Monday, October 22, 2012

What to Wear to War: A Nurse's Halloween

Hello Dear Readers,
Today I'm celebrating the first birthday of Ghosts of 1914! I'm delighted to have kept the wheels turning on our journey into Great War history. Thank you for joining me along the way!

I'm also sitting here on a rainy Monday thinking about Halloween costumes. I love historical costumes of various kinds and I'm determined to put my sewing skills to work at making a flapper dress at some point. I made one a couple of years ago and loved it, but this next time around I'd like to make more of a Robe de Style, which was a transitional style somewhere between the lighter post-Victorian gowns of the late 1910s and the remarkably daring ones of the Jazz Age. Here are two lovely examples of the amazing Jeanne Lanvin's Robe de Style in the Met Museum's collection:
Jeanne Lanvin. Robe de Style, 1924-25. © Metropolitan Museum,  New York.
For those of us who love historical costume related to the Great War, furthermore, there are plenty of ideas. Last year, I wrote a bit about various uniforms, including that of the British (V.A.D. or Red Cross) nurse. In a pinch, a respectable replica could be whipped up from a long grey cotton dress or skirt with a collared shirt, a simple white apron (with optional red cross painted or sewn on), some white cuffs (for instance snipped from the sleeves of a worn-out t-shirt), and a deftly tied white headscarf. For example, from a nifty article on the UK Red Cross's blog, here is one of Britain's most famous WWI nurses, Vera Brittain, in uniform:
Vera Brittain, ca. 1915-18. 
Taking things to an even more intrepid level, the National Library of Scotland has some great images of two women who served directly on the front line as nurses and ambulance drivers:
Mairi Chisholm (?), Nurse, ca. 1914-18. © NLS, Acc 8006 (i).
Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker were, according to the National Library (NLS), the only two women permitted to serve on any Western Front battlefield. Explore the NLS's "Women in the First World War" learning site to find more details about these remarkable ladies and some of their peers. As for a Halloween costume, Mairi's trench coat and waders/high boots, as well as her messenger bag and helmet, could be replicated with modern finds and would make for a really exciting innovation on the standard nurse's uniform.

Well, I'll close for now, but there are a couple of ideas for Great War-inspired costumes that can easily be constructed out of items you may have in your own closet or that can be found at the local thrift store, army/navy supply, borrowed, or purchased inexpensively elsewhere. For more on First World War costumes, take a look at my earlier posts on this topic. And, I will be back to suggest even more ideas before the big holiday arrives! 

Till later,

© Fiona Robinson

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