La Belle Époque Edwardian Fashion History
Aspects of Edwardian
fashion history are examined in the sections on the Society
Hostess, The Edwardian Seamstress
Corsetry. Here we give a general overview of the main
popular styles in the period 1890-1914 by which time fashion moved in a yearly
The French called the era from 1895 to 1914 La Belle Époque. It was an epoch of beautiful clothes and the peak of luxury living for a select
few - the very rich and the very privileged through birth.
In retrospect we can see it is an era very
separate from the 20th century despite belonging at its start. The attitudes and
lifestyles of two decades
were swept away by war and because the war was so atrocious a new socialism and
sense of personal identity was born. The masses started to reject the concept of
privilege as the reason for a better life. Clothes worn after 1915 could
probably be worn today in certain circumstances, but clothes before then are
more in tune with the elaborate clothes of 1770 and would only be seen
today at a
costumed event or as bridal wear.
The bustle disappeared
from day dresses and the new day skirt style was flared smoothly over the hips
from a handspan waist and then gradually widened at the hemline.
the leg of mutton sleeves swelled to gigantic proportions and were also used on décolleté
evening dresses. The size of the sleeves was highlighted by the comparison of
the tiny sashed or belted waist against the simple gored skirt that flared out
all round to balance the massive sleeve heads.
Hostess beauties of the 1890s. Left - Mary Moore,
right - Grace
The tailor made was
called a costume or a suit and made of wool or serge. Middle and upper class
women wore them with shirtwaist blouses. Looser less fitted versions of a simple
suit had been available for informal wear since 1850. But the tailored suit as
we know it was first introduced in the 1880s by the Houses of Redfern and
Creed. Initially only the jacket was tailored and it was worn with a draped
By the 1890s and
until 1910 the gored skirt also looked more tailored and matched the jacket
style which followed the changing silhouette of the time. In the 1890s the
tailored suit was thought both masculine and unladylike, a description usually
used for a fairly plain garment. Describing female clothes as masculine
was intended to be derogatory.
The pink tailor made shown left here has a short bolero effect jacket.
The second green jacket is a longer line jacket that continued in
popularity, but became straighter and less waisted toward the end of the
Tailor mades were
always described as ideal for travelling. Within a decade they became much more
versatile with a distinction being made between the cloths used. Lighter cloths
were used in tailor made outfits suitable for weddings and heavier tweeds and
rougher serge used for everyday or country wear suits.
Fashion history clearly shows that by 1900 tailored suits
were firmly established. Women entering a changing, more commercial workplace
found it a useful all purpose outfit. Men objected to the tailor made female
suit as they saw it representing a challenge to their authority. Women seemed to
be making a clear statement that they deserved and wanted more independence in
This particular image was a cartoon character drawn by the
American artist Charles Dana Gibson. For twenty years between 1890 and 1910 he
satirised society with his image of 'The New Woman' who was competitive, sporty
and emancipated as well as beautiful.
Right - The Gibson Girl.
Her clothes were fashionable in both
America and Britain and set a fashion for skirts worn with embroidered blouses.
Another Gibson look was a shirt collar worn with either a tie, floppy artist
bow, tie neck cravat with stick pin bar brooch or crosscut ruffle jabot.
ornate blouses took on a new importance and were worn by every class. Home
dressmakers did their best to emulate the fussy couture blouses and they used
fine pin tucks, fine embroidery, appliqué, insertions of lace, faggoting,
pleats and lace trim to get good effects. Blouses are detailed in the section on
the Edwardian Seamstress.
The fashionable hour
glass silhouette belonged to the mature woman of ample curves and full bosom.
The S-bend health corset described fully in the section on Edwardian
set the line for fashion conscious women until 1905. The corset was too tightly
laced at the waist and so forced the hips back and the drooping monobosom was
thrust forward in a pouter pigeon effect creating an S shape.
The S-Bend corset and pouter pigeon effect.
If you were wealthy
like an Edwardian society hostess, cascades of lace and ultra feminine clothes
were available as labour was plentiful and sweated.
During this time it
was still usual to make dresses in two pieces. The bodice was heavily boned and
was almost like a mini corset itself worn over the S-bend corset.
