1918 was the last year of the first World War. With it began a change from war time austerity to freedom in dress and fit and color. Both women’s and men’s 1918 fashion were at a pivoting point, lasting until 1922 when the roaring twenties changed things again. For women, fashion was looser with shorter hemlines and widths that were full but required only one light petticoat. Sleeves were long but narrow with wide collars and sashes, big pockets and contrasting buttons. For men, the supper skinny Jazz suit was designed for young men returning to post WW1 civilian life in good physical shape. Colors for both women and men were still drab and conservative in Britain but gaining more color in Paris, France, and America. Blue, green, burgundy and brown made up winter stock while white, light blue, pink and lavender cheered up spirits in spring and summer.
The following is from my collection of 1918 fashion catalogs and found photographs. It is a visual guide to the fashion year 1918, mostly in America and Canada with a bit of history to set the context.
1918 Ladies Fashion – Day Dresses
“Wide at the hips and narrow at the ankles,” said Vogue in January 1917. The new Barrel line created the illusion of fullness but lacked the layers of the previous years. Clothing was draped loosely around the torso with big folds, drapes and gathers around the skirt sides. Oversized collars, belts/sashes, pockets and embroidered or lace panels exaggerated the size. The waistline sat just above the natural waist dropping down from the empire waist of 1910-1914. Sleeves were long, even in summer, where sheer sleeves were incorporated.
At home, house dresses were small cotton percale stripes, solid chambray, and gingham checks. For visiting, shopping, traveling or other daytime pursuits women’s dresses were made up in rich fabrics – taffeta, velvet, silk, crepe, and corduroy. Large collars framed the shoulders and provided a place to add some decoration. Overall women’s dresses were simple, not fussy, and practical for all kinds of activities morning to night. Only the wealthy could afford dresses for all occasions. Most women had only 2 or 3 dresses to choose from. Shop day dresses.
1918 Tea Dresses to Ball Gowns
There were few events the average woman needed to dress up for. Typically a fancy day dress was all that was needed for evening events but the daytime tea party was an exception. The all white lace and chiffon tea dress was a summertime necessity. Ballgowns were similarly light and airy chiffon tea length party dresses with ribbon bows or clusters of flowers placed at the waist. The sheerness and lightness were inspired by Ballerinas. Shop evening dresses.
Wedding gowns, if a bride could afford one, were modeled after fancy afternoon dresses not tea dresses or ball gowns. They often combined a heavy fabric base with sheer light draping on top. Antique heirloom lace accented the floor length veils as the “something old.” Wedding dresses were white or close to white. Less affluent brides may have worn a light colored dress or ivory flannel suit. Shop wedding dresses.
1918 Skirts, Blouses and Sweaters
The use of separates instead of one-piece dresses increased significantly in 1918. Skirts were simple shapes with a mid-calf tea-length. Details such as white side buttons, large pockets, and wide gathered waistbands matched those of dresses. The skirt sat high on the waist in which a blouse or “shirtwaist” was tucked into and billowed out slightly. Blouses were very pretty and embellished with embroidery, pintucks, covered buttons, and large contrast collars. They could be fancy or casual with most leaning towards the later. The Middy blouse was the sportiest design with a sailor collar and necktie worn over the skirt, sometimes with a matching belt or sash. Shop blouses and skirts.
Knitwear in winter was continuing to climb out of “only practical” to fashionable attire for women’s casual, winter clothes. Homemade knit cardigan sweaters hung down low around the hips with a tie scarf-sash or button belt to emphasize the waist. Many featured white or contrasting cuffs and collars which helped add some cheer to long winters. They were often knitted with matching hats, mittens, and scarves.
1918 Women’s Suits
While sweaters were for casual attire or layering for warmth a two-piece suit was practical for street wear. A matching skirt and coat were sold together in fabric and weights to match the season. Many suits were adapted to women’s service uniforms. Made of wool they were extremely durable but dull. In luxury fabrics such as velvet, they could be as pretty as dresses. The checkered suit became trendy, breaking up the monotony of solid dark suits.
