World War One and Women's Fashion
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This week, we marked 100 years since the outbreak of World War One. The consequences continued to be felt long after the fighting ended in 1918, and had a profound impact on cultural attitudes – not least of which was a changing view of women’s roles in society following four years of warfare. Here, in honour of the centenary of WW1, we look at just some of the ways in which the effects of war on women’s lives can be traced through the fashions of the time, and even in the clothes we wear today. La Belle Époque: To get an idea of just how much the First World War changed the face of fashion, it is important to bear in mind how different things were in the years before 1914. This era, coined La Belle Époque by the French, ran from 1895 to 1914 and was a time of luxury, prosperity and an age of beautiful clothes. Corsets were still a necessity to achieve the ‘S’ silhouette in trend at the time – a narrow waist, voluptuous chest and hips exaggerated with padded undergarments – which, although considered desirable, was no friend to comfort or movement and did nothing to change ideas that women were not capable of physical ‘masculine’ tasks. Workwear for women: One of the key changes that occurred during the war was that women began to enter the workplace to take on traditionally male roles while men were away with the armed forces. Of course, the fashionably narrow skirts of previous years were simply unsuitable for manual work or popular physical activities such as motoring and tennis, and so from 1915 styles changed to include more practical cotton trousers, fuller skirts and hemlines raised about 8 inches from the ground. These shorter hemlines, although a long way from the miniskirts that would arrive in the 1960s, were considered immoral and, as essentials such as cloth and food were being rationed across the country, fuller skirts were seen as a waste of material. Nevertheless, this was the archetypal female silhouette of WW1, and representative of imminent change in how society viewed women’s roles and capabilities.
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