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In Pictures: How World War I Revolutionized Women's Fashion

CEO Tinh Phung
Six women in skirt suits posing outside, May 15, 19__, silver gelatin print. Courtesy: Association Pour l'Histoire de la Mode World War I is often associated with images of battlefields and the horrors of war....

In Pictures: How World War I Changed Women's Fashion

Six women in skirt suits posing outside, May 15, 19__, silver gelatin print. Courtesy: Association Pour l'Histoire de la Mode

World War I is often associated with images of battlefields and the horrors of war. However, there is another side to the story, one that showcases the impact of the Great War on women's fashion. The Bard Graduate Center's exhibition, 'French Fashion, Women, and The First World War,' explores the fascinating intersection of fashion and gender in France from 1914 to 1918.

A Moment of Sartorial Revolution

L'Emancipation feminine

Chas Laborde (Charles Laborde), 'L'Emancipation feminine', in Le Rire Rouge, 1918, lithograph. Courtesy: Association Pour l'Histoire de la Mode

While fashion and warfare may seem unrelated, this exhibition reveals how women's fashion played a critical role in sustaining the French economy during World War I. French designers, many of whom were women themselves, kept the country afloat by manufacturing shorter, simplified evening dresses for export. They employed propaganda that linked supporting Paris fashion houses to providing military aid. Even a flared petticoat became a "war crinoline." Furthermore, women took on traditionally masculine roles in industries and public services, requiring comfortable clothing that pushed the boundaries of traditional gender norms.

From Frivolous to Functional

Model wearing the 'Déesse' dress by Callot Sœurs

Philippe Ortiz, model wearing the 'Déesse' dress by Callot Sœurs, shown at the 'Fête Parisienne' in New York, 1915, silver gelatin print. Courtesy: Diktats bookstore

In just four years, women's fashion underwent a dramatic transformation. The restrictive and extravagant designs of the prewar era, such as the infamous "hobble skirt," were replaced by narrow mid-length dresses that are now associated with flappers or garçonnes. Fashion became more functional, reflecting the changing roles and freedoms of women during this time.

A Step Towards Women's Rights

La Baïonnette

Paul Iribe, La Baïonnette, 1917, lithograph. Courtesy: Association Pour l'Histoire de la Mode

While women's fashion was liberated, political emancipation for women in France didn't occur until the 1940s. Nevertheless, World War I marked an important milestone in the journey towards women's rights. The war propelled a significant number of women into the workforce, allowing them to explore new forms of self-expression and challenge societal norms.

US Military nurse's uniform

Belle Jardinière, US Military nurse's uniform, c.1916, wool twill. Courtesy: © The Museum at FIT, Gift of Margaret Lawson

'French Fashion, Women, & The First World War' exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City offers a captivating glimpse into this transformative period of history. It showcases the resilience and creativity of French women, who not only shaped fashion but played a crucial role in their country's survival during the war. Don't miss the opportunity to experience this unique exploration of how World War I revolutionized women's fashion. The exhibition will be open until January 5, 2020.

Vive la France

Georges Lepape, Vive la France, 1917, lithograph, pochoir coloration. Courtesy: Diktats bookstore

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