Between 1910 and 1920, fashion began to loosen up. French designers
like Paul Poiret encouraged the trend after 1907 by designing womens
clothes for an uncorseted figure. Their clothes were softer in line
and followed a womans body rather than forcing the body to
conform to clothing as previous designers had done.
Within a few years women could finally throw away their corsetsunderwear
garments with long laces that were pulled until a womans body
was held in a tightly defined silhouette, then tied to keep it that
way. Needless to say, corsets could be uncomfortable. Meant to control
how a woman moved and stood, they could, if too tightly laced, restrict
her breathing, even her eating. Yet, many women found them comfortable
and women of all classes wore them to conform to the fashion of
There had been a movement since the mid-nineteenth century
to abolish corsets. By 1900, women were wearing at-home gowns, sometimes
called tea gowns, with minimal corseting and a long, slim shape.
Between 1908 and the end of the 1920s, the tubular silhouette, with
its emphasis on slimness and the natural motion of the body, remained
During the First World War (1914-1919), great changes came to couture.
Paul Poiret and other fashion designers were called into the military
and their couture houses closed. Wartime prevented commerce between
France and the United States and, although the French silk industry
remained in operation in Lyon, its clientele in the couture disappeared
into the army along with many of its weavers.
As male designers were off defending France, a young female designer
came of age. In 1915, Gabrielle Chanel was in the West of France,
out of the combat zones, producing hats and designing loose-fitting
chemise dresses with belts at the hip. By 1916, she was making casual
pleated skirts from the practical Rodier wool jersey that before
the war had been restricted to mens underwear, and topping
them with sailors sweatersin the mode of the sportswear
that had begun to appear earlier in Vogue.
In the face of wartime shortages, Chanels practical but expensive
jerseys seemed an instant modern classic, appealing to wealthy clients
because they made the rich look young and casual. By contrast, the
designs officially promoted by the French government, which considered
it essential that its fashion houses be supported throughout the
war, looked dated.
Throughout the 1910s, there was a trend in some circles toward
so-called peasant, or native-dress, motifs. Embroidery designs from
native European dress found their way onto couture gowns, as did
smocking and brightly colored fabrics. The designers of the early
twentieth century and their clients were experimenting
in the new century.
>> read on about Fashion
in the 1920s