Fashion in World War I: January 1918

Lingerie from Lanvin and others, with beading and coloured embroidery

From 1918 onwards Les Elégances Parisiennes ceased to appear in its monthly format; instead, there were twice-yearly volumes devoted to blouses and fine lingerie. No explanation for this sudden closure was given, but it is likely that it was linked to the financial struggles of the fashion and accessories houses who had supported the magazine through their trade bodies, exacerbated by shortages of the trained staff needed to write and produce a luxury publication. Its rival, Les Modes (founded in 1901) was able to continue – after a hiatus in 1916 it produced eight issues during 1917 and five in 1918, which we will look at in future months.

American Vogue reflected some of the same tensions. On the one hand its writers claimed to give exclusive reports on current trends for both fashion (lingerie in particular in the January 1918 issue) and interior decor from Paris. But the readers were less likely than before 1914 to be in a position to verify these reports for themselves – instead the magazine offered  a purchasing and packing service for Paris stores. Vogue was actively selecting and promoting particular styles and retailers: this issue had a special feature on lingerie from New York stores which could be purchased directly from the magazine. Paris lingerie was also described, in an article which sketched in some of the changes in wartime lifestyles in the capital. Apparently some  elite women had closed their town houses to economise both on fuel and on servants, and had rented hotel rooms for the duration of the war. Luxurious fur rugs and decorative cushions were being sold to make these rooms more homelike – with attractive fur-trimmed lounging robes to match. In spite of fuel shortages, new styles in underwear were skimpier than ever, made in delicate silks and lace, often with bold colour contrasts. Some of the trimmings were designed to be visible through the top layer of clothing, providing a sexual frisson. Others details, such as the beaded flowers on the Lanvin chemise, would have required careful hand washing to preserve them.

The fashions presented in this issue were very similar to those covered by Les Elégances Parisiennes, but with less detail given of the fabrics and trimmings involved. The new restrictions on the use of wool cloth are flagged up in an article headed ‘Save Wool and Serve the Soldier’:

It looks as though our national silhouette were about to become patriotically slim; it is a little previous, of course, to state definitely any new fashion, but the early collections of the designers undoubtedly show an interesting slimness and length of line. Of course, you know the reason for this – we are Hooverizing on wool. Every yard of wool that your new frock doesn’t use, some heavy blizzard-defying army coat does

The accompanying plates show outfits with short jackets and narrow, draped skirts cut from the four and a half  yards of wool cloth that were the new national standard. There were also substitutions, with  heavy silk proposed for spring suiting. The new artificial silks made from rayon were flagged up  as a novelty: ‘A new sports material called Royalty suiting is a combination of artificial silk and wool; it has a highly glazed surface and comes in many interesting two toned effects such as purple and silver’. The impracticality of silk, natural or artificial, for winter wear is jarring, especially when juxtaposed with an article on heavy duty waterproofs for women serving on the front line in France.

Spring ensembles substituting heavy silk for wool

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