Edwardian Clothing & Fashion


May 1, 2010
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I'm going to have to break with all of you here. I can't tell you all how much I'd rather wear a comfortable pair of jeans and a t-shirt any day of the week.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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The www.victoriana.com website is definitely an excellent one and I only stumbled on it by accident myself not that long ago. They have daily updates with new articles and what not and you can become a subscriber to these updates via e-mail. For free, of course. Definitely worthwhile.

You think those were bad? There was a piece not long ago on Victorian era beach etiquette....wow.
 
Jul 9, 2004
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Any website that recommends pink and fake pearls as "Victorian Decor" or uses computer-tinted photographs should not be trusted as a good source on Victorian and Edwardian living.

At least, that's what I think.

I approach fashion, be it Edwardian, Victorian, or otherwise thus: First, a perusal of photographs from the time you wish to study, where available (obviously, anything before 1837 isn't going to be available, photographically, because portrait photography, along with most photography in general, was not available before then.)

So, say you want the Edwardian period, and you want American Edwardian period (because there are subtle differences between countries.) then you look at American sources, such as the Library of Congress, which in my previous postings around here I've referenced before (as have many others,) Their Baird News Service collection is excellent, and is now available on an easy to search, and fun to browse photoset on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/sets/72157603624867509/

The next thing to do is to look at extant examples. After photographs, which will show how garments were worn and, generally, the attitudes with which they were worn, extant examples will fill in color and texture, and construction of said garments.(Construction is a good thing to learn because that will show you WHY things, when they were worn, laid out the way they did.)
Again, say we are talking American Edwardian, then I will send you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute collection, which is searchable, and fairly easy to use (although, I think their collection is wont for some chronological dating tags, but anyways): http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/the_costume_institute

THEN one takes a look at the fashion plates of the period, as these represent the idealized form of that period's fashions, like etiquette rules, they are standards that so many aspired to meet, but so few hardly ever achieved. I've actually not got a link for fashion plates at the moment, but they're easy enough to find online.

SO with all that done, the final thing to do is to catalogue all that in your head, and compare how each category measures up to the other, and you'll find some interesting differences. Sometimes, those differences can be really staggering, or will go toward reaffirming the each other.

So, that's what I do when I want to look at Edwardian, Victorian, or whatever period in fashion I want to learn about: it's a kind of gather, conglomerate, compare kind of technique. And I don't consider myself a fashion student. Rather, I just want to know what it all LOOKED like. I use it all for a number of different things, but mainly my illustration work.

And yes, I am slightly crazy.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Well the thing is that the Victorian era covers such a large span of time that fashion was bound to change with the times. In Victorian society, fashion and the way you dressed was used as a way to show how affluent you were in society. You only have to look at photos of various Titanic passengers to be able to see this.

It would be impossible to chronicle every piece of fashion for both men and women of all levels of society from that era....even the famous top hat, staple of fashion in the 1850's-60's, changed with the times and eventually faded out of popularity.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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>Any website that recommends pink and fake pearls as "Victorian Decor"

Heh. There is the Victorian Era awash in pink and mauve, and tapestry patterned wallpaper, and darling, frilly, afternoon outfits in which to serve minty iced tea on the verandah. The Victorian era which inspires hobbyists to ruin Victorian houses (a meaningless term, actually) by "restoring' them as B&Bs chock-full of framed trade cards, mauve hassocks, and lacy parasols hanging from the bathroom ceiling, over the toilet. You know what I mean...the sort of restoration in which original wallpaper is deemed 'not Victorian enough' and is subsequently steamed off and replaced with tapestry-patterned stuff from the EMPRESS VICTORIANA LINE. (A fictional name- no specific wallparer concern is being mocked) Then, there is that OTHER Victorian era......

Something you and I (Brandon) talked about recently, is another great source for information on period clothing. Vintage ready-to-wear catalogues have been widely reproduced and can be found online, for pennies. The originals tend to run $40 and up, but are preferable IMHO.

They are filled with things that Lady Victoriana tends to omit from her B and B...Tansy Pills for Milady (which caused spontaneous abortion, if taken in large doses~ the label specifically warned Milady NOT to take a certain dosage if pregnant) Heidelberg Belts, which cured erectile dysfunction with an electric noose:
heidelberg.jpg
, and home stomach pumps "guaranteed not to perforate" to be used on those occasions when Maggie the Cook grew resentful and intentionally served meat that had died in the field of natural causes. Personally, I'd pay EXTRA to stay in a quaint Victorian bed n breakfast in which an EASTERN STAR HOME STOMACH PUMP was prominently displayed in the kitchen.

