The History Wardrobe Premiere : Women and The Great War

Oh my word! What a fun afternoon I have had. First I met up with two dear friends from the online book group at The Heifer pub in Scorton in North Yorkshire (a village between Northallerton and Richmond). After a tasty lunch and several cups of tea we headed across the village green to The Memorial Hall to attend my third (and their first) the premiere of their new presentation by Lucy and Merry The History Wardrobe company : Women and The Great War.

Women of Britain say Go

Dawn, from nearby Kiplin Hall, who was responsible for the event, opened the proceedings by telling us about the origins of the Memorial Hall and its connections with the Hall and the Great War. It was originally built and donated as the Men’s Reading Room by the owner of Kiplin Hall in 1892 (what would they have thought of Lucy and Merry in various states of undress this afternoon??) but was bought by the village in 1919 and dedicated to the men of the village who died in the First World War.

Lucy introducing

Lucy opens the presentation in her silk dressing gown, pyjamas and, yes, her boudoir cap

Silk pyjamas and boudoir cap

And here she is in the silk and lace pyjamas

Westminster Gazette 4.8.14

Lucy reading an original issue of The Westminster Gazette of 4 August 1914

One of the highlights of History Wardrobe shows is having the opportunity to see and later examine closely genuine costumes and accessories from the period. Lucy is very clear about what is reproduction and what is the genuine article. Knitting came very much to the fore during the war years so Merry’s mother set to and knitted socks as would have been made in their thousands and sent to soldiers serving on the front line. Sometimes the knitters added a personal message to the unknown soldier and popped it into one of the socks. They even occasionally received replies.

Knitted socks

Meredith’s mum’s socks

Many middle class women joined the nursing services – the VADs – The Voluntary Aid Detachments. Vera Brittain has famously written about her wartime service and experiences in her book Testament of Youth also dramatised as a successful TV series. Lucy was able to show us a long grey nursing dress purchased from Harrods and a standard uniform with exceptionally starched collar and cuffs.

Nursing dress

The Long Grey Nursing Dress

On Vogue cover

And on the cover of Vogue

We were shown a silk wedding dress with its high collar, crinoline skirt, masses of petticoats and long sleeves.

Silk wedding dress

The Silk Wedding Dress

When War broke out in 1914 six million women were already working outside the home but between 1914 and 1918 many more joined them in all sorts of work not least in munitions factories. Meredith took on this role displaying the cap and tunic that would have been worn with waist-tie trousers and heavy wooden-soled clogs with metal caps.

Factory 'dress'

Meredith as factory worker

Like all good series this one would not be complete without an accompanying book. Lucy has published “Great War Fashion: Tales from The History Wardrobe” and I have my library copy in front of me now and am very much looking forward to reading it.

Great War Fashion

Great War Fashion – on sale now!

Lucy signs her book

Lucy signs her book

Finally, peace has broken out at last! As Lucy quoted from one woman “It feels as though the elastic has broken!”.

Peace has broken out

I’m looking forward to another History Wardrobe show although I don’t know what will be up for me next. Their diary is already filled for this year.