Chicanery and Conspicuousness: 

Social Repercussions of

World War I Ship Camouflage

An Essay by Roy R. Behrens

     This essay was first published, with fewer illustrations and slightly different wording, in Universitas: The University of Northern Iowa Journal of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Volume 13 (2017-18). That version can be accessed online. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDrivatives 4.0 International License.

This subsequent version (2018) can be read online on this webpage simply by clicking on each single page as reproduced at right. Any page that has a magnifying icon will enlarge on screen by clicking. It is also available as a full-color laser print booklet.

Assembly: The Work of Dazzle Camouflage exhibition at the Hearst Center for the Arts, Cedar Falls IA (2018)

Hidden Figures: The Untold Role of Women in WWI Camouflage exhibition at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Sioux City IA (2017-18)

Razzle Dazzle: WWI Ship Camouflage exhibition at the Dubuque Museum of Art, Dubuque IA (2017-18)

Above A camouflage-fashion related cartoon by British artist Starr Wood, as published in Punch magazine, August 3, 1921, p. 81. The caption reads Unfortunate Situation for a Lady Who Paid a Local Call in a Chintz Costume.

THE CAMOUFLAGE skirt is here, writes “Lady Kitty” in the Adelaide Observer. The cretonne skirt is a sartorial disaster. There is not an article in the whole of ones wardrobe that could possibly “go” with the skirt. It made its first appearance in Sydney, where six and eight guineas were asked—and given—for these camouflage skirts. They are of silk, but such silk! It is most suitably called “crazy.” This demented silk starts at being a wonderful pattern in colors which absolutely pale the gorgeousness of all Eastern color magnificence, when suddenly it is camouflaged with great patches of dullish background. Most weird. 

Camouflage, you know, is to make things appear other than what they really are—to disguise them, in fact, so that the crazy silk sets out to be a very striking fabric which it is suddenly camouflaged by broad strips of plain color which quite disguise its original identity, but really make it more striking still. Camouflage parties, at which people wear camouflaged fancy dress, have become quite a rage for funding-raising purposes; and if guests are ingenious enough the result is screamingly funny. 

PARIS IS dazzle-mad. I think that every woman who has the courage to wear these dazzle furs that I see deserves the Legion of Honor. They are striped with great slashing streaks of white on black. Hats are dazzle hats. Dresses are dazzle dresses. Pajamas are dazzle pajamas. Everywhere are to be seen these angular lighting effects. The decorations most in favor in the very private and particular room are dazzle decorations. I seem to be existing in a weird Futurist dream.

Unsigned, "Other People's Troubles: A Paris Letter" in The Sketch (October 13, 1920, p. 412)