Around 1915, hemlines rose to mid-calf, allowing more freedom of movement, showing off boots and shoes and a well-darned stocking! The number of items of underwear decreased. No longer were layers of petticoats worn, but the corset remained. By 1918, the hemline fell back to below the calf and skirts became narrower.
In wartime, clothes had to become more practical. For the first time, women now took on men’s roles in the workplace in heavy industries such as mining, munitions, engineering and farming, and also on the railways and road transport. The uniforms for these jobs were masculine in nature, with trousers being worn as necessity for modesty and safety. Many disliked the trousers being hot to work in and made of bulky material. Trousers were first worn by women in the 1860s by pit brow workers.
Women working in munitions would not be allowed to wear any kind of jewellery, hair pins or even corsets, owing to the metal fastenings which could lead to ignition of the explosives. The chemicals they were working with caused their skin and hair to turn yellow, and as a result they became known as the Canary Girls.
Women who took on roles as tram drivers, post girls, etc. would have a men’s style jacket worn over a skirt.
The nurses’ uniform is probably the most recognisable. The skirt was shorter to avoid tripping or dragging through dirt. White cotton dresses was preferred for cleanliness, with an apron that would be quickly exchanged when soiled and could be bleached to remove stains for sanitation. Different coloured head-wear denoted different ranks.
The upper-classes would have had their clothes tailored. The majority would have shopped, as off-the-peg was now commonplace. Poorer families would have made their own clothes, as most homes owned a sewing machine and would have recycled used clothing to fit.
Even at the height of the war, there seemed to be no change in shopping habits. Advertisements in the local papers carried on much as they always had, with the January Sales, special promotions, and new stock arrivals.
The Birth of an Icon
Thomas Burberry developed his new raincoat which was manufactured in Castleford, and was accepted by the UK War Office in 1901. The new raincoat was made of waterproof gabardine with insulated lining, it was double breasted, with storm flap and wide lapels, buttoned pockets, belted at the waist and strapped at the wrist, being khaki or beige in colour. It was named the trenchcoat and originally developed for Officers. It was not issued to lower ranks.
The trenchcoat was popular, and after the war the coat remained in circulation and, of course, the style of coat is still with us today.
Make-up was starting to become more acceptable (face powder, eyeliner and mascara), a demand grew for face creams especially from wealthier women who were volunteering as nurses at the front. In 1915, cosmetic firms like Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Maybelline were established in America and Gillette introduced a razor suitable for women.
Sweetheart jewellery become fashionable, keepsakes given by a soldier to his girl and regiment badges worn as brooches can often been seen in photograph of the time.
Advertisements in the local press for wedding and engagement rings start to appear as many couples got married before the groom’s call-up.
In 1917, Bell Brothers Opticians of St. Sepulchre Gate advertised the ‘New Rimless Glasses’ stating “Rimless Glasses are essentially dainty and therefore suitable to the Fair Sex”.