Lucy Adlington
Lucy Adlington

11 Fashion Trends of World War I

Lucy Adlington
Lucy Adlington

In Great War Fashion: Tales from the History Wardrobe, Lucy Adlington examines the story of women during the first World War as told by their wardrobes. The author gave us a few highlights.


Appearances still counted, even when rushing out into the street during a night-time Zeppelin bomb attack. Magazines advertised newly popular silk pajamas instead of homey cotton night-gowns (above). One London woman attached a ready-curled hair fringe to her boudoir cap to save hair-dressing time during a raid.


A war worker is proud to portrayed in trousers.

With so many men leaving industrial and agricultural employment to join the military, women had to step into the breach—and the breeches. Bifurcated garments for females were a startling innovation which some thought immodest (although women railway workers were described as "natty and workmanlike"). Society girl Vita Sackville-West loved the newfound freedom provided by breeches, while journalist Dorothy Lawrence struggled to work out how to put her new trousers on when she disguised herself as a British Tommy in order to report on front line conditions.


A fashionable padded hairstyle, before the bob became popular.

Cropped hair found favor in the war, particularly for nurses and ambulance drivers near the front line. It was easier to keep clean and free of lice. It also started the trend for bobbed and bingled hair in the 1920s. "Radium" hair tonic was also sold, (unconvincingly) claiming to contain real isotopes of radium, as used by scientist Madame Curie.


A mid-war silk afternoon dress with wide petticoats.

Wartime economizing couldn't vanquish fashion. As a reaction to austerity and anxiety, skirts widened so exuberantly that they needed layers of petticoats, Victorian-style hoops known as the kriegskrinolin, or war crinoline. Hemlines also rose to allow more freedom of movement, and to show off neat boots and well-darned stockings.


A wartime corset and cotton combinations.

Most wartime women wore corsets in normal life and for war work. Made of silk, cotton, or denim jean, they sat just under the bust and inspired designs for bust-bodices to cover the bosom, as well as the famous 1914 patent for the Caresse Crosby brassiere.


Getty Images

International couturier and Titanic survivor Lady Lucy Duff Gordon travelled to New York to promote her luxury styles—and to tell American women that economizing on fashion was unpatriotic. "After all," she said, "the men don't want to come home to frumps." In 1915, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (above) opened her second dress boutique in the South of France. She revolutionized the use of soft jersey fabric, and followed a wartime trend towards looser less-fitted clothes.


Yorkshire-born nurse Flora Sandes was the only woman officially to join an Allied army in combat. Highly decorated and respected, she rose to the rank of Sergeant-Major in the Serbian Army—wearing full male uniform. A Royal princess saw Sandes presented to Queen Mary and sighed, "I wish I could wear clothes like that."


Actress Gaby Deslys was said to have the perfect peaches-and-cream complexion.

Cosmetic pioneers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden both opened beauty salons in New York in 1915. Rubinstein's marketing campaign in 1918 issues of Vogue promoted her products as antidotes to the wrinkles and gloom caused by wartime struggles.


The first team photograph of the Dick, Kerr's Ladies soccer team in 1917.

Soccer was the most popular women's sport of the war in Britain. Munition workers raised huge sums of money for hospital charities, playing to packed-out stadiums. The most famous team were the Dick, Kerr's Ladies who played in shorts and jerseys like the chaps ... and without corsets. They toured North America in 1922, proving tough opponents for the top male soccer teams.


It was said that a "tide of black" swept across Europe as the death toll mounted.

Full, traditional 19th-century-style mourning—requiring unremitting black and social exclusion—was impractical and depressing in wartime. Instead, everyday clothes were dyed black and black armbands were sold by city street vendors. Very few women wore widow's caps of black crape with sheer silk veils. Courtauld's, leading manufacturers of mourning crape, turned their attention to buying up patents for modern manmade fabrics such as rayon.


Maternity clothes made little concession to a changing body shape.

War enouraged a break-down in chaperonage for young women and a sharp "live-for-the-moment" ethos. Inevitably, maternity clothes were required. These were usually homemade smocks, worn over pregnancy corsets to support the bump. One young mother was too modest to tell her husband serving at the front that they'd had a baby daughter. Instead she wrote a discreet postcard saying, "Cushion Arrived Without Tassels."

All images courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted.

Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pop Culture
Glove Story: The Freezy Freakies Phenomenon of the 1980s
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kids who grew up in the northeast in the 1980s were pretty invested in a fad that might have gone unnoticed in warmer parts of the country. Cajoling their parents at department stores during shopping trips, hundreds of thousands of them came home sporting a pair of Freezy Freakies—thick winter gloves that came with a built-in parlor trick. When the temperature dipped below 40°F, an image would suddenly appear on the back part of the material.

Swany America Corporation, which made, marketed, and distributed the gloves, released more than 30 original designs beginning in 1980. There was a robot, a unicorn, rocket ships, ballerinas, rainbows, snowflakes, and various sports themes, though the “I Love Snow” image (below) may have been the most popular overall. At the height of Freezy mania, Swany was moving 300,000 pairs of gloves per year, which accounted for about 20 percent of their overall sales.

A Freezy Freakies glove before and after the temperature change
Freezy Freakies

“Boys loved the robot design,” Bruce Weinberg, Swany’s vice president and a former sales director for Freezy Freakies, tells Mental Floss. “Above 40 degrees, the image would disappear.”

The secret to the $13 Freakies was thermochromic ink, a temperature-sensitive dye that's been used in mood rings and heat-sensitive food labels and can appear translucent until it's exposed to warmer temperatures. Swany licensed the ink from Pilot, the Japanese-based pen company, after Swany CEO Etsuo Miyoshi saw the technology and thought it would be a good fit for his glove-focused operation. (Though they experimented with making luggage in the 1990s, Swany has predominantly been a manufacturer of higher-end ski gloves.)

Weinberg isn’t sure how Miyoshi settled on the “Freezy Freakies” name—the president is now retired—but says Miyoshi knew they had a hit early on. “After a few seasons, they could tell they had a winner product,” he says. Swany even put advertising dollars into TV commercials, a rare strategy for glove-makers not named Isotoner.

Pilot was able to adjust the temperature at which the ink would become transparent, or vice versa. If kids were impatient, or if it happened to be during the summer, Weinberg says it wasn’t uncommon to find Freezy Freakies stuck in the freezer so they could materialize their art design. “At trade shows, we’d do something similar with some ice or a cold soda,” he says. “All of a sudden, some ice cubes would make it change, and buyers would think that was really cool.”

The Freakies were such a hit that Swany licensed jackets and considered changing the name of the company to the same name as the glove. It’s probably just as well they didn’t: While Freakies lasted well over a decade, by the 1990s, things had cooled. In the new millennium, Swany was down to selling just a few hundred pairs a year. Color-changing ink for coffee mugs or beer cans was more pervasive, wearing down the novelty; knock-offs had also grabbed licensed cartoon characters, which Swany was never interested in pursuing.

The brand was dormant when a company named Buffoonery approached Swany in 2013 to license Freezy Freakies for a crowdfunded revival. This time, the gloves came in adult sizes for $34. The partnership has been successful, and Weinberg says Buffoonery has just signed an extension to start producing kids’ gloves.

“Parents will probably want matching ones for their kids,” Weinberg says. And both might still wind up in the freezer.

Live Smarter
The Very Disgusting Reason You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them

It’s sometimes assumed that clothing with a price tag still dangling from the sleeve can skip an initial wash. Someone else may have tried it on, sure, but they didn’t run a marathon in it. Why not just throw it in the closet as soon as you get home?

One big reason: lice. As The Independent reports, Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC's Today show recently that clothing fresh off store racks can harbor infestations of lice, scabies, or fungus.

You might be familiar with head lice as the dreaded insects that occupy the scalp and give school health monitors cause for concern. Head lice can be transmitted via clothing and other fabrics, and anyone who tried on a shirt or dress before you did can be a carrier. While they only live for one or two days without a blood meal, that’s still enough time to cause problems if something is being tried on frequently.

Scabies is far more insidious. The mites are too small to see, but the allergic reaction they cause by burrowing into your skin to lay eggs will be obvious.

Both scabies and lice can be treated with topical solutions, but it’s better to kill them by washing new clothes in hot water. A good soak can also get rid of formaldehyde, a common chemical used in fabrics to help ward off mold in case stock gets wet in transit. Formaldehyde can cause allergic skin reactions. For all of these reasons, it’s best to hit the washing machine before those new pants ever hit your hanger.

[h/t Independent]


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