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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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