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French Fashion, Women, and the First World War

Start Date 05 September 2019
End Date 05 January 2020
Venue Bard Graduate Center Gallery
Location New York, USA
Curator Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjian
Exhibition with the exhibition title and graphic on a pillar.
Exhibition with plinth surrounded by glass with three mannequins displaying garments and two open books.
Exhibition with plinth surrounded by glass with a mannequin displaying a dress and photograph.
Exhibition with two walls; one turquoise wall with prints hanging and long table height glass cabinet displaying magazines and paper artefacts.
Exhibition with a plinth surrounded by glass with a mannequins displaying garments.
Exhibition with plinth surrounded by glass with two mannequins displaying garments and a bag.
Exhibition with plinth surrounded by glass with two mannequins displaying garments.

In moments of great upheaval—such as in France during the First World War—fashion becomes more than a means of personal expression.

As women throughout the country mobilized in support of the war effort, discussions about women’s fashion bore the symbolic weight of an entire society’s hopes and fears. This exhibition represents an unprecedented examination of the dynamic relationship between fashion, war, and gender politics in France during World War I.
Garments by Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin, two of many French women leading fashion houses during World War I, will be displayed in the United States for the first time. The clothing and ephemera on view reveal wartime as a transitional period for fashion and women’s emancipation. Skirt suits, nurses’ and ambulance attendants’ uniforms, mourning dresses and muffs, chic “military style” hats, and clothing worn by remplaçantes, women who took on a variety of jobs previously occupied by men, demonstrate how French women of all social classes dressed themselves and why.

Postcards, posters, caricatures, and fashion magazines highlight the tension between fashionable dress, traditional gender norms, and wartime imperatives. This discussion is framed by a larger examination of French fashion industry and the marketing and propaganda efforts undertaken by the French government, press, and designers to keep the fashion industry alive during the war.

Images courtesy of Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York, USA.