World War I Brought Major Fashion Changes


Many consumers are skeptical. Many designers are anxious. And much has been written about the daring, sheer, sexy fashions for spring and summer 1997. This, however, is not the first time the designs for a new season have caused a stir. Nor will it be the last.

Eighty years ago, in 1917, the world was changing faster than in any previous era. The Revolution in Russia brought the reign of Nicholas II to an end, the United States declared war on Germany and a British solder known as Lawrence of Arabia took over command of the Arab revolt against Turkey.

Women in Britain, the United States and France entered the workforce, holding down jobs never before occupied by females.

The shortages brought on as a result of the war caused the price of most dress fabrics to skyrocket. The high cost of material, coupled with the increasingly active lives of women, resulted in drastic changes to fashion designs.

Simple, comfortable clothing without excess trim and decoration became fashionable. Whalebone and steel corsets were out, practical clothing was in.

The most popular dress of the day was a simple shift that hung from the shoulders in straight, unbroken lines to about 12 inches above the floor, exposing the ankles on a regular basis for the first time since the Greeks wore a similar style during the first century.

Because women were wearing their skirts shorter, there was new interest in shoes and stockings. The standard black high-button boots were replaced with more ornate tan or gray slippers and pumps.

Hairstyles also reflected the change in women’s roles. Long hair was out, short hair was in. This led to a decline in popularity of large elaborate hats because there was no longer anything to anchor them to. Curly hair became popular with the development of salon permanent waves.

Fashions changed for men and children, too. Functional became the key word. The standard dark business suit was adapted by most men as their daily uniform.

Children experienced new freedom because they were no longer restricted by corsets, high heels or wigs. They were finally allowed to wear clothing designed to let them run and play.

These changes may seem practical to us, but at the time, they were considered just as daring as the sheer creations we are being presented with today.

Perhaps in another 80 years our grandchildren will look back and ask, “What was all the fuss about?”


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