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.
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.
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.
This blouse was made from an old evening dress:
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.
” ‘ 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.”
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.
When you ran out of old clothes, you could start on the curtains:
This young woman told a story of embarrassment solved by an ingenious remodel:
” ‘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.
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.
Thanks to B. Murray for the opportunity to photograph this suit.
9 responses to “New Clothes from Old, World War I”
And isn’t this what women have always done with old clothes. Those hipster upcyclers aren’t on to anything new!
In the sixties we made lounging robes out of (new) beachtowels, and I had a couple of skirts salvaged from beautiful old wool suits. . . .
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!
Lovely detail on the suit. Would love to see a photo of the entire suit.
I’m planning to show more pictures of it — they were taken in a hurry and scarcely do it justice. Thanks for the nudge.
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