Fashion in World War I: July 1918

Denim uniform for volunteer 'farmerettes' made by Abercrombie and Fitch

Coat by Chanel in tan wool jersey trimmed with brown rabbit fur

The July issue of New York Vogue reported a damaging rumour that Paris couture Houses had closed down due to the bombardments, and would not be showing new collections in the autumn. In order to disprove this, they published copies of statements from the leading Houses: Cheruit, Doeuillet, Jenny, Lanvin, Premet and Paquin. The letter from Paris stated that couture firms had adapted to attacks on Paris by setting up branches in Biarritz and Deauville, where their clients were spending increasing amounts of time. In these seaside resorts, the rules of dress were somewhat relaxed and jersey dresses or suits were acceptable for all but the most formal gatherings – these were available from Chanel and many other firms as well.

Now that the USA had been in the war for almost a year, the number of women actively involved in the war effort was increasing, as discussed in the article: ‘Woman’s Place is in a Uniform. How to Know the Uniforms of the Many Women Who Are Doing Various Kinds of War Work and Becoming Real Factors in Our Fighting Forces’. In Britain, women’s branches of the Army, Navy and even Air Force had been given official status, with formal uniforms, divisional insignia, and an officer hierarchy. In the USA the situation was more fluid, with some services (such as Army Nurses) fully recognised, but a plethora of small initiatives leading to ‘several dozen different species…some of those uniforms are so recent as to cause those who pass them on the street to wonder what they represent’. The outfits described for Vogue readers highlight the possibilities for self-display in uniforms worn by groups such as the ‘farmerettes’ (allied Land Girls):  ‘ a particularly attractive uniform is worn by the farmerettes working in devastated France…six inches of blue denim breeches showing above the tops of their high boots’. Uniforms also provided an opportunity for American firms to expand their market – this and several others featured in the article were made by  Abercrombie and Fitch.

For summer beach wear, Vogue showed some stylish ensembles made by Marthe Gauthier, originator of the ‘Cellar Cape’ published by Les Modes. She was combining striped and plain wool jersey to make swimsuits and dresses that conformed to current standards of modesty while drawing attention to the wearer’s bare legs and arms. As an alternative to bathing ensembles of tunics with matching shorts, the writer reported that: ‘Many women wear bathing suits of the same sort as those worn by men, covering them with bath-robes, as varied as coats’. Male bathing suits were made from wool jersey and would cling to the body when wet, so a cloak or robe would be needed once out of the water – some of these were smart enough to be worn away from the beach as well.

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