The war killed some 1.3 million French soldiers – 10% of the country’s population. In 1918, France counted 600,000 “war widows”, many of whom were very young.
In 1914, the three periods of mourning established in the 19th century were still respected: mourning for a husband lasted two years, including one year of full mourning, nine months of mourning, and three months of half-mourning. However, many women worked outside the home during the war and could not afford to withdraw from society for so long, taking greater liberties with the rigid advice set down by fashion magazines on the “mourning code” that was to be followed.
This widowhood clothing included a black hat, veil and dress. As widows moved from full mourning to mourning and to half mourning, their clothes went from being exclusively black to gradually including light-coloured materials then mauve, purple, grey and white touches and patterns, like the white lace collar here on this mourning or half-mourning dress.