Fashion in World War I: October 1914

By October 1914, Paris couture had more or less closed down as clients fled the city for country retreats or for war work. Some designers had chosen to enlist, proudly displaying the motto ‘Sous les drapeaux’ (under military orders) over the closed door of their premises. The October 15 issue of Vogue ran a feature on ‘Couturiers Under Arms’, repudiating the reputation of the profession for weakness and effeminacy. Some designers were using their expertise for the war effort; the workrooms at Doeuillet had been turned over to the production of medical supplies.

Paul Poiret was called up as a reservist, and placed in charge of a factory making military uniforms. Here his skills in simplifying the cut of garments were put to good use, rethinking the heavy overcoats issued to infantrymen. By October 22 he had produced an improved design which earned him promotion to Sergeant, as the New York Sun reported:  ‘The garment is cut so loose that it is like a bag; this permits the wearer greater freedom of movement than was possible in the old garment. At night the coat may be used as a sleeping cover; thus the soldier may sleep more warmly and fight better the next day. Of beauty there is none, but, as M. Poiret says, this matters little in war time.’

Paul Poiret in French army uniform (Vogue, 15-10-1914)

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