Fashion in World War I: June 1917

Dinner dresses with contrast embroidery

The June 1917 edition of Les Élégances Parisiennes highlighted some of the paradoxes of fashion production in war conditions. This issue showed a foretaste of styles for the coming autumn –  in recognition of the increased lead time required to produce, and ship, garments for export when every parcel needed a permit from the customs authorities of both countries. Many of the next season’s styles were trimmed with embroidery – tone on tone for wool coats, and contrasting for dinner dresses. However in the same issue an article on the state of the fashion trades industry pointed out that French firms producing embroidered yardage were in dire straits. Originally centred around Saint-Quentin, in the Aisne district, their factories had been destroyed by German bombardments, their equipment seized, and their workforce scattered. In order to keep their businesses afloat, proprietors had become middlemen for embroidered goods imported from Switzerland. This trade was now threatened by new legislation limiting imports in order to protect French production – even though in this case French production had ceased. The author went on to argue that the textile and clothing industries were ill served by legislation drawn up by civil servants with little understanding of the complexity of the fashion trade, and of the importance of seasonal events such as textile fairs.

Another article reported on a controversy which had split the American fashion press. Edith Rosenbaum had written in the Dry Goods Economist praising French designs, only to be harshly criticized in the rival publication Frocks and Frills, which only published American fashions. Miss Rosenbaum had responded with an account of her recent trip to Paris, on which she had taken some samples of American fabrics that had been presented to her by manufacturers as new and unique designs. However when she showed them in Paris they were identified as copies from Bianchini-Ferier and other French firms from two years previously. Rosenbaum went on to point out that all of the fabrics currently popular in America, lightweight silks such as crepe georgette, had first been introduced in France. She charged American manufacturers with being too preoccupied with keeping costs down to invest in design development.

Japanese-influenced fashion by Premet

This issue also reported on a show by leading couture houses in the centre for French design in Madrid. Several of the styles illustrated had a strong Orientalist flavour, with a diagonal Chinese neck in a Paquin dress, and kimono sleeves from Premet.  The how-to-sew pages in this issue featured some highly inventive sleeves, with dress sleeves inserted with puffs of contrast fabrics, and mantles draped around the arms like 1880s ‘visites’. There were also complex waist treatments, with sashes threaded through skirts, or growing out of bodice panels.

A refreshing contrast were the simple styles recommended for sportswear – like a tennis outfit in green and white wool jersey by Beer.

Tennis outfit by Beer

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