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Silk and Steel: French Fashion, Women and World War I

Throughout World War I, French women — like others — worked in war industries, in agriculture, in nursing, in transport, for suffrage and equal pay and respect. In France, recent scholarship has shown that the survival of women’s fashion also played an important role in life during the Great War. Women’s fashion needed to adapt to the necessities of new actions, scarcity of materials and ever-present societal morale needs. The fashion industry, particularly in France, responded.

Silk and Steel features original dresses, coats, capes, hats, shoes and accessories by French designers such as Callot Sœurs, Madeleine Vionnet, House of Worth, Maison Complier & Rondeau, and Hermès. Topics presented are the evolution of the war-time silhouette, Parisian designers during the war, military uniforms’ influence, women’s uniforms in France and America, war work, economics of fashion and post-war emancipation. 

A previous iteration of this exhibition, entitled French Fashion: Women, the First World War, was organized in 2019 by the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City, based on the 2017 exhibition Mode & Femmes 14-18 organized by the Bibliothèque Forney in Paris.



Original clothing and accessories are on loan from the Kansas City Museum; the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland; Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection, University of Missouri, Columbia; Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka and the Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, R.I. Material from the National WWI Museum and Memorial includes clothing, accessories, military uniforms, archival documents, photographs, original posters and French fashion images and periodicals.

Period French designers shown include