Fashion in World War I: February 1915

Fashionable mourning by Macy's of New York, February 1915

In February 1915, the fashion press was starting to feel the longterm effects of the war in Europe. With French magazines such as Les Modes ceasing publication, and travel to Paris both difficult and dangerous, information on the new season’s styles was proving elusive. American Vogue made light of some of the difficulties, with an article headed ‘What Will Women Wear in 1915’ satirizing over-zealous censorship of correspondence from France:

‘Hitherto the Allies have carefully collared all information that one might tell anyone anything about the position of the French lines…However here is a ‘scoop’ on the new fashions and the only fly in the amber is the censor. The illustrations herewith have suffered greatly from the European Suppress Bureau’s consistant opposition to a first-class war scoop…The creations shown represent those jealously guarded ideas that the French couturiers lock up in the atelier cupboards every night’.

However the lack of information from Paris was to Vogue ‘s advantage; not only did lessen the competition from other publications, it also forced American consumers to rely on their own resources. ‘This year, more perhaps than in any preceding year, will you need Vogue’s SPRING PATTERNS NUMBER. Even in times of peace, it is hard enough to tell good fashions from bad. But with the whole outside world at war, with all ordinary sources of fashion information cut off, the task becomes impossible unless you turn to Vogue.’

The competition between French and American stylists was becoming increasingly evident, with a court case brought by Paul Poiret against New York manufacturers who were selling their own designs with a ‘Poiret’ label. There was also a huge gulf between fashionable lifestyles in Europe and the USA; in Paris, restaurants and theatres were closed in the evenings, and ‘Tailored frocks of puritanical simplicity are all that one sees in the streets and tea-rooms, or at the matinees’. Meanwhile in New York, the elite were flocking to watch Irene Castle onstage in Lucile costumes, and to copy her dance moves in nighclubs.

In France, fashionable life was relocating to seaside resorts, creating opportunities for designers such as  Gabrielle Chanel, who had transferred her millinery business to the resort of Biarritz on the outbreak of war.

Valentine’s Day 1915 was likely to be a sad one, with letters bringing bad news more frequently than words of love….

'The Letter', a dress by Doucet, Georges Barbier, 1915

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