It was called, with some hope, “the war to end all wars.” Not a chance. But as often happens when the world is otherwise engaged and men are at the front, W.W. I allowed women into public life and the workforce—which meant a radical change in the way they dressed. Gone the stilted corseting of the Edwardians. Functional clothes were crucial for women driving ambulances, nursing on the front lines, running the family business. The exhibition “French Fashion, Women, and the First World War” zeroes in on these improvised wartime uniforms, on society’s mixed messages regarding home-front fashion—be elegant but not frivolous—and also, for the first time, on how Paris couture adjusted to the war’s new realities.
“There was hardly any information on what happened to the fashion industry between 1914 and 1918,” says Maude Bass-Krueger, who co-curated the show with Sophie Kurkdjian. “And yet fashion underwent tremendous changes between 1910 and 1920. Many books simply stated that the fashion industry ground to a halt” during the war, “but the fashion industry was in fact robust, and the war was a catalyst for transformations.”