Lucy, a Royal Parks in the First World War volunteer, explores how fashionable life carried on in Hyde Park during the First World War:
Many of the posts in this blog series have been about the military uses of The Royal Parks in World War I – for trench practice, parades and training. But parks continued to function as they had done pre-war at the same time.
Hyde Park has long been a place for the fashionable and rich to take a stroll and show off their clothes, their company and their wealth - and even during the height of the war people still paraded and promenaded. Magazines and newspapers of the time continued to catalogue the social life of the rich and fashionable as they took their daily constitutional around the Park.
These magazine and newspaper pictures help us to understand the revolution in women’s clothing that took place during the first few decades of the twentieth century. This revolution predated the war, but the beginnings of the conflict propelled change and highlighted the style of clothes that women chose and the way that wealth was displayed.
One of the most poignantly significant changes was the relaxation of mourning etiquette. During the nineteenth century a woman, especially an upper-class woman, would be expected to observe full mourning: a process that included buying an entire new wardrobe of black clothes and social exclusion. During the War, with so many deaths, this wasn't practical and, instead, women observed their mourning in a variety of personal, intimate ways, including wearing black armbands while carrying on their everyday activities.
The shape of women’s clothes also changed: from designs that echoed military uniforms and offered a freedom of movement that was new to the length of skirts. This change was both a fashion statement and a practical necessity. Rationing wasn’t introduced until February 1918, but material had become increasingly hard to come by. Wool, especially, was being used in vast swathes to clothe the troops and the cost of material went up as it became harder to source. Simple designs with a raised hemline offered the opportunity to save on material and cost while also allowing its wearer freedom of movement.
The legacy of fashionable life in Hyde Park is more than just a collection of photographs – it is a powerful insight into changing society.