Introducing the 1916 project

In April of 2015 I made a full mid-1910s outfit. I found it so comfortable to wear for the Anzac Day photoshoot that I left it on for the rest of the day, and quite spontaneously, did a bit of living history research by cleaning my house while wearing it.

The mid-1910s outfit was just as comfortable for housecleaning as it was for the photoshoot, and I gained some really interesting insights into what it’s like to live in a longline corset and stockings and a full skirt and blouse, plus heels.

Doing housework in 1910s clothes thedreamstress.com - 2

Based on that day, I began thinking about the idea of doing a longer, more involved mid-1910s living history research project. The more I looked into it, the more I realised that there is a huge gap in non-combat focused WWI living history, especially from a female perspective. There are WWI reenactment groups, mainly based around men as soldiers, but some of which include women as nurses etc., but almost no-one has done WWI home-front living history. There are people living in the American Civil War era, and the late Victorian. There have been Edwardian houses, and Edwardian farms, WWI combat projects, and WWII home-front projects, but no WWI home-front projects. This is really a pity, as it’s such a fascinating period in history: a real transition between the historical world and the modern in terms of technology, and living styles.

For the last year I’ve been doing research on life in Wellington in the 1914-1918 period, with the goal of doing a full living-history experience focused on that period.

I decided on a fortnight as a good starting point for my project: long enough to really experience the period, but short enough that I can fund it myself, without having to apply for research grants. Two weeks is a good trial length, and if it goes well, I may attempt to do a significantly longer, and more involved, project.

So, from July 4th to July 18th this year I’ll be spending a fortnight in 1916: attempting to dress, eat, and live as much like a middle class Wellington housewife would have in the winter of 1916 as it is possible for me to do (within the constraints of my actual life, my house, and my desire to not completely derail my husband’s life!).

I won’t be able to do a perfect recreation of life in 1916, but the project should still provide a significant base for understanding everyday life in the period, and for pursuing further living history research.

I’ll be blogging more about the practicalities of the project, my intentions, and my research so far in the coming days. Plus, I’ll answer all the questions I’ve already been asked, and the ones I’m sure you have.

It should be exciting!

Wearing History's 1916 skirt thedreamstress.com - 2


  1. Lyndle says

    Sounds fascinating! Looking forward to hearing about it.

  2. Gillian Stapleton says

    This is an amazing project. Like Lyndle, I’m looking forward to hearing all about it. You are a fantastic historian.

  3. That is such an awesome project, I can’t wait to see how it goes! I love the outfit too, it might seem strange but I actually dress like this very often… it gives me ideas of trying on such outfit with a longline corset one of these days!

  4. Oooh! This is so exciting! I find living history fascinating, and you’re right, the WWI home front is almost ‘invisible’ (particularly compared to the WWII home front). Looking forward to hearing all about it!
    By the way, that door behind you in the dusting shot looked really familiar – then I looked up and realized it’s exactly like the doors in our house, except ours aren’t painted white.

    • Thank you! And yes, I really feel we need to rectify the lack of resources about civilian WWI.

      The doors are good aren’t they? Original 1920s NZ matai. We’re slowly un-painting them, but it will probably take us years 😉

  5. Elise says

    Neato! I have sometimes heard that we have a silent wave of feminism during WWI that doesn’t get mentioned so that we can focus on first-wave feminism in WWII. So it would be neat to see what you discover!

    • WWI was definitely helpful in advancing women’s rights in many countries, but it wasn’t so seminal in NZ. First-wave feminism in NZ is a bit earlier – we got the vote in 1893. The lack of factory work in NZ, the gender imbalance (significantly more men than women until the turn of the century) and the geographical isolation, both worldwide and within the country, all created a situation in which women got significantly more rights much earlier on. Similar things happened in the American West, with the same results in the ability to vote, own property, etc all showing up.

      • Elise says

        Woah. Very interesting. Looking forward to more cool tidbits. (I should probably look into more period slang…whatever that is)

  6. Jeanette Murray says

    aplacesettingintime.blogspot.comWhat an incredible project! I have been cooking for the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenges this year from a 1916 book. This is my blog and if you want to use any of the book please let me know. Looking forward to reading of your adventure! http://www.aplacesettingintime.blogspot.com

    • Thank you so much! I’m mostly focusing on things that are slightly older than 1916 (because most people don’t only cook with things that came out this year) and I’ve got quite a lot of old cookbooks and food resources, and will be doing a whole blog post about them, but more is always better, and it’s really helpful when you have tested the recipes!

