top of page

Pandemics and fashion: Are we ready to throw away our corsets and bedazzled face masks!

We are not the first generation to experience a pandemic that forced us to stay home in our pajamas, wear masks and rethink how we dressed.

By the spring of 1918, World War I had already been raging for four years when the Spanish flu pandemic started its deadly sweep. From 1918 to 1919, the Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people globally. This amounted to about 33% of the world's population at the time.

The Spanish flu killed about 50 million people. COVID has killed less that six million worldwide.

How did people in 1918 deal with it? They dealt with it the same way we did, by using medicine and fashion! They also stayed home in their pajamas and spent time with their families. And yes, divorce rates went up while employment went down.

People were encouraged to wear masks to stop the spread. Women tried to make the masks fashionable. They called them, “flu veils” and sales went through the roofs. It did not take long before everyone turned them into fashion. Both women and men made them the color of their hats. A company by the name of Stern & Stern produced the Safety-First Veil which was a mesh veil with a chiffon border in a harem effect. Women matched them to their dresses.

By the end of 1918 the United States Public Health Service recommended

that everyone wear a mask. The Red Cross took out newspaper ads encouraging everyone to use a mask. They bluntly stated that “The man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker.”

It did not take long before people wanted to use their masks to showcase their

personalities. Newspapers ran cartoons that proved it. They showed masks sewn with polka dots, tassels, lace edges, hearts, coats of arms and of course, anti Hitler masks.

Masks were not the only fashion item brought into fight the spread of the Spanish flue.

Women and men wore gloves long before any pandemic for fashion and to show wealth. But they became even more important during the Spanish flue.

Before the pandemic, women wore gloves to keep their hands soft, feminine and to show their modesty. Women who worked at hard labour used gloves to hide their rough hands.

But during the pandemic women and men wore gloves to protect them from disease.

Short gloves were worn in the daytime with long sleeves and long gloves were worn in the evening with short sleeves.

Women soon began to embroider their gloves and sew pearls and jewels on them or add lace trims.

Once the Spanish flue ended, people were ready for fun, much like we are now. They wanted to spend money, drink champagne (without a mask), roll their stockings down and dance the Charleston in speakeasies and gin joints.

Fashion was being reborn with Coco Chanel and other women creating clothes for women

that did not include a corset. Dresses became looser and shorter. Much better to dance till dawn in.

Remember, the 1920s were when women were given the right to vote. In Canada, women were finally declared "persons" under Canadian law on Oct. 18, 1929!

But take heed. It did not last.

At the end of this cultural renaissance, in 1929 the world experienced its most severe economic depression in history.

It began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped-out millions of investors. It lasted more than a decade and ended during World War II in 1941.

It began in the United States and spread around the globe.

Now as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are being lifted, feel free to dawn your gay apparel. Drink your champagne. Show your bust line and throw away your corset (face mask).

But remember, another great depression could be right around the corner.

Buy the cheap champagne and fake jewels. Put some money away for a rainy day.

63 views0 comments


Old Lady Story
bottom of page