Dressmaker and Costume Historian
First World War Summer Dress
June 13, 2014
This year is certainly proving to be packed full of interesting projects! June continued the trend with a commission for a World War One era dress for Cherie Lawrence, a singer who performs songs from the period.
The brief was simple. It needed to be made from a fabric that is washable and light – it can get hot on stage! Plus it she needed to be able to get ready unaided, so a front fastening was a must. This dress is going to be worn for events throughout the four years of the centenary of the First World War, so it needed to be in a style that would be appropriate through the whole period.
By coincidence there was the perfect example of such a dress in The History Wardrobe collection, dated to 1915/16, which I could use as a template (dress to the right in picture above).
It was the ideal dress to replicate as it was made of a light cotton muslin, so a modern variation could be easily found, plus it was designed around a front fastening of hooks and eyes and press studs so the client could dress herself. A big advantage to copying the original dress was that it was an ideal style to compliment the client’s body shape. This wasn’t part of the brief, but it was a real bonus that Cherie liked the fashions from the mid-war period and could feel confident in the dress.
Decoration features on the dress included a deep sailor collar, pom-poms hanging down from the neckline and a dagged edging to the collar and cuffs. The was made separately and sandwiched between the layers of material.
Fashions during middle years of the First World War featured wide skirts using a lot of material. The original dress featured a wide skirt, with the shorter hem length expected from the period, but also a secondary frill reaching the waist. This is a feature that gives the impression of a wider skirt and a second layer, without the original owner having the expense of an extra layer of material. Though the client could have chosen to go for a full secondary layer we decided to proceed with copying the original dress as it meant she could be confident with its level of authenticity.
We decided to keep the dress white, not only to copy the original, but also because it was a popular colour during the war. It meant the dress was easily washable and could even be bleached should it get stained and if necessary, could even be dyed at a later date.
This was a fantastic project to be involved with and a great practical, budget-friendly alternative to the tailored suits and uniforms of the period. To see the dress in action see where Cherie is performing next here.