A top bodice
was usually mounted onto a lightly boned under bodice lining which fastened up with
hooks and eyes very snugly. It acted as a stay garment giving extra stability,
contour and directional shape beneath the delicate top fabric.
By 1905 press
fasteners were used in Britain to hold the bodice or blouse to a skirt, but America
had dress fasteners as early as 1901.
Above Left - Bodice pouched Edwardian day dresses
At the front of the
bodice, pouches of cascading lace or gathered fabric gave emphasis to the low
bust line. The straight sleeves of the late 1890s developed into bloused
effects gathered into wrist bands.
Very deep high lace
fabric collars that reached right under the chin elongated the neck. They
often kept in place with wire covered in silk that was twisted into a series of hooks and eyes
from one piece of wire. Little wire or boning supports covered with buttonhole
silk were sometimes dispersed every few inches of the collar to maintain the
rigid effect. Right - High neck blouse 1906.
High necks were usual
by day, but by night exceptionally low sweetheart, square and round décolleté
necklines allowed women to wear quantities of fine jewellery. No cleavage was
visible as the bust was suppressed into a monobosom.
The skirts were often
gored and created an elongated trumpet bell shape like the gently opening head
of a longiflorum lily. Modified versions were less extreme over the hips, simply
flowing to more width at the hemline.
Right - The S-Bend Silhouette.
The high collar, S
bend corset, trained skirt and lavish hat all had an effect on the posture of an
Edwardian lady and it gave her a certain swaying grandeur.
Between 1906 an 1909
the silhouette began to show gradual changes and skirts lost fullness and the
silhouette straightened. Feet
The waistline was
raised until it was a column like empire line or Directoire
after the styles
designed by fashion designer Paul Poiret. So after 1907 fashion history looked
toward a new fresh direction when a longer line corset became fashionable.
The corset almost reaching the
knees was intended to make the figure look slimmer.
were controversial and were directed at younger women. To read more about the
era of Orientalism and Paul Poiret's artist friends who put a stamp on the era
go to Orientalism In Dress.
One of THE social events of 1908 was the
London Olympic Games.
The new late Edwardian silhouette. See
more silhouettes of the Edwardian era and use them for colouring in sheets
of fashion history.
Women wore the shawl
many years, but gradually it was replaced by other outdoor items such as capes,
wraps and jackets.
The Casaque was a deep close fitting basque jacket that
buttoned to the neck. A Paletot was a short jacket with
set in sleeves and the Mantelet was a kind of half shawl. All the items had
allowed for the cut of the bustles and pads of the era and the garments ranged
from high hip to three quarter length.
After the slimmer
silhouette arrived, hats developed much wider brims. Lavish trims such as
feathers often stuck out well beyond the brim. The hats were named Merry Widow
hats after the popular operetta of the era.
about Edwardian hats here.
Feathers were used
excessively as decoration on hats and as boas. The fur skin of whole animals
such as foxes and even two foxes were used as wraps about the shoulders. Aesthetes
objected to the use of animal products.
Right - Martial and Armand Creation depicting the
perfectly groomed directoire styled woman of 1912.
Note the incredible feather hat and lavish gold metal embroidery,
velvet and fur trim on the oversized muff.
Washable kid gloves
were always worn with outdoor garments both winter and summer. Fancy gloves were
also made in suede and silk and covered with fine embroidery.
still used as decorative accessories and in summer they dripped with lace
and added to the overall fussy prettiness.
Handbags were not
fashionable in the era, but small decorative delicate bags with a dainty strap
that hung from the wrist were sometimes used. Ladies carried little money as
goods were charged to accounts and only minimal make up was usual so none was
Open cars still
created dusty dirty atmospheres and country roads were often unmade.
Loose topcoats in
leather, or special motoring coats from Burberry or Aquascutum acted as
protection from weather and cold. Oil smuts could be a problem so women wore
thick face veils with their hats and even goggles.
Costume History Section
On Cloaks, Mantelets, Pelisses, Redingotes, Paletots
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make washable garments to fit modern measurements, as well as being wholesale
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