  7. Etta says

    What a great idea! I’m excited to hear more on the subject- I’ve been interested in that period ever since reading Rilla of Ingleside

    • Kindred spirits! Rilla of Ingleside was one of the things that sparked my interest in WWI, and a few years later I read Jean Thesman’s The Ornament Tree, which looks at the same period from a US perspective.

  8. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI will be eagerly waiting to hear more about this. I love being able to immerse myself in history by things like that. I am hoping to make my self a corset at some point. I am interested from both a historical aspect and also the practical of extra back support.


  9. I am so, so excited for this project!!! I can’t wait to see what develops and what you learn.

    I know you’ve read “Rilla of Ingleside,” and I have always thought that it is a lost gem of the homefront during WWI. I know it was written after the war, but there’s so much in it as a historical novel, and so much is drawn from L.M. Montgomery’s actual diary, that I wish it would be remembered.

    • Thank you! Yes, Rilla is one of my favourite books, and sparked my interest in civilian WWI many years ago. It’s definitely a fascinating look at WWI. For the project I’ll be relying predominantly on NZ sources, but it’s definitely making the full bibliography!

      • Deanna says

        I’m so looking forward to this! You always do things thoroughly, and find unique insights.

        It is so nice to find others whose interest in WWI was sparked by Rilla! It’s a wonderful book. It also piqued my curiosity about Kitchener stitch (also known as grafting) in knitting. And whenever I turn a heel I’m amused, remembering how much Rilla hated it. Whereas I find it’s really the most interesting part of sock knitting. 🙂

  10. Kelley Gaston says

    What a great social experiment! I too have found doing a wartime civilian imperssonation tricky. I portray a 1940’s Mom. You can find loads of women in the military or nurse or Bombshell groups but not many ladies on the “Homefront” It has bee loads of research, I actually love researching, and loads of trial and error and loads of watching BBC historical dramas, but after several years of “doingWWII” I am beginning to feel a little bit like I have some ideas. Pinterest has been an amazing resource, as well as lovely ladies like yourself willing to share your clothing expertise! Thanks for all you share and lots of luck in your visit to 1916!
    Kelley 🙂

    • Elise says

      amazon.comThat sounds so neat! “Mom” was definitely an important person during that period, as she also took on all the other societal roles while at the same time expanding the traditional mom roles in order to send socks and blankets overseas.

      Have you read the book behind the show Home Fires? It’s basically a compilation of diaries and accounts from the time…made by moms or unmarried women.

      In the states, I would contact your local Junior League to see what women were doing at home. While typically middle class or upper middle class, it’s hard to beat their record-keeping and it’s neat to peek into the world of women’s clubs during that time.

  11. That’s such a fascinating experiment! I’m really looking forward to your posts about the experience!

  12. Fun! I look forward to hearing more about it ahead of time, during, and after!


  13. This is going to be so interesting, and I can’t wait to read all about it!

  14. Erin says

    Wonderful! What a useful and interesting thing to do. Thanks for being willing to write about it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  15. Vicki says

    It will be fun to hear your take on life from that time period.

  16. Erin Frumet says

    Does this mean a full 1910s wardrobe too? Can’t wait to see it!

  17. Grace Darling says

    Wellington in 1916 had significance for the early explorers of Antarctica, namely
    Ernest Shackleton.

    You may like to check out the grave of Harry McNeish at Karori Cemetery which is
    adorned with a monument of Mrs Chippy, the ship’s cat of ‘Endurance’. Could make
    for a sweet photo opportunity with you in your Edwardian kit and a Mawson balaclava!

    • Elise says

      My friend’s husband stayed in Shackleton’s hut a few years ago! Sadly, due to Global Warming, the seaweed and whale blubber that insulated the walls (true story) have been thawing. Very stinky.

      Glad to have another person around who is into that time in history!

  18. Valerie says

    You are so inspiring!! It sounds like this could lead to a seriously cool Dissertation project for a PhD in costume or fashion history!!

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