One of the popular posts on my previous blog – One Writer’s Voice – is a post about WWI fashion. Many of the sites referred to below have helped me write the small details that add to a novel’s authenticity.
Lies Told in Silence, which is currently in the hands of my agent, is set in WWI France with characters representing three generations. Matters of fashion were important considerations in numerous scenes and I found it fascinating to see the changes in women’s clothing that occurred in that time period.
Helene Noisette, the main character, is fifteen when the novel begins in 1913, Lise is her mother and Mariele her grandmother.
According to www.fashion-era.com , the French called the era from 1895 to 1914 La Belle Époque, a time “of beautiful clothes and the peak of luxury living for a select few – the very rich and the very privileged through birth”.
Monica Fusich created a special collection for the Henry Madden Library at California State University. She has the following comments about styles in 1898:
The large sleeves have deflated to small puffs on the shoulder, with the rest of the sleeve being fitter. Hair is worn in the ‘Gibson Girl’ style, puffed around the face and pulled into a pompadour.
I like to imagine that Mariele – the grandmother – would have worn clothes such as these and might feel conflicted about new fashions of the early 1900′s and beyond.
Styles changed from the S-curve of the turn of the century to straighter, simpler lines and as WWI began skirt lengths rose to six or eight inches above the ground, simpler styles took over, bras were introduced and women even began to wear pants. It seems to me that Lise would be open to these simpler styles.
While the suffragette movement had considerable influence, many of these changes came about because women took over jobs previously done by men. A site called Fashion of the Ages has an interesting article about changes to women’s clothing.
During the war, a dye shortage and fabric shortages encouraged a certain utilitarian drabness in dress, but the most noticeable change engendered by the war was a relaxation of the formal rules of attire which had bound men and women’s dress since early in the Victorian era. Not only did women’s hemlines rise to mid-calf length, but more exciting yet, women wore these shorter styles with sexy heeled shoes and flesh toned silk stockings, not high button boots.
Helene, the youngest of the three women, is a teenager when the story opens and eager to try new styles. As war unfolds, she takes on adult responsibilities including duties that men would normally handle. This character even adopts men’s trousers as both a practical and comfortable style of dress.
In my travels I have found other websites with WWI photos and fashion information.
Victoriana Magazine http://www.victoriana.com/edwardianfashions/
The Costumer’s Manifesto http://www.costumes.org/History/100pages/1910links.htm
From the search engine Bing a collection of WWI photos http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=WWI+France+women+pictures&FORM=IGRE#
From ww1photos.com, a section on the homefront illustrates women’s fashion, particularly through images of the kind of work women did during the warhttp://www.ww1photos.com/TheHomefront.html