When a dress was worn, a long overcoat was necessary for winter. In the coldest climates, an all fur single or double-breasted coat was sold with a very large hand muff. Less cold areas only required a wool coat with an optional fur stole to drape across the shoulders. Spring coats were lighter and brighter with removable fur collars. Plaid and check coats were welcome casual options.
Boots, boots and more boots. Most women wore boots when leaving the house. Plain brown or black lace-up boots were wardrobe essentials but the new spat top two-tone boot was very fashionable. Brown and grey, black and brown or black and white/ivory were visible under the shorter hemlines. Side buttoning boots added even more variety as well as heights that topped the calf or just a bit over the ankle. For rain and snow rubber boots and slip on shoes were worn instead.
At home or in springtime women could wear simple heels, multip strap pumps, or short oxfords. Heel eight ranged from a low 1-inch to a moderate 2.5 inches. In the evening a satin pump often matched the ball gown. Shop boots and shoes.
1918 Ladies Hats
From 1915 onward the trend for small hats with vertical trim replaced the giant pictures hats on the 1910s. Tricorne and bicorn hats added dimension. Smaller picture hats, some with transparent brims created lovely summer hats. Flat brim sailor hats were worn in summer and winter. Their simple shapes and lack of decoration made them perfect with wool suits. Feathers were minimal, preferring instead the manipulation of fabric to sculpt the hat and decorate it with ribbon and bows.
In winter, casual and close-fitting hat such as the tam or flappy beret made of velvet kept heads warm. Hats with turned down brims began to take the shape of the cloche hat. Shop hats.
1918 Underwear, Lingerie
A good foundation was as important as ever before. For most women that meant owning a longline corset that fit from under the bust to over the hip. The loose style of clothing in 1918 made it possible for some small figured women to go without a corset, at least at home. Corsets were worn over a chemise. Some women opted for the new brassiere instead or in addition to a corset. It had a chemise or vest type top with a short length that tightened under the bust. They were not enhancers so much as supporters for the full chested. In Edwardian times big busts were in but they could not jiggle.
Attached to corsets were garters that held up stockings. Cotton lisle or cashmere black stockings were what every woman wore. Silk stockings were made available in a rainbow of colors and were worn with evening attire and summer tea dresses.
Petticoats were what gave skirts their fullness. They were brightly colored and patterned- a woman’s secret beneath otherwise dull outerwear.
For sleepwear women had the choice of traditional white nightgowns trimmed in lace or the new Asian pant and top pajama set.
1918 Accessories and Misc
Jewelry – Filagree drop necklaces with cameos, locket necklaces, oval filigree brooches, flower and bird shape pins, and watch chatelettes. Wrist watches were worn by some younger women. Shop jewelry.
Hair combs and bobby pins held back the sides of some hairstyles. A long hair comb fit in the top of a chignon or bun on long hair. Shop hair accessories.
Purses- learn more here.
Gloves- learn the history here.
Beauty – Beauty potions and lotions were plentiful, makeup was worn but not talked about.
Swimsuits were loose tunic dresses with attached bloomers. The new all knit swimsuit was just coming into style on the beaches in Paris. Most women were required to wear black stockings to retain modesty. A matching wrap or swim cap and lace up canvas boots finished the bathing costume.
Women who took the place of men at war often found themselves in heavy labor jobs such as farming or factory work. Overalls or coveralls were made for women with full legs and a tight ankle cuff.
1918 Men’s Fashion
1918 Dress Shirts, Ties and Sweaters
1918 Men’s Coats & Jackets
1918 Boots and Shoes
1918 Men’s Hats
1918 Men’s Accessories etc
History of men’s gloves
History of men’s jewelry
1918 Clothing as worn in the Wonder Woman movie
1919 Clothing as worn in Mr. Selfridge
Edwardian era fabrics and colors– Fabric swatches and catalog scans
Edwardian era sewing patterns – repro and inspired patterns from 1900 to 1919
1918 Sears catalog- see the entire Sears catalog from fall and winter 1918
Women’s Fashion During WW1 – Article
The World and Fashion in 1918 – Fashion historian Jonathon Wolford’s informative summary
War Time Fashion 5 part series about women’s clothing during the WW1
Need more help? If you are looking for something not pictured here, just ask!