In fashion history terms time never stands still. In the Edwardian era, new influences and a changing society in
a young century began to challenge the stiff formality that prevailed. In the
years between 1905 and 1918 clothing styles emerged that were evolutionary in
bridging the gap between the rigid formality of the Edwardian styles and the
ultimate changes that led to the knee high dresses of 1926.
Oriental influences have been shown in fashion history in women's dress in other eras
such as in the 1800s, the mid 1920s and later in the 1970s and 1990s. It was
in total contrast to the prevailing mood of dreamy pastels favoured by high
society when hot tropical colours and a new silhouette was introduced.
In 1920s fashion history, the initial break with the traditional styles stemmed from the
inspiration drawn from the Aesthetic and Rational
Dress Reform Movements of the late 19th century. Exciting theatrical costume designs which broke the rules also paved
the way for more relaxed dressing. This was all fast forwarded during the war
years and led to the major changes in construction of clothes and undergarments
for the remainder of the century.
This era from 1905 to 1915 was particularly important in
eroding attitudes to dress which had been stuck in the rigidity of the Victorian
era for too long. Barriers broken in this period laid the foundations for the
more relaxed clothes of the 1920s.
The fashions of the era needed a new approach to under
foundations. The first bra was patented in 1914 by Mary Jacobs an American. It
is not thought to be the first bra ever, but it is the patented record that
gives her the credit. Cretan women had the idea long before and various BBs or
Bust Bodices or improvers had been around in Britain and France since the
Edwardian era and exist today in costume collections.
Several designers including Paul
all say they invented the bra as correct underwear for their new dress
innovations and admonished clients to abandon their corsets. We will never truly
know. What is certain is that a bodice designed separately
from the corset had become usual wear by 1905 and Mary Jacobs had the
intelligence to patent a design for a bra.
Many women had begun to cut their hair when doing war work for
practical reasons. A compromise between long and short tresses was 'Curtain'
hair and was favoured by the genteel. Worn with a band it could be dressed more
prettily with a feather at night. Colouring the hair with Henna was popular as
it was less risky than using the unreliable chemical dyes of the time, and it
looked well with the oriental fashions.
Dancing was very popular and had a great influence on 1920s fashion.
A famous American dancing couple called the Castles helped
spread the new dance crazes and magazines showed the steps of the latest dance,
with a graphic for each new movement. People practiced at home using the
magazines as guides. When troops were at home on rest leave during the war
dancing gained popularity and by 1919 many dance halls had opened.
The Tango dances made their mark on fashion history.
All the changes that were forced on a rigid society were a
direct result of the war. Women stopped wearing jewellery and lavish clothes.
Dress rules for both sexes were relaxed in theatres and other venues. Women
began to take part in voluntary philanthropic work which ultimately broadened
their horizons and changed their outlook forever. As women mixed with other
classes social barriers were eroded and the relaxed dress rules meant that they
all began to look similar.
The effect of war on
fashion styles was that military braiding, belts
with buckles and shorter skirts were seen everywhere. Fashion history shows that
clothes got shorter during
the First World War out of practical necessity.
Right - Sketches of a restrictive hobble dress and
the slightly later more liberating double skirted
mid calf dress of 1916.
In 1915 the hemline rose
dramatically to mid calf, a height never before reached. Waistlines were still
quite high following the Directoire style. But the double layered skirts as if
to compensate for the length had a fuller top skirt often like a mini crinoline,
worn over a slimmer under skirt also made of the top skirt fabric. Such garments
were often fur trimmed.
Bright colours faded from sight and only sober colours were
worn as the war dragged on. Everyone was affected by the death of a loved one
and so subdued dresses were simply a matter of good taste showing patriotism. By
1918 the fuller top skirt had gone and the calf length long skirt remained.
Many women gave up domestic service work and worked. They
drove trams and collected the fares, did administrative tasks, lamp lighting,
postal work, worked as chimney sweeps and nursed. Women did farm work working as Land
Girls. They also served in the WAAC, the Navy, the Red Cross and the Police
began admitting women. Left - War poster.
By 1917 over 700,000 women were employed to make munitions,
wearing a working uniform of blouse and peg top trousers accessorised by scarves
and fashion items. As a recognition of their efforts it was later replaced by a
uniform of khaki overalls and caps.
When the war ended the same women simply did not want to
return to being maids for other people. They had gained a new freedom working
outside of homes with set hours and a comradeship and respect that they
relished. Amazingly after all their efforts only the jobs of bus conductresses
remained open to them, but the barriers were broken and soon a wider choice of
options became usual.
In 1918 an attempt was made to introduce a utility garment as
a National Standard Dress. It had no hooks and eyes but metal buckles and was
supposed to be an all purpose garment that could be a dinner gown, day gown or
nightdress. It never took off!
Lessons learned from this
were used in the 1939-45 war when women were given ration coupons, but had an
element of choice in what they wore.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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