World War I Creates Fabric Shortages, Remade Dresses; 1918

“It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.”

The Green Peace of Summer:  “It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.” Garden Smock, 1918

Many people are aware that, during World War II, such products as silk, leather, rubber, and nylon were needed for the war effort. In the 1940s, the silk was needed for parachutes. 1943 wartime ad for synthetic fabrics

Wool and Linen Needed for the War Effort, 1918

World War I apparently caused different shortages – of linen and wool. Vast numbers of silk parachutes were not yet needed; war planes were still a new idea. During the First World War, the wool was needed for uniforms, and the linen was needed for airplanes.

Two Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for their uniforms.

Two American Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for millions of uniforms.

An editorial article, “The Green Peace of Summer,” which appeared in Delineator magazine in July of 1918, contrasted the way the war was experienced in the United States with its much greater impact in Europe. It also refers to the substitution of silk dresses for wool and linen, which may explain why silk dresses for daytime were so popular in the late teens and early twenties.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

Young Woman, circa 1918

Young Woman, in silk taffeta (?) dress circa 1917

The War in Europe, Seen from America

“To-day [July, 1918] the green peace of our summer… fills us with… amazement, viewing it, as we all must do, against the somber background of the war. Over there gardens and fields and meadows are torn and gutted by giant shells…. Our world still goes about its business little changed outwardly for all the tragedy of the battle-fields abroad.

“There are many reasons why the war has not made as great and immediate a change in our lives as it has done abroad. So many of our men are left, so many even of draft age have been excused because of dependents and because of war industries, that no revolution of work and life has taken place here comparable to what has happened in England and France. Of course, we have our women street-car conductors. In every country this has been the profession that women have turned to first.

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

“… In these serious times, clothes have become a serious subject…. We study clothes as we have never studied them before…. We jump at the chance to save a bit of material by following the vogue of the sleeveless blouse and the sleeveless coat…. We [gladly] wear gingham and calico. We wear them in place of linen, knowing that there is little linen left in the world and that it is being used for new wings for our avions.” — Delineator editorial, July 1918

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Before aluminum was widely used, airplane wings were a framework covered with stiffened cloth canvas. You can see a bit of cloth-covered wing in the upper right of this photograph, taken in the early 1920s:

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921. Used with permission of RememberedSummers.

“But it is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of gingham, that the difference in price between cotton and linen means many thrift stamps and comforts for the Red Cross.

“Salvation Army Lassies Start to Carry Doughnuts and Coffee to Soldiers at the Front,” Delineator, 1918

Dresses Made of Silk Instead of Wool Serge

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

“We are enchanted with the substitution of silk and satin for our old friend serge, and the disappearance of fine woolens from the shops becomes not a hardship but an endowment policy, for whereas old clothes used to give us rather an abused feeling, we now find ourselves quite rich with an out-of-date French serge or fine gabardine that can be remodeled.”

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

A Remade Dress, First World War Era

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. 1910s to 1920s

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. Note the depth of the hem, which showed signs of soil at a previous hemline.  1910s to 1920s

This beaded dress in cinnamon brown wool is hard to date precisely, because it shows signs of having been remodeled as well as shortened. The hem was turned up several inches, which suggests that it was originally from the early 1910s.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing. Note the way the extended lapels are looped under, and the odd, wrinkled strip that fills in the top of the neckline. Of course, this mannequin does not have a period bustline to fill it out.

Some of the fabric (perhaps formerly a belt?) was used — rather crudely — to fill in the neckline, but it was hand-stitched in place with rotting thread and had to be removed.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline. Here it is partly removed.

The quality of the wool, the overall condition, and the lovely soutache and beading trim made it a prime candidate for remaking during the war years. If anyone can supply more detective work, please share! [I no longer know the whereabouts of the dress.]

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum.

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum. See side view.

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6 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, World War I

6 responses to “World War I Creates Fabric Shortages, Remade Dresses; 1918

  1. I love the combination of magazine articles, old photos, and a real dress as evidence for your piece. Impressive!

  2. I agree with Lynn; this is such a great post.

    I can’t add to your detective work because to do so one would have to have a little knowledge of clothing. Most of my WWI era dresses are cotton or silk, but I do have one wool dress. I’ll have to examine it closely to look for signs of remodeling.

  3. Pingback: College Girls Become Farmers During World War I | witness2fashion

  4. Pingback: Butterick Waist No. 9415, from 1917 | witness2fashion

  5. Pingback: German Spies Pictured in Fashion Magazine, 1918 | witness2fashion

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