Conference Review: Fashion, Dress and Society in Europe during World War One


Last month I was lucky enough to attend the Fashion, Dress and Society in Europe during World War One conference, co-hosted by Dominique Veillon, Lou Taylor, Adelheid Rasche and Patrick Fridenson, and held at l’Institut Français de la Mode in Paris on December 12th and 13th, 2014.

A packed program featuring 60 speakers, the conference brought together academics, curators, journalists and independent researchers from across Europe and North America. Dominique Veillon, director of research at l’Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent, opened the conference on Friday with an overview of the massive social, political and cultural upheaval which took place during the four years of World War One. The rest of the morning’s speakers included Mary Lynn Stewart on marketing haute couture in America, Catherine Join-Dieterle on the fashion magazine l’Art et la Mode, Adelheid Rasche on fashion images in Paris, Berlin and Vienna, Amy de la Haye on British Women’s Land Army uniforms, Alexandra Palmer on war and fashion in Canada, and Lourdes Font on American buyers, designer and journalists in Paris. I especially enjoyed Rasche’s presentation on her exhibition ‘Wardrobes in Wartime 1914-1918,’ which used graphic works from the Lipperheid Costume Library at the National Museum in Berlin.

In the afternoon, attendees heard from Victoria Rovine on French fashion and colonial influence, Margaret Vining and Barton C. Hacker on American female military uniforms, Guillaume de Syon on French aviation uniforms, Patricia Tilburg on the patriotic cockade-making French garment workers, and Marguerite Coppens on French and Belgian lacemaking. Lou Taylor from the University of Brighton concluded the first day of the conference with a paper discussing British nurses’ uniforms and their appropriation by upper-class women volunteers, raising issues of class tension, control and authority through the use of clothing.

On the second day, papers were grouped by subject and presented simultaneously in three different rooms. I had been deliberating my choices since the Eurostar train ride over on Thursday and was now faced with a few difficult decisions. For the morning’s first session, I chose the ‘Images of War’ panel of speakers, featuring Muriel Berthou-Cresty on Adolf de Meyer’s photography for Vogue, Cally Blackman on fashion in the autochromes of Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète, Änne Söll on Viennese men’s fashion magazine Die Herrenwelt, and Enrica Morini on Italian fashion magazine Margherita. Four presentations accompanied by beautiful, vivid imagery, I was particularly struck by Blackman’s study of autochromes, early colour photographs which have been under-used by fashion historians to date.

‘Haute Couture & Couturiers’ was the theme of the second session I chose, with papers presented by Ana Balda on haute couture consumption in Spain, Emmanuelle Polle and Johanna Zanon on the early years of Jean Patou, Sophie Kurkdjian on the wartime fashion publications of Lucien Vogel, and Katy Conover on haute couture in England. The highlight from this session for me was Polle and Zanon’s presentation, as I am thoroughly enjoying my copy of Polle’s recent book on Patou and could not help but envy the author’s unprecedented access to the Patou family archives.


In the afternoon, I must confess that I skipped out on the third session to visit the Sonia Delaunay: Les Couleurs de l’Abstraction exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Although I would have liked to attend one of the three sessions (‘War in the Archives,’ ‘Women & Identity,’ ‘Women during the War’), the exhibition certainly did not disappoint – stay tuned for Hayley-Jane’s review of the exhibition for Worn Through in the coming weeks.

Returning for the final session of the conference, I just barely managed to get a seat for the ‘Production & Consumption’ session upstairs in a smaller classroom. Papers presented by Suzanne Rowland on ready-made blouses in Britain, Marta Kargol on dress production and homemade clothing in the Netherlands, Marie McLoughlin on the evolution of the trench coat, and Laura Casal-Valls on fashion production and consumption in Barcelona provided an excellent conclusion to the conference, albeit with a slightly dramatic trench coat controversy. Final comments by Lou Taylor and conference organizers Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjian, along with an excellent bistro dinner that evening, rounded out a weekend very well spent in Paris.


Overall, Fashion, Dress and Society in Europe during World War One brought together a very interesting and diverse group of presenters. My only suggestion for improvement would have been the addition of simultaneous translation, as nearly half of the papers were delivered in French but not all attendees were French speakers. However, many of the presenters were prepared with translated copies of their papers to distribute or bilingual presentation slides, and all were willing to answer questions following their talks in either language.

Image Credits: (first image, second and third author’s own)

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