Picture of the Month




Young girls' dresses, 1918

The 1910s are among the most unwarrentedly disregarded decades of fashion history. Many publications simply jump from the straight-front look of the 1900s to the garçonne look of the 1920 as if there was nothing in between, although fashion changed more rapidly and markedly than it does today. You'd think that while most of Europe was waging war on each other, fashions weren't able to cross borders any more than people were, that people had worse problems than worrying about being fashionable, and that the paper shortage that occurred towards the end of the war would lead to any non-essential publications being shut down. But no, the show went on.

Fashion magazines did become thinner, the paper and print quality worsened, but the magazines still appeared — and the fashions looked more or less the same, no matter which country you look at. Circulation probably went down because people really did have other things on their minds, but there are always those who can still care about fashion. Towards the end of the war, fashion publishers made a deal with their readers: Bring us a certain amount of used paper, and you get a new magazine in exchange. What kind of used paper, do you think, did the ladies have stashed away? Exactly, old fashion magazines. So, with lower circulation and magazines being recycled, numbers from 1916-1919 are relatively rare. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the 1910s are being neglected. Another reason may be that the fashions of the WWI years are, well, strange. Authors may feel compelled to explain why fashions were so extravagant in the face of a major war, but find themselves unable to.

These two delightful creations are from a 1918 German fashion magazine, but I don't remember which. They retain the high waists of 1915/16, but the skirts that had previously billowed in the shape of the "war crinoline" are now straight, presaging the narrow, hipless look of the 20s. Both the wide collar of the left and the wide, collarless neckline of the right dress will still be seen throughout the 20s. On the other hand, the sleeves of the left dress are either cut in one with the bodice or raglan style – both favoured patterns of the 1914-16 years.

The mixture of older and newer styles could be seen as a normal consequence of gradual fashion change, but note how both dresses are made of two different colours of fabric. This is no accident. The blurb at the bottom of the page recommends these styles because they allow old dresses to be re-made. Consider the left one, for instance: It may consist of a 1916 war-crinoline dress with the wide petticoat removed, and the skirt of another, long dress reduced to about 40 cm above the seam and four wide straps (two in front, two in back) attached to a kind of partlet made from what was cut from the "overskirt". Add a wide collar, and voilà! A new dress. In case of the right dress, the two vertical inserts and striped skirt make it possible to work with relatively small pieces of fabric such as you'd end up with if you disassembled an older dress, cutting away the worn parts.

In contrast to such economic fabric recycling, the hats are quite extravagant. The left one, in particular, is very reminiscent of a tricorn. But then tricorn-like hats had been fashionable in 1915/16. Attach a border to the rim (maybe made of leftovers from the over-skirt?) and you get a new-from-old hat. The top of right one looks flabby enough to be made from fabric scraps held up with wire. Creativity in the face of adversity: Some may call it wanton, but isn't it what keeps the species going despite all changes?


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