It is thought that fashion did not immediately change in the months following the outbreak of the war, but gradually evolved in the subsequent years. Some fashions, such as smaller hats and less structured clothing, predated August 1914, but these trends continued as the war wore on. The combined impacts of lower consumer spending, reduced availability of higher quality fabrics and a growing need for clothing that allowed a freedom of movement for women to work shaped the fashions following 1915. James Laver states that evening dresses, ‘owing to war conditions, suffered something of an eclipse’.(1) C. Willett Cunnington’s observation that by 1916 women’s clothing was sober, ‘even sombre’, precedes the rise in 1917 of women working and needing appropriate clothing for that activity.(2) If we look at the Bradleys 1916 summer catalogue, there are few evening gowns, especially in comparison to coats and suits. We see ‘useful gowns’ and ‘sports coats’ in Bradleys spring 1917 catalogue, but just three tea gowns and no evening gowns. The skirts in Dickins & Jones Advance Spring catalogue are inches above ankles, a more practical length for movement. John Barnes Autumn and Winter catalogue gives evidence of Penelope Byrde’s description of the preference for ‘the practical tailor-made suit with loosely belted jacket and walking skirt’.(3) These select catalogues from 1916 and 1917 illustrate well the effect of the First World War on women’s clothing, providing visual evidence of the war’s impact on materials, the roles of women and fashion itself. 1 James Laver, Costume (London: Cassell, 1963), p. 117. 2 C. Willett Cunnington, English Women’s Clothing in the Present Century (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), p. 126. 3 Penelope Byrde, A Visual History of Costume: the Twentieth Century (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1992), p. 11. Project authors
This online exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Institute of Historical Research's IHR Digital Department and Senate House Library, and has been produced thanks to contributions from Angela Craft, Dr Richard Espley, Dave Jackson, Dr Jordan Landes, Danny Millum and Professor Jane Winters. The funding for the digitisation of the catalogues was kindly provided by the American Friends of the IHR. Please do get in touch with with any questions or feedback. Project sources
Fashion catalogues from Bradley's (3 items), Dickins & Jones (2 items) and Peter Robinson's (1 item) in the West End of London and John Barnes in Hampstead (1 item), SHL Special Collections [Playne 489].
McDonalds Ltd. catalogue, University of Glasgow Archive Services, McDonald’s Ltd. collection, GB0248 FRAS 99/10.
Penelope Byrde, A Visual History of Costume: the Twentieth Century (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1992).
C. Willett Cunnington, English Women’s Clothing in the Present Century (London: Faber and Faber, 1952).
James Laver, Costume (London: Cassell, 1963).
C. E. Playne, The Neuroses of the Nations (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1925).
———, The Pre-War Mind in Britain : an Historical Review (London: Allen and Unwin, 1928).
———, Society at War : 1914–916 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1931).
———, Britain Holds On: 1917, 1918 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1933).
John Lewis Memory Store [18 May 2015].
T. F. T. Baker, Diane K. Bolton and Patricia E. C. Croot, ‘Hampstead: Frognal and the Central Demesne’, in A History of the County of Middlesex, 9: Hampstead, Paddington, ed. C. R. Elrington (London, 1989), pp. 33–42 [accessed 16 May 2015].
‘John Barnes (department store)’ [accessed 18 May 2015].
‘St. John’s Court Flats – Finchley Road, Greater London, UK’ [accessed 18 May 2015].
Historic England [accessed 18 May 2015].
Peter Robinson (department store) [accessed 18 May 2015].
About the project
by Dr Jordan Landes, Research Librarian, Senate House Library