American dye-crisis dress, ca. 1917

Contributed by Maine Historical Society

American dye-crisis dress, ca. 1917

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This ankle-length cotton dress is an example of the impact of the American dye famine caused by the British blockade of German ports starting at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

The American textile industry relied heavily on imported German dyes and chemicals at the start of the war. Cut off from German supplies, U.S. efforts to develop dyes started almost immediately. However, dye progress was slowed due to similarity between dye ingredients and components used in the explosives industry, explosives being in high demand for profitable sale to the Allied and Central powers.

With soaring dye prices, manufacturers used scarce and costly dyes sparingly, producing pale colored accents such as small widely-spaced print motifs, windowpane checks, and stripes on white backgrounds as shown in the featured example. Promoted by the fashion media, white and lighter colors, notably stripes, became increasingly fashionable.

American made solutions to the dye shortage came relatively quickly, but white remained on trend throughout the period.

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About This Item

  • Title: American dye-crisis dress, ca. 1917
  • Creation Date: circa 1917
  • Subject Date: circa 1917
  • State: ME
  • Media: Cotton
  • Local Code: 1993.300.71
  • Collection: Costume collection
  • Object Type: Physical Object

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For more information about this item, contact:

Maine Historical Society
485 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-1822 x230

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