New Clothes from Old, World War I

Ladies' Home Journal Cover by M. Giles, September 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal Cover by M. Giles, September 1917. Her dress, with its 1860-ish pagoda sleeves, evokes the Civil War.

When the United States entered World War I, the “women’s magazines” communicated many of the new restrictions on food and fabric use to families all over the country.

“This Is What the Englishwoman Did.” Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

What the Englishwoman did was plunder her closet and convert out-of-fashion or worn-out clothing to new styles for herself and her family. She made children’s dresses from her old jackets (top left) and old petticoats (top right), put new, remade sleeves on old gowns, turned old suits into “new” dresses (center), and refurbished old hats.

Woman's Institute ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

Woman’s Institute ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nov. 1917. “This year women are urged to economize, but economy need not mean fewer clothes.” Woman’s Institute offered correspondence courses in sewing, etc.

Both Delineator (which targeted middle and upper middle class women) and Ladies’ Home Journal (which was aimed a little lower on the social scale) began runnning regular articles on how to convert old clothes to new; sometimes they even sold patterns intended to be used in this way.

Ladies' Home Journal pattern No. 9776 for boy's shirts made from worn out men's shirts. Aug. 1917.

Ladies’ Home Journal pattern No. 9776 for boy’s shirts made from worn out men’s shirts. Aug. 1917. “When a man’s shirt is perfectly good ‘all but,’ it may be made over into any one of these three garments pictured here.”

This blouse was made from an old evening dress:

How to use an old evening gown is solved by this dainty Georgette crepe waist made from the gown above.

You can see that the bands of trim from the evening gown, including ruffle, have been incorporated into the blouse. This may not be easy reading for Vintage Clothing Dealers; today, a lovely pre-war gown is more appreciated than a matronly blouse.

Dresses suitable for salvage, Ladies' Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

Dresses suitable for salvage, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

” ‘ What shall I ever do with this old-fashioned eyelet embroidery gown? ‘ Combine it with that black satin dress you spilled acid on, select an up-to-date model and you will not believe your own eyes. Here the result is shown.”

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal.

A reader of mystery novels might wonder why a woman wearing a black satin dress was handling acid . . . .

The dress below was made from an old dress and a long plaid skirt. The criss-cross belt was very fashionable in 1917.

Dress made from two old dresses, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Dress made from an old skirt and dress, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal. I’m not sure that “bite” out of the front showing an underskirt is a great idea….

When you ran out of old clothes, you could start on the curtains:

“Young girls fairly glow in fluffy things with ruffles, like this party frock made of dotted curtain mull.” Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917.

This young woman told a story of embarrassment solved by an ingenious remodel:

Remodelled coat, Sept. 1917. Ladies' Home Journal.

Remodeled coat, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal. Illustration by Sheldon.

” ‘I cannot wear this old coat another season; everyone knows it by its plainness.’ A friend suggested a new collar, cuffs, pockets and sash of a self-toned material, all coarse-stitched with a heavy floss. Anyone would be proud to wear the coat after the ‘fixing.’ “

The result is much more stylish, indeed. coat remake

I had a chance to photograph a high-quality wool suit ( probably dated 1918) with similar “coarse-stitching” in silk floss; it’s a lovely detail.

“Coarse-stitching” on the pockets, belt, and center front opening of a vintage suit with labels from Hickson (New York & Boston)and E. E. Atkinson & Co., Minneapolis.

Thanks to B. Murray for the opportunity to photograph this suit.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Woman's Institute, World War I

9 responses to “New Clothes from Old, World War I

  1. And isn’t this what women have always done with old clothes. Those hipster upcyclers aren’t on to anything new!

  2. Nancy N

    Wow, I just found your blog! What a treat to see pix of one of my favorite periods! During the depression in 1930 my newly married grandma made herself a Sunday best suit out of grandad’s old suit. She said those high waisted pleated pants had plenty of fabric for a fashionably long skirt, and somehow she was able to cut down that size 40long jacket to fit her 5′ 5″ 125 lb frame! Talk about tailoring skills! I bet the retailers groaned, tho, when they saw customers making do!
    Nancy N

  3. Christina

    Lovely detail on the suit. Would love to see a photo of the entire suit.

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