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Visitor Page 1915-1919

WW1 Fashion History

By Shay Simmons with a short comment by

Pauline Weston Thomas for




Shay's Comment and Pictures of the Fashion Era 1915-1919

The period of the late ‘teens (1915-1919) was distinguished by two very different fashion silhouettes.  At the start of the war in 1914, styles still showed a strong Edwardian influence, i.e., lacy shirtwaists and long, narrow skirts ending at the instep, but with a strong dash of Poiret thrown in.  Hobble skirts and tunic effects were popular, and the extremely dropped shoulder began to appear.


Long Narrow Skirts and Tunic Effects with Dropped Shoulder Appearing.

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1914 Slimline Narrow Suit 1914 Long Narrow Dresses with Tunic Effects with Dropped Shoulders

In the spring of 1915, however, fashion changed radically with the introduction of an outline known at the time as the 'war crinoline.' Hemlines crept upward and the skirt was now very full and bell-shaped, with wide collars and sloping shoulders.  The look was exaggeratedly feminine and bore a striking resemblance to fashions of the Victorian Romantic period of the late 1840’s (and oddly enough, a bit of the New Look 1940’s as well.  Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose).

Needlecraft Magazine Fashions 1915-1917

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Button Through Dress from Needlecraft Magazine Fashions 1915-1917 Wrap Front Dress from Needlecraft Magazine Fashions 1915-1917 Two Piece Outfit from Needlecraft Magazine Fashions 1915-1917

It was denounced in print and from the pulpit as unnecessarily wasteful at a time when patriotic citizens were being urged to conserve cloth, as well as immodest (hemlines eventually got a good eight inches from the ground).  Despite this, it was the prevailing mode as dictated by Paris, which was still the Mecca for fashion-minded women, war or no war.  It hung on for almost three years.

Narrower Fashion Line of 1918 - 1919 With Waist Still Evident

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1918 1918 1918 1919 1919
NarrowerTunic Fashion Line of 1918 Narrower Fashion Line of 1918 in Coats with Shawl Collars Dresses of 1918 with Deep Pointed Collars and V Necks Narrower Coat Fashion Line of 1918 Easy Front Button Dresses with V-Necks and Shawl Collars

By January of 1918, skirts had narrowed again, hemlines began to fall, and by 1919 the precursors of the very simple, clean, long lines of the 1920s could be seen, although waistlines were still not going to drop towards the hips for another two years.

My sources are three widely-circulated monthly needlework magazines of the era: Home Needlework,
which started in the 1890s as the house organ for the Corticelli Silk Mills company and ceased publication in April 1917 (it merged with Modern Priscilla); Modern Priscilla, which began publishing at the turn of the century and died during the Depression; and Needlecraft, which managed to hang on until WWII.

All of these were cheap (ten cents) and targeted working and middle class American women with families.  Home Needlework confined itself to the usual needle arts as well as raffia work and china painting; Needlecraft and Modern Priscilla offered genteel fiction, recipes and home decorating tips as well.

I have been lucky enough to acquire several dozen copies of these, from 1914-1925.  All of the scans I am sending you are from Needlecraft and out of copyright under US copyright law.  I hope they are of some use to you.


An Introduction to Shay by PWT

Shay is a site visitor and also an avid collector of old magazines and instruction books of the era 1914-1925.  This page began from an email conversation we had about the accuracy of a particular drawing I had on site circa 1918 and resulted in my making a new drawing to reflect more the style of the year.  Shay then offered to send me some illustrations from a copy of of dress pattern advertisements from Needlecraft 1914-1919 magazines.  Needlecraft was a widely circulated American monthly magazines of that era. 

I was delighted when she sent the pictures that she added some text of her own clearly stating the fashion silhouette of that small time frame.  This page and the simple, but representative pictures of everyday styles of fashions worn by the average American woman of the era are the result of our correspondence.

Thank you Shay.  It is quite impossible for one person to be an expert on every aspect of costume and your input will benefit many looking for illustrations and text of the time span here.  When doing essays and assignments students should always redraw such pictures in their own style.

A Note about American Differences in Fashion Styling by PWT

This site in the main is about fashion history from a British outlook and viewpoint.  However many of the site visitors are from the USA as well as from many very different parts of the globe.  It's important to point out that after 1914 fashions between continents began to show occasional differences.  Now today we are almost full circle with global communication speeding up fashion vibes worldwide, so what is worn in Chicago is equally likely to be seen in London.

Until 1914 the USA sought much of its fashion inspiration from Europe.  However when the First World War began American fashion had to change as transatlantic communications were poor.  Fashion communication and export eventually dried up in the 1914-18 war. 

Necessity meant that America sought out its own talent and a flurry of young designers emerged with new fresh and innovative designs that had style and chic that Manhattan women embraced. This was the real start of original American fashion produced on home ground and covered everything from clothes to hats.  American ideas of styling soon became a major player in the fashion stakes as Hollywood and film fashions exploded into the lives of ordinary people in the twenties and thirties.

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