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Lucy Adlington

11 Fashion Trends of World War I

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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.

1. ZEPPELIN FASHION

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.

2. WOMEN IN BREECHES

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.

3. RADIOACTIVE HAIR

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.

4. WAR CRINOLINE

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.

5. CORSET CONTROL

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.

6. COUTURE SURVIVES THE WAR

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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.

7. FEMALE SERGEANT-MAJOR

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."

8. BEST FACE FORWARD

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.

9. BELLES OF THE (SOCCER) BALL

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.

10. DEATH KNELL FOR MOURNING

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.

11. AN INTERESTING CONDITION


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.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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iStock

From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Natasha Zinko
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This Just In
This Jeans-Inside-Your-Jeans Look Will Cost You $695
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Natasha Zinko

Besides a few updates here and there, the classic style of denim blue jeans hasn’t changed much since the late 19th century. Now, a London-based fashion designer wants to disrupt the wardrobe staple. Their revolutionary new idea? A second waistband sewed on top of the first one.

According to Mashable, these high-waisted double jeans from Natasha Zinko are retailing for $695. Wearing the pants makes it look like you forgot you already had jeans on and put on a second pair on top of them. But buying two pairs of designer jeans to wear at once would probably be less expensive than owning this item. The double jeans are actually one garment, with the high-waisted inner pair stopping at the hips. Boasting seven pockets, they’re not entirely impractical, but having to undo two sets of buttons and zippers sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

Model wearing double jeans.
Natasha Zinko
There is a market for high-end blue jeans disguised as fashion crimes, as Nordstrom proved earlier this year with their $425 pants covered in fake dirt. The Natasha Zinko double jeans have already sold out on shopbop.com.

[h/t Mashable]

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