Fashion in World War I: February 1918

Wedding ensemble by Agnes with 'zouave' trousers

The  French fashion press was clearly facing exceptional difficulties in 1918  Les Élégances Parisiennes had ceased to publish (apart from special issues on blouses or millinery) , and even the older established Les Modes only appeared five times instead of the usual twelve per year. The first issue of 1918 includes an editorial apology for its late appearance, with a hope that if it is too late for Winter 1917-18 styles in France, it may be helpful for readers in South America whose winter season is yet to come. The content has a rather second-hand feeling, with a long article on a Red Cross fundraising fete on Long Island that had been reported in Vogue in November 1917. As the photographs used were the same in the two publications, the same international press agency must have been involved in both.

The fashion reports in Les Modes have a strangely detached quality compared to the detailed analysis of cut and trimming given in Les Élégances Parisiennes. There are some descriptions of specific ensembles: plain satin sheath dresses set off with contrasting waistcoats in richer fabrics are noted as a prevailing trend. There are also photographs of couture styles, modelled by actresses or being worn by fashionable women in the Bois de Boulogne. A brief description of each image is given at the end of the issue – but they are not discussed in the text. This is especially frustrating for the featured bridal ensemble by Agnes with avant-garde ‘zouave’ pantaloons; one longs to know more about the circumstances in which it was commissioned. It is interesting to see a Poiret coat with a distinctive quilted hem worn by Madame Cleews in this issue, as it had been sketched in Les Élégances Parisiennes in October 1917.

The tone of the discourse in Les Modes is agressively patriotic – a discussion of turbans as evening wear refers to Madame de Stael, the famous writer who wore a turban in a much-reproduced portrait – before rejecting her as a role model on the grounds of her praise of German national character, which had proved so misleading.

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