Fashion in World War I: October 1915

Breton styled dresses by Beer, Jenny and Paquin, October 1915, Pl.VII:

In the October issue of ‘Le Style Parisien’, a columnist philosophized on the political resonances of the new season’s fashions. She made a contrast with the styles of 1815, which drew freely from the uniforms of opposing armies – Hussars, Uhlans, and even the perfidious English. She admitted that the beginning of the current war had seen the widespread adoption of garments such as ‘military-style tailored suits, with khaki or army blue overcoats’ – but that these have ‘completely disappeared from the winter collections’. She attributed this change in approach to a greater awareness both of the grim reality of war, and of the political allegiances that supported France:

Now war is too horrible, thanks to those who wished it on us, for us to use it as a source for subversive demonstrations of the kind that happened under Napoleon: then, the style leaders and their followers were anglophiles who wore ‘riding coats’ and top hats even as their Emperor was dreaming up ways to invade Britain. Now, our loyalty and our alliances inspire our couturiers; the researcher of a century from now, leafing through today’s fashion journals, will find nothing but styles called ‘Victory’, ‘Tipperary’, ‘Serbia’ or ‘Moujik’.[p20; my translation]

French couturiers were looking to local traditions rather than to exotic warriors for inspiration, with dresses based on the costumes of Breton or Alsatian peasants.

The columnist also noted a shift in female deportment: some couturiers had tired of the loose-waisted, sacklike silhouette of recent months and had tried to revive the curvy, small-waisted figure fashionable in 1905. However this had not been a success, as the hourglass figure now looked ‘hideous, unhealthy and out-dated’. The current ideal of beauty was feminine but neat and ready for action, a striking contrast from the slinky vamps of prewar years:

mannequin ne s’envolent sous nos yeux ahuris. in the days – which seem so long ago now –  when skirts were narrow, models swayed along, very slowly, one foot dragged reluctantly after the other; they had a langourous, feline gait, with swaying shoulders and hooded gaze like tango dancers. Nowadays things have completely changed : a spruce, coquettish little woman bounds along the catwalk, then suddenly stops, spinning like a top to right and left so that her skirt swings like a bell from side to side, revealing each ankle in turn. Her skirts are so full and so light that that they look as if they might float away like a balloon, carrying off the mannequin in front of our astonished gaze.[p.17 , my translation]

This fast-moving gait was best served by fluid dresses in soft fabrics such as wool jersey – the material selected by Gabrielle Chanel for her debut collections of sportswear.

Fashion fabrics, October 1915

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