Dressed For War is a thoroughly researched discussion on what clothes meant in the World War I period. The topics range from supply to cigarettes, body consciousness, shortages, manufacturing, underwear, dentistry, and more. There are a 42 small black and white photographs/illustrations/cartoons to underline the points. It should be noted that this is definitely a wordy academic book on society and not a coffee table book on fashion.
The book breaks down as follows: Introduction; Prelude;, Uniform chivalry, and doing one’s bit; Men in civvies, women in uniform; The fabric and furbelows; attitudes to the body; Entertaining costume; Manufacture and the home; Death, marriage, and identity; O brave new world; Epilogue/Notes/glossary/Bibliography/Index.
A more accurate title would be along the lines of how clothes affected and were influenced by World War I era society. The book is multinational and discusses the different countries and how clothing was affected by the war years. Full backgrounds are given – e.g., to understand the World War 1 British uniform, you need to go back to the uniforms that preceded it and see how they organically grew from there. Then the author discussed fabric dyes in the uniforms, why the colors were chosen, how the dyes were obtained (blockade running, u-boat smuggling), and even a chapter on why being clean had an impact on the way uniforms were designed.
For women, social mores, attitudes as the war progressed, availability of materials, appearing patriotic, greeting returning soldiers and wanting to look feminine, and much more are covered in detail. The book gives equal discussions to men and women, with children discussed a bit at the end.
What you won’t find in this book is discussion of fashion or fashion styles. This is a book about clothing for the average person – not robes a la mode, Vogue, designers, or the different types of dresses or styles. Nursing, missing limb attachments, dentistry, knitting, children at home and war, etc. are the discussions. As an example, in the wedding dress section, there is only one image, and that’s of a non-traditional toga type dress to give an example of romantic type dress preferences.
Although the information is well researched, the presentation does leave a lot to be desired. Images are small, typically 1/4 or 1/2 page, the type face is boring and laid out in a standard and unfriendly manner. It can look and read a lot like a home typed dissertation rather than something that has at least gone through any kind of design process. But for those wanting to put into perspective 1914-1918 life across the world, this is a very well researched resource.
Reviewed from an ARC.