Fashioned by war

It may seem strange to imagine that even a bloody conflict as long ago as 1914 should inspire fashion statements. While the menfolk suffered the horrors of the trenches, the trendy young ladies back home were being targeted to sport the new autumn range of military toques on their heads.

Advert for hats from Luton News 1914

In The Luton News, the store of E. Ward & Co Ltd, new Bedford Road, advertised the "new Velvet Tricorn, trimmed ribbon and fur", for 3s 11½d" , or the less expensive "smart Velvet Toque, trimmed imitation osprey," for 1s 11¾d.

"The latest production for autumn wear," said the advert. "There is nothing smarter than the new Military Toques, which include a number of choice shapes and trimmings."

Not that the new fashion did much for the Luton straw hat trade. The raw materials required by bleachers and dyers were in expensive short supply because most of the chemicals they used came from...Germany.