a German Ministry of War Production, but a separate Commission for Post-war Trade, which was providing manufacturers with materials and information to develop new products. Wartime shortages of imported materials had led German industrial chemists to innovate in producing substitutes – including fibres such as ‘artificial silk’ (viscose) which had been praised as in previous issues of Les Élégances Parisiennes. These were not only novel but also cheap enough that it would be hard for buyers to resist them, no matter how distasteful it was to purchase from a former aggressor. This article claimed that German factories were keeping down costs by drafting in prisoners and civilian women, and paying them below the peace time rates. French manufacturers, in contrast, had been forced by strikes to raise their wages, as detailed in the previous issue of Les Élégances Parisiennes.

The page of ‘Nouvelles Syndicales’ reported on a different type of labour substitution – the retraining of war-mutilated soldiers for work in the fashion trades. Apparently this was not an unmixed success – workshops in tailoring and cutting had been abandoned as too arduous for injured men. Workshops in fur work and shoe making (the latter a traditional resort for workers invalided out of other trades) were proving more successful, with 50 residential places and a plan to double that number. Importantly, the workshops were sponsored by the leather workers’ trade organization, which guaranteed trainees a job on a wage scale with scope for improvement.

Ideas for reversible scarves and sashes which double as hoods and shoulder wraps

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