Dressing for war work – fashion archive, 1916

11 December 1916 Vivid flashes of colours in women’s dress replaced by the overall

Cashiers wait to pay out weekly allowances in a Government unemployment scheme, January 1919. Photograph: AR Coster/Getty Images

The Government officials are proverbially conservative. So it is not astonishing to hear that in some of the Government offices women are accepted merely as a necessary evil. But it is not so certain that these hide-hound officials will altogether rejoice when, perhaps, every pretty girl has vanished from office or corridor, when, therefore, the vivid flashes of colours in dress and in hat are replaced by the sober black attire of the male.

In this chill December these flashes of colour are mainly provided by the overall – that practical product of war-work in its manifold phases. Indeed, it is more than practical, it is invaluable whether it appear in three-quarters length or be made so long that quite covers the dress. In the Government offices, at any rate, it saves many a dress from too early destruction.

Nothing else could protect one so securely from the dust which never ceases to accumulate to an alarming degree. To a woman’s eye the long overall, to be quite satisfactory, must be archaeology best large enough to meet down the front from the neck to the hem of the skirt. I have seen some which have been left open from the waist, with a result not of neatness but of a most unpleasing and slovenly appearance.

Varieties of the overall

It is possible that, on some occasions, a busy woman has time, either at luncheon or tea, to study her neighbours. Such a study should produce some insight into character and taste, and a few hints for her personal guidance. One girl, for instance, whose standard of neatness is evidently high, wears a long overall in a dark yet bright shade of blue. It is buttoned to the throat; belted at the waist, and is unrelieved by even a single touch of white at the neck. There is merely a rolled collar of the blue casement cloth of which the overall is made. The girl is charming to look upon. She is an exact illustration of beauty unadorned, and her eager, serious face is framed by masses of soft brown hair which – so her friends declare – has never yet been seen disarranged.

Women war workers feed the charcoal kilns used at a sugar refinery in Scotland, circa 1916. Photograph: IWM via Getty Images

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