Fashion in World War I: February 1916

Dresses with separate jackets and blouses, February 1916

In February 1916, Le Style Parisien issued its final number. In a statement to its subscribers, it clarified that this was for moral reasons as much as for economic ones. It had aimed to create a publication that would speak for French couture houses, and defend them against Austrian and German competitors, but were not alone in this field:

Hachette publishing house has this same aim and a similar ambition and we therefore thought that we it was right for the two organisations to unite. Therefore, Le Style Parisien will merge with Les Elegances Parisiennes, the official organ of the ‘Delegation of the creative industries of fashion’.

This elision between economic and nationalistic motivations can be seen throughout the journal, and helps to explain some of the odd discrepancies in tone between and even within editorial articles. In this final issue, the ‘Lettre d’une Parisienne’ opens by welcoming the new trend for ‘pelerine’ capelets and bolero jackets, which can be made in different materials to match or contrast with a dress, creating several outfits at a minimal price.  The implication is that these unfitted over-garments could be made by a less skilled dressmaker, bypassing the professionals. The latest trends in trimmings include fancy ribbons, recommended for sashes and neckties to freshen up the wardrobe at little expense.

Yet elsewhere in the same article there is an interview with a specialist boot-maker, M. Genera, who worked for Jenny and other couture houses. He describes his new season’s range of fancy boots in satin and patent leather for wear with indoor dresses, rather than the more usual pumps. It is clear that the trend for shorter skirts, and wartime restrictions on the use of carriages and motor cars, would make boots more practical. But M. Genera is careful to distance himself from mass-market trends, claiming that:

Boots are harder to make well, and the cheap imitations are awful. Anyone can make a good pair of shoes but not everyone can make a smart pair of boots. Really fashionable women know this, and will only give up boots when long narrow skirts return.

This tension between the need of the consumers for affordable and wearable wardrobe solutions, and the desire of couturiers to maintain their exclusivity and high standards of workmanship, was central to the fashion industry in 1916 – and remains so today.

Ribbon sashes to update dresses, February 1916

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