The First World War was the catalyst for radical social change in the United Kingdom, causing a revolution in women’s lives and transforming the workforce. This spirit of change has been captured by ‘Fashion and Freedom’, an exhibition co-commissioned by Manchester Art Gallery and 14-18 NOW, as part of a programme of First World War centenary art commissions. A century after the First World War, this ambitious, multi-faceted exhibition examines the fashion legacy from the wartime era.

During the First World War more than one million women went to work for the first time and many took jobs in vocations traditionally reserved for men. Women contributed through working in munitions factories and on the buses, driving ambulances and even ‘manning’ the London Underground. ‘Fashion and Freedom’ explores how the changing role of women in the workplace impacted fashion, as their new responsibilities provided new freedoms.

Featuring designs from Vivienne Westwood, Holly Fulton, Roksanda, J JS Lee, Emilia Wickstead and Sadie Williams, visitors to ‘Fashion and Freedom’ can learn about how changing social circumstances influenced the development of a new look where tight corsets and heavy skirts were replaced by more natural and fluid silhouettes.

‘Fashion and Freedom’ will be exhibited at the National Memorial Arboretum from 9 March to 30 November 2018. Admission is included in the tickets for ‘Landscapes of Life’, a permanent exhibition at the Arboretum.

Sarah Oakden, Head of Marketing, National Memorial Arboretum, said: “Fashion and Freedom offers the opportunity for visitors to explore social history and discover the ongoing influence that the First World War has had on clothing design. This exciting new exhibition has previously only been exhibited in the north of England and we are delighted to be able to bring it to new audiences in the midlands.”

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said: “When we set out to create Fashion and Freedom we wanted to look at the often-neglected impact that the First World War had on the lives of British women – the roles they took on, the freedom they gained, and the resulting shift in fashion. Our partners have made this an exciting and rewarding journey, and it is fantastic that visitors to the National Memorial Arboretum will have the opportunity to learn about this revolutionary period of social change.”