The clothing sections are informative, although eons less disturbing than the rest of the catalogues.

May 1915. Alice Lines, the Pearl family's nurse, purchased a new outfit in Queenstown, post-Lusitania disaster. Cunard's Queenstown rep noted that the outfit was ABOVE HER STATION and balked at paying the bill. Cunard Liverpool noted that it was in the company's best interest to keep the Pearls "Sweet," and authorised payment.
 
Jul 9, 2004
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>Well the thing is that the Victorian era covers such a large span of time that fashion was bound to change with the times.

Indeed, it did. Fashion changed in the Edwardian period as well. This is not a problem, but all the more a reason in-depth study is needed, as one period cannot, and should not, be represented by one mode of fashion.

>In Victorian society, fashion and the way you dressed was used as a way to show how affluent you were in society.

Only true to a point, but in principle, still holds true today. It was more an expression of how people wanted the nicest they could afford as well, as opposed to showing off (which it probably was for the highest of society - which sadly gets the most attention today).

I also think the elaboration in dress was a generational thing. The young adult of the 1880s (in the late 1880s there is a decided shift towards simplicity) was only, at most, four generations descended from her ancestors of the 1770s, who set incredibly high dress standards. Some of the definitive looks of the period (the crinoline of the 1850s and '60s, the great democratizing underpinning, as almost every woman could afford one due to their cheap materials and mass-produced construction) were billed as revivals of eighteenth-century modes. As you get generationally farther away from that high standard, you see dress become less and less elaborate in form. I think a great deal of the Victorian penchant for elaboration in form and decoration was due to the fact that it was what they grew up with - they knew nothing else.

>It would be impossible to chronicle every piece of fashion for both men and women of all levels of society from that era....

Not at all. It already has been documented for us, by writings, articles, and, after 1837, photographs (Even by the 1850s, the average man, and woman on the street could afford to have his likeness taken via the Daguerreotype process, for twelve cents.) We just have to look at the resources at hand. That's not so difficult, is it? (It really isn't difficult, honest!)

>even the famous top hat, staple of fashion in the 1850's-60's, changed with the times and eventually faded out of popularity.

You mean the stovepipe hat, which worn as day-wear from the 1820s before being relegated to formal-wear in the 1870s/80s? Why should it be difficult to document a changing article of fashion? Once the changes are taken note of, it actually makes it easier to find other examples and to make a ball-park estimate as to their age. If you break your research down into the different decades, it becomes very easy to see those changes in fashion, and articles of fashion.

The Parasol, a favorite among the B&B hobbyists (who frequently have no idea what actual nineteenth-century examples look like) - as Jim points out, was carried by women of almost every level of society throughout the duration of the century. It too had many changes over the course of the century, but these are all documentable, and easy to spot - the parasol of the 1850s, with its small size and its more-often-than-not hinged, collapsible handle and silk brocade cover, is a much different article than the large, straight-handled, linen-covered parasols of the turn of the 20th century, and yet it's easy to tell the difference, and easy to document the changes.

It's not difficult at all to document changed, and changing articles of fashion. It is not impossible, and it is worth doing, if one wishes to truly learn about any period in fashion. The same principle applies to historical research.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Brandon:

I'm sure if you put the time and effort into it, it's not impossible to chronicle every phase fashion went through in the Victorian era. My point is that you can't be expected to do that in just one article, and I think the one that I gave the link to is a perfectly reasonable one, and the Victoriana site overall is an invaluable source of information on all things Victoriana.

Fashion comes in, goes out, changes, comes back again, goes out. Look at what's going on right now, 1980's fashion is making a comeback in a major way. Which isn't necessarily a good thing, but it is nonetheless. There is no way, however, that you can compare fashion ideals of the 21st century to the 19th century.

Ideals have changed so much. These days people dress however they like, regardless of their status in society. For instance, in the Victorian era, I can assure you, nobody would have walked through a lower class area wearing a shining top hat, coat, vest, pocket watch, etc....unless they were asking to be mugged.

