Tag Archives: fashion first world war

“Original and Becoming” Work Clothes, 1917

Work clothes for women suggested by Ladies Home Journal, Sept. 1917

Some work clothes for women suggested by Ladies’ Home Journal, Sept. 1917. Illus. signed Sheldon.

This article suggests seven different work outfits suitable for American women in wartime. One of them, surprisingly, is a dress with a divided skirt — what would later be called a culotte skirt. Sadly, although the Ladies’ Home Journal sold its own mail order patterns, none of these outfits has a pattern number. The article is “editorial,” suggesting that outfits which would have been rather shocking a few months earlier may now be “safely” worn on the streets and in the stores of an America at war. I’ll show an overview first, and then describe each outfit with its accompanying text. Except where noted, all illustrations are from the same Ladies’ Home Journal article, dated September 1917. 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr 5001917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants btm text 500

Women in Trousers, 1917

Women were already wearing bloomers for gym classes and jodhpurs or riding breeches when on horseback. In July of 1917, a rival fashion magazine, Delineator, had suggested that a sort of trouser outfit might be worn for housework:

Butteric pattern No. 9294 for a smock dress over bloomers. Delineator, July 1917.

Butterick pattern No. 9294 for a smock dress over bloomers. House-dress No. 9288 is on the right. Delineator, July 1917.

“For the home-reserve corps comes this new costume (design 9294) suited to the woman who wants to go on active service — either at home, out camping, or for gardening.” The house-dress next to it shows a typical hem length for women. As skirts became shorter, they were usually worn with opaque stockings or boots.

The bloomer outfit above, with gathered cuffs, is a close relative of women’s pajamas like these, also from 1917 :

Butterick pajama pattern No. 9400, Sept 1917. Delineator magazine.

Butterick pajama pattern No. 9400, Sept 1917. Delineator magazine.

The Ladies’ Home Journal Suggests Some Trouser Outfits for 1917

“Even the most inveterate feminine ‘slacker’ will be lured into laborious occupations if such fascinating uniforms as these are to be worn.” [After World War I began in August, 1914, women in Europe began filling traditionally male occupations in order to free men for military service. “Land girls” worked on farms; women became train and street car conductors, munitions workers, heavy equipment operators, etc.]

1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants top left breeches“[These] trig knee-buttoned trousers …, worn with a laced skirted blouse, tam and laced high boots, were designed for an ardent motorist. Surely even the most stubborn opposition could be overcome at sight of these!” For an official Red Cross Motor Corps Woman’s Uniform, click here.1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants top right“It may be that the fair farm maid . . . has paused dissatisfied with her work, but surely no doubt could lurk in her mind as to the fitness of her well-made olive-drab khaki suit. Side fullness given by plaits [pleats] begins at the underarm and ends at the hem.” lhj 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr rake“[Above] One may rake, pile, and burn autumn leaves  in the serene consciousness that no flickering flame will catch on the strapped leggings worn with [this] pocketed bloomer suit. . . .” 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr“Indoors expediency demands simplified dressing, and the adoption of such an attractive combination — apron, blouse, divided skirt — as shown above . . . made of ticking, may do much to encourage women to take up their housework seriously.” [Note the unusual “divided skirt!” In 1917, the word apron could refer to a garment we would now call a dress.] 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants btm left shopping“When marketing is part of the day’s routine, a long tucked smock of khaki with wide-bottom trousers… makes a work outfit one could safely venture out in.” [Think about what is implied by “safely.” The government encouraged women to collect their own groceries rather than having them delivered, freeing the deliverymen for active service.] lhj 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm pants ctr right“Strapped leggings, a high buttoned collar, hip pockets and wrist straps effectively suppress any loophole which may hint of feminine softness in [this] public service uniform.” Oh, really ? Her pose makes me wonder exactly what public service she is performing! For official Red Cross service uniforms, click here. 1917 sept p 89 work clothes farm btm rt outfit“Indoors or out, one could find many reasons why and times when just such a quaint smock and short skirt as [these] could be worn.”  I don’t know what the editors of Ladies’ Home Journal were thinking, but the Red Cross did not allow women younger than 23 to serve coffee and doughnuts to the troops. They had their reasons. Although artistic, this leg-baring outfit might be subject to misinterpretation.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns, Women in Trousers, World War I

Golf and Corsets, 1917

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

After writing about the use of golf to promote everything from laundry soap to deodorant in September of 1924, I went to the library to finish reading the bound Delineators from 1917 and found this image of a lady in her underwear holding a putter. (I may be wrong about the golf club’s name. I’ve only played golf once, over 50 years ago.) If asked to name the least flattering period of women’s clothing, ever, I would say “World War I;”  these corsets, brassieres, and bust-confiners do nothing to dissuade me.

Corsets for Sports, 1917

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

It would be fun to make up stories about why this lady is so interested in the golf club that she has just found in her boudoir, but it’s not a clue in a murder mystery; the illustrator probably put it there to indicate that this is a corset for “sports, motoring and dancing, ” “lightly boned and made flexible with rubber gores that give and take.” The corset is shown worn over her bloomers. Judging from the two pairs of straps on her shoulders, she is wearing a corset cover over either a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Her shoes are also interesting; her stockings are held up by her corset, so these straps are not garters, but part of the lady’s boots:

Ladies' boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

Ladies’ boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

This is a lighter sports corset — on a less substantial woman —  from the same article:

A sports corset for slender women. 1917.

“The new sports corset has a very short front bone with buttons above it. The bust is very low.” 1917.

The riding crop on the bench, plus the bowler hat — assuming it belongs to the lady — suggest she is going horseback riding. “The bust is very low” indeed, even though her arms are raised.

Brassieres and Bust-Confiners, 1917

"with a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917,  p. 43.

“With a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner.” This upper garment, with gathers at the side and no boning, is a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917, p. 43.

The brassiere of 1917 created a mono-bosom, and contributed to the sagging bustline that was illustrated in fashions for young women as well as for matrons.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

The stout lady in this illustration is wearing a heavy linen brassiere with her front-lacing corset:

A brassiere and a front-lacing corset, 1917.

A brassiere worn with a front-lacing corset, 1917.

The front-lacing corset was still new. “With the present low bust the corset only takes care of the lower part of the figure. The upper part is no longer corseted by the corset but by a brassiere or bust-confiner. The new brassieres are quite lovely. For stout figures they are made of heavy linen and heavy lace in the filet and Cluny patterns. They come right to the waistline and are boned lightly but firmly. The stout woman has to wear a brassiere. . . . Slender women wear either a brassiere or bust-confiner of silk tricot, crepe de Chine, net or satin ribbon. Under the very thin Georgette crepe blouses and dresses, with only a thin silk shirt and a satin camisole between you and your dress, the bust-confiner is absolutely necessary for even the most slender and undeveloped figures.” A few years later, the brassiere and the bust-confiner had evolved into bust flatteners and bandeaux. Click here for more about early 1920s bandeaux and corsets.

From and article by , Delineator, Sep. 1917, p. 43.

From an article by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator, Sept. 1917, p. 43.

This article about underwear was titled “First Line of Defense of the Figure.” After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, military terms were constantly used by Delineator editors in fashion coverage, in a way that I find shocking today. Of course, the World War I images of horrific slaughter which we have seen were censored and suppressed at the time, so whimsical references to “manouevres,” “holding the line,” and “going over the top” were perhaps not so tasteless then. Perhaps.


Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Bras, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Shoes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes