The Designer, September, 1918

As this September, 1918 The Designer magazine was going to press, World War I was winding down in Europe.  The Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, and the Germans were looking for a way out without total surrender.  At home, though, women continued to harvest the crops and to do other important jobs that were left vacant as male workers joined the armed forces.  Many women wore pants, in the form of farm overalls or certain uniforms, for the very first time.

I’m presently reading an advance copy of a book about the clothing of WWI, Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918, written by Nina Edwards.  Much of the information in the book is about dress in Britain, though Ms. Edwards includes information about clothing in Germany and the US and in the other participating countries.  It’s about so much more than clothing, and it paints a vivid picture of the hardships both at home and in the trenches.

WWI is now 100 years in the past, and that is a very long time. People who can actually remember the conflict are pretty much gone, and as for my own experience, the shared memories of my father and his contemporaries of WWII (which had ended only ten years before I was born) greatly overshadowed any tales I might have heard from a WWI soldier.  My grandfather and great uncles were of that magic age where they were too young for WWI, but too old for WWII.

So while WWII seems so real to a Baby Boomer like me, WWI seems so very long ago.  It is important to read books like Dressed for War, because the author drew heavily from the diaries and written records of people who experienced life during that horrible conflict.  We need to remember that wars are not just dates to memorize in history class.  It is from the stories of history that we can truly learn.

Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918 is being published by  I. B. Tauris, and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is December 31, 2014.

15 Comments

Filed under Too Marvelous for Words, Viewpoint

15 responses to “The Designer, September, 1918

  1. I know I would have been more interested in “history” at school if we had ever approached it from the viewpoint of ordinary people. History was usually taught “top down” — what the kings and parliaments did — but only by reading novels did I begin to grasp the consequences of those decisions for the people near the bottom. One perpetual problem with history is not just that it is “written by the winners,” but that the illiterate and the poor rarely leave a record at all. They can’t afford to have their portraits painted or their pictures taken, and a dawn to dusk work day doesn’t leave time to write, even for those who can. Crops burned, livestock stolen, homes destroyed; war widows driven from place to place with a bundle of clothes and hungry children — it’s still happening. At least modern journalism can put them on the record.

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    • You are absolutely right(at least for me)..the H2 Channel is the closest thing to “real” history i have ever seen…i had the luck to have been born into an old family with many diverse branches-however we had one thing in common…the truth of our history-and of the wars every generation fought in and died in….i remember my first discovery playing out in the orchards-an abandoned civil war cannon-wremote places of the househouseenthome to tell about my wonderful discovery-my GGrandmother sat me down and the lessons began..we were occasionally plowing up remains of the fallen – the explaination of the charred wood in remote places when a renovation occured-and the recalled story of the suffering of humans and animals…the WW1 stories paled..they simply did not come home-as you say.widows with children and hard work to stay alive..thank you for your comment-i wonder how many women were thinking fashion in 1918..that conversation never came up-

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      • I think Southerners especially have held onto their stories of the Civil War, not just because the South lost, but because the misery extended to families who were living in areas where fighting was happening. Even here in the high Appalachians where very little fighting occurred, there are plenty of stories about raiders and sons being hidden and families starving. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was based on many of these stories.

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  2. Danette

    So grateful for the people documenting these important details of our past! Thank you!

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  3. So agree – didn’t have much history in school, and only 1 semester of world history (even then I knew that was horrible), which I’ve been trying to rectify ever since. Was so delighted when the Internet sprang into being, and couldn’t wait for it to really blossom. It’s so much easier now to find answers for my curiosities & ‘I wonders…’ You’ve been tremendous help, Lizzie!
    del

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  4. The 4th of August 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the day Britain entered WWI. There have been many events held in the UK over the past year which have remembered those who gave their lives in one of the most horrific conflicts in history. One of the most poignant is from The Telegraph in which ‘ordinary’ people shared their family stories and memories. Take a look here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/10273760/your-memories.html

    It’s hard to believe that 100 years after WWI began, the human race is still fighting and killing each other. Have we learned nothing? It’s difficult to comprehend, although my basic instinct remains hopeful that the majority of people on this planet are decent and good.

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  5. It’s fascinating and saddening how relatively quickly family history can be lost. One hundred years isn’t a terribly long time in the grand scheme of things (or is this just me getting older? I’ll be 50 next year…) but, as you say, Lizzie, World War 1 is now beyond living memory. For those of us whose parents died a little prematurely (both my parents and my husband’s parents have been gone for a while), so much family history has frustratingly disappeared with them. I hope that this comment will stand as a reminder to your readers, Lizzie, that a family can ‘forget’ its past alarmingly fast, and I’d urge anyone with memories or family stories to write them down now. Otherwise they might be lost forever.

    My 14-year-old son set out early yesterday morning on a school history trip to visit some of the World War 1 battlefields. In preparation for the tour, we were asked to dig through family photos and histories for names and faces of WW1 soldiers who’d fought in France. I began my quest a little heavy-hearted as I assumed I’d draw a complete blank. I knew that one of my husband’s grandparents was too young to have been a soldier, another fought in Egypt. And, as an American myself, I didn’t think that my own family had been involved. However, when I rifled through the family papers carefully kept by my late mother, I discovered that one of my grandfathers had been part of the American Expeditionary Forces (a ‘doughboy’) and crossed the Atlantic with some four million peers to help towards the end of what they called the Great War. Happily, he made it home and started a family within the next decade (and my father appeared in due course). I didn’t know this grandparent at all (he died before I was born) but, remarkably, his service paperwork survives, offering a very few tantalising details and dates. I don’t, however, have any photos.

    Please treasure all those fragments, memories and stories, lest we forget. Jot the old stories down, however briefly. Even if they have been adjusted in the telling, and are not all entirely factually correct, those memories are wonderful to have. Record the names of people in those old family photos (preferably in fairly soft pencil on the reverse) because however familiar those faces might be to you, the next generation could well be mystified. It’s such a pity to lose threads of connection with those who have gone before us, particularly their involvement in such momentous world events – not least because, as George Santayana famously pointed out, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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  6. In my view, the very best fashion history uses information from people’s real lives. You can learn so much more about the clothes! And the reason it is so rare is that it is a lot of work. This sounds like a treasure.

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    • One of the most interesting sources this author used was the diary of a teen girl in Germany. She wrote detailed descriptions of what she and her brothers wore, how they obtained clothing during the war, and other great details.

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  7. This is one of those wonderful cases where the reader comments add so much to the original post. My thanks to all for the thoughtful comments.

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  8. Christina

    The way history is taught in schools in many countries today is so much more engaging and inter-active and I am really optimistic that future generations will not lose a connection to the past.

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    • Christina, I do hope you are right. From my own experience as an elementary school teacher, I know that I wanted history to come alive for my students. So much better than just sitting and reading the lesson from a (boring) book.

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