14-18 NOW WW1 Centenary Art Commissions

Manchester Art Gallery

Historic Dress

Pre and post-war fashion

The commissions presented in Fashion & Freedom were inspired in part by fashions before, during and after the First World War. Although many factors led to changes in fashionable dress during this period, the war accelerated the course of fashion history.

Edwardian fashion can be seen as the culmination of decades of increasing stylisation and elaboration during the 19th century. Social conventions relating to dress were deeply complicated, dictating different garments for afternoon visiting, dinner, and evening; or for marriage and mourning.

After the First World War, changes to women’s dress accelerated. This was due to developments including women joining the workforce in larger numbers, as well as to shifting social structures. Although the changes were not absolute, women’s new freedoms were reflected in fashion. After the war, a more natural silhouette, that prioritised function over form, dominated.

Evening dress
1910–12

Silk satin and silk net with embroidery

The costume is typical of Edwardian evening wear, with a bottle green silk satin under-dress, entirely covered by a black net overdress, lavishly embroidered with gold thread and black beading. Unlabelled, the dress was almost certainly produced by a high-end dressmaker.

Evening dress 1910-12. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1940.456
Evening dress 1910-12. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1940.456
Evening dress 1910-12. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1940.456

Afternoon dress
1907–9

Shot silk, plain silk and silk net

Gaston Worth (1856–1926) was one of the two sons of Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman who set up his atelier in Paris and is celebrated as fashion’s first couturier. Gaston carried on the running of House of Worth after their father’s death in 1895. This striking dress shows not only complex construction and layering, but also multi-facetted allusions to masculine costume and to 18th century revivalism in dress. This dress was owned by Ada Annie Nunn, the wife of a brewing heir – and an early motorcar enthusiast. Highly elaborate and aristocratic, this visiting costume requires a stretch of the imagination to be seen as practical daywear today.

Collection Manchester City Galleries 1947.4254

G Worth, Paris, Afternoon dress 1907-9
Collection Manchester City Galleries 1947.4254
G. Worth, Paris, Afternoon dress 1907-9
Collection Manchester City Galleries 1940.456
G. Worth, Paris, Afternoon dress 1907-9
Collection Manchester City Galleries 1940.456

Evening Dress
1923–4

Silk crepe, fully beaded

Dresses in the 1920s often had uncomplicated shaping which contrasted dramatically with pre-war fashion. This evening dress is entirely covered in decorative beading and is a typical ‘flapper’ dance dress, which would have shimmered in nightime lighting and in movement. The simple tubular shape presents the body as a canvas for decoration, and the design imitates Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923, ‘Egyptomania’ spread and influenced contemporary design tastes. Egyptian decorative and figurative motifs appeared widely on textiles and accessories, and the silhouettes of ancient dress were re-created for the modern wardrobe.

Collection Manchester City Galleries 1956.323

Evening dress 1923-4. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1956.323
Evening dress 1923-4. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1956.323
Evening dress 1923-4. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1956.323

Day dress
1927

Silk

By the middle of the 1920s, the androgynous silhouette had triumphed. Day and evening dresses were cut in simple shapes without emphasis on the natural waist and de-emphasizing the bust. Hemlines shortened throughout the early 1920s, reaching the knee in 1926. This dress, in green and cream striped Macclesfield silk, belonged to Miss Finch-Dawson from Penrith, Cumbria, and was first worn to attend the Hendon Air Show in 1927.

Collection Manchester City Galleries 1968.187

Day dress 1927.
Collection Manchester City Galleries 1968.187
Day dress 1927. Collection Manchester City Galleries 1968.187

Women’s Royal Naval Service uniform
1918

Wool twill

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was founded in 1917 and by the end of the First World War, had over 5,000 members. This uniform was worn by Sybil Aspinall, who joined the WRNS in October 1918 and served for a year, finishing as a Deputy Principal. The WRNS was disbanded in 1919, but then revived in 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War. Other women’s uniforms from the First World War represented in the collection include a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps uniform, Land Army uniform and a Red Cross Society uniform.

Collection Manchester City Galleries 1947.2535

Simpson & Suter, London, Women's Royal Naval Service uniform 1918
Simpson & Suter, London, Women's Royal Naval Service uniform 1918
Collection Manchester City Galleries 1947.2535

Undergarments

Undergarments

The fashions for women before and after the First World War required very different undergarments. The two examples below exemplify the extremes and illustrate the types of underpinnings worn with the fashions of the period.

Corselette 1928. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection

Jenyns’ corset
1911

Cotton; strapping and lacing

This statuesque Jenyns’ corset was patented and manufactured in Australia in 1911. Its promotional booklet describes it as ‘the reducing and supporting’ corset, with elaborate, pseudo-medical instructions for ‘application’. The figure is moulded ‘into fashionable lines’ by the upper corset and by a novel hip-cinching belt. Mrs E R Jenyns, who patented this design, described herself as a ‘Ladies Surgical Instrument Maker’ and assured women that wearing her corset would not injure their health in spite of tight lacing and strapping. This corset was relatively expensive, retailing for 19 shillings and 6 pence and was aimed at the fashionable market.

Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection

Jenyns' corset 1911. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection
Jenyns' corset 1911. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection

Corselette
1928

Figured rayon, crepe de chine and elastic

This ‘corset’ differs very dramatically from its Edwardian counterpart. The lightly boned corselette incorporates elastic side panels to provide some support for a figure used to more considerable corsetry, whilst combining it as a garment with crepe de chine cami-knickers. There are four adjustable suspenders in frilled elastic. Far more underwear than armour, it suggests emancipation from Edwardian restraint and confinement.

Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection

Corselette 1928. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection
Corselette 1928. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council Museum Services, Symington Collection
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