But really, this is nitpicking which isn't necessary....
 
Jul 9, 2004
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>My point is that you can't be expected to do that in just one article, and I think the one that I gave the link to is a perfectly reasonable one, and the Victoriana site overall is an invaluable source of information on all things Victoriana.


And my point was that you can't simply rely on fashion plates, from secondary resources, to educate yourself on Edwardian and Victorian fashions. I never said anything about putting it into one article. Which, could be done. It'd be a long article, yes, but it'd be an article still.

>There is no way, however, that you can compare fashion ideals of the 21st century to the 19th century.


Uhh... well I know I didn't make that comparison - unless you're talking about where I said fashion is used by some today as a way to show their affluence.

And just because fashion changes, does that negate its importance in a given period? Is the aforementioned crinoline not important because it was passed over beginning in 1868 for the bustle? Which itself wouldn't be important because it got usurped by the slim-skirted lines of the mid and later 1870s? But aren't those slim-skirted lines not important, because they were replaced by the revival of the bustle in the mid 1880s? You could go on discounting the importance of each phase of fashion because "Well, it changed!" until you have negated fashion itself.

Fashion is always in a state of flux, yes, but so is civilization and society. The study of society and its changes is called social anthropology. If we were to say that study of something that changed over the years was impossible to document, how would we be able to study societal change? How would we, indeed, be able to conduct any field of historical research?

Fashion is an incredibly important segment of historical study - it is an expression and reaction to society norms, shifts, and its changes, that is why it changes as quickly as society itself does.

To tie this back in with the Titanic, to stay on topic - the Titanic changed. It was built, and fitted out (change). It entered service (a change) and it struck an iceberg and sank (rather big change) and it's rusted on the bottom of the ocean floor, for the most part in two pieces, (changing with the times. Rusting.) Does that make it impossible to document, and thus, not worthy of being documented? Not at all - otherwise, why would we be all here on this board having discussions about the ship, and the world that surrounded it?

>For instance, in the Victorian era, I can assure you, nobody would have walked through a lower class area wearing a shining top hat, coat, vest, pocket watch, etc....unless they were asking to be mugged.

Apparently they did, because there were muggings, and places where you are told not to go walking simply don't get their reputation by not being places where people are polite and courteous. The "bad part of town" doesn't get it's bad reputation if people walk through the streets handing flowers to strangers on the sidewalk - unless those flowers are soaked in chloroform and it knocks out the victim and they get robbed.

From your other posts around this forum - I know you've done research, and written articles on the Jack The Ripper killings. You did know that Whitechapel was a popular place for rich youths to go "slumming" in the 1880s, right? In New York, it was popular to go and "Do" the slums of Five Points. So, yes, it could be said that you could some times see a man in a shining top hat, coat, vest, and pocket watch in a lower class area. Would he have gotten mugged? It's not out of the question.
 

Adam Went

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Brandon:

Yes, I have spent years research the Victorian era, Victorian society and Jack the Ripper - however, I will be the first to admit that fashion is far from being my strongest suit. What I can say is this: Have you heard of Ripper witness George Hutchinson? He described a man with the last of the 5 canonical victims, Mary Jane Kelly, and described him in great detail as somebody dressed up like a rich man - cufflinks, gold chain, tie pin, etc....a "toff" is the word, and one of the major reasons that many students of the case dismiss the testimony of Hutchinson is for the very reason that it's extremely unlikely that a man dressed in this way would have been seen, especially by himself, in the middle of the slum areas of the East End, at 2 AM on a Saturday morning.

Yes, of course it did happen at times, but mugging and pick-pocketing was so common that the majority of people were not stupid enough to try it. To walk through a lower class area dressed up as if going to the opera was about as good as hanging a sign around your neck saying "Mug me! Mug me!".

Anyway, the point in all of this is that you would need to write a very lengthy piece and probably even a book to chronicle all major fashion of the Victorian era, and like any fashion, that changes from age group to age group and country to country.

As I said, Victorian fashion is not my strongest suit, I believe there are things far more important than that which deserve more research. It was simply a suggested link to the Victoriana site to get a bit of an idea of things, nothing more.
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Randy Bryan Bigham is the person I turn to for all questions pertaining to Edwardian fashion, particularly Lucile, LTD. However, for the modern young woman, I found this video on how to transform oneself to the fashion of that era.

 
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