Corset Wars: The Complex Layers of Antisemitic Attacks, Espionage, Foreign Invaders, and Power-Driven Guillotines

The beginning of WWI disrupted long- established global supply lines of the corset industry in Britain and America. The political context of extreme nationalism and antisemitism, along with the economic disruptions of trade caused by the war influenced clothing, just as it did food, entertainment companies, theaters, cinema, retailing, and service, among others. They were all subject to the demands, constraints, and opportunities of this new business environment. How did corset manufacturers in respond to this hostile environment? When war broke out, British and American corset companies attacked each other in British newspapers and international courts using pointed antisemitic and anti-German language. However, these incidents of antisemitism cannot be unlinked from the greater drama unfolding on the global stage. Antisemitism is a shifting form of prejudice, difficult to define, and shaped by context, such as religious beliefs and practices, economics, alleged racial characteristics, and politics. Nor is it easy to separate it from social challenges such as anti-modernism, immigration, and fears for economics well-being. Putting the newspaper corset wars into a global perspective shows that motivations for antisemitism ranged from active hatred of Jews to competition using opportunistic antisemitism to drive up sales or attract customers. Competitors and long-standing rivals in the corset industry used patriotic rhetoric and antisemitism to rearticulate older discontent mixed with deeper questions about global developments of the turn of the 20th century.