Gilded Age to the Edwardian

Not open for further replies.

lisagay harrod

Former Member
To All,

I'm wondering about historical dates...
When did the Gilded Age begin and end according to the history books? The same with the Edwardian Age. Is the Gilded Age just the American version of the Edwardian Age, and is it generally considered that the Victorian Era died with Queen Vickie in 1902? Did these "Ages" overlap one another? I guess I'm sort of looking for a timeline here.

Thanks & Cheers,

John Meeks

Former Member

Damned good question! I bet everyone, truly, has their own view on this one!

Personally I've always thought that "The Gilded Age" started around 1890 and ended in 1914. I always equate it with "La Belle Epoque" - as the French say.

And yes, the Victorian Era did cease with The Queen's death, giving rise to the "Edwardian Era" in 1902/3. Curiously the latter seems to remain so-called right up to 1914 - notwithstanding that it had, truly, become the "Georgian Era" by then.

I guess the new King didn't have quite the same charisma!

Anybody else...?


John M
I believe The Gilded Age was a term coined by Mark Twain in his writings, circa 1870s (?) so I always think of it as Victorian. However it probably is, as John has mentioned, the American equivalent of the French "la belle epoch" which encompasses the 1890s through to the beginning of WWI.

The Victorian era would have technically ended with the death of Victoria in 1901, though many historians point to 1897, the year of her Jubilee, as sort of the swan song of the era and the true beginning of the Edwardian era. Similarly the Edwardian years ended technically with Edward VII's death in 1910 but its generally recognized that the period extends to 1914.

Tracy Smith

As a child, I always put the date of when "modern times" vaguely began as around 1920, which coincided with women's hemlines rising from the ankles/floor for the first time in recorded history.

Even now, as an adult, I'm very curious as to what finally was the impetus for women's skirts to rise from the ankles/floor. Does anyone have any idea whose idea it was or can it not be traced to any one person?

That skirts were floor-length through history till the 1920s is one of those myths that costume folks like me get all bent out of shape over!

Actually as far back as the late 18th century there was a fad for court dresses reaching (in extreme cases) to just below-calf length. Again in the 1820s and 30s, skirts crept up to well over the ankles.

All through Victorian times fashionable skirts swept the ground, though for sports wear the length was modified to the instep or ankle.

It wasn't until 1909-10 with the narrowing of skirts that hems picked up as well. This could be attributed to Poiret or Lucile or Fortuny or any of the other big name designers at this time as they all promoted the style.

Skirts between 1909-14 were basically instep or ankle-length with some slightly shorter hems for dance dresses.

From 1914 to 1919, hemlines were between 2 to 5 inches over the ankle (sometimes shorter).

From 1919 to 1921 there was a fad for mid-calf length hems, the shortest yet seen. Skirts dropped again in 1921 to below calf and remained there until about 1924-25 when they started to rise season by season till in 1926-27 they reached their shortest level of knee-length (flappers went for mid-kneecap; few ever really were above the knees). So you see, even the popular notion that skirts were ultra-short all through the 1920s is not true.

Hemlines descended again in 1929 and remained long through the mid-30s.

Well, there's you a History of Hemlines!

I would add that the modern idea of a short skirt (knee length or above) only came about in around 1925. But it was not a sudden change from long to short. It was a progressive cycle.


John Meeks

Former Member
Hi Folks!


You seem to have ignored the most important period of "the History of Hemlines"!

As a young man, then living in England in the late 'sixties when the miniskirt reigned supreme, I remember being very polite and allowing young ladies to board 'double-decker' 'buses ahead of me. Naturally, I had to follow them up the stairs...!

Those were the days....!

Anyway....and more seriously...

If you look at the economic history of the 20th century, you can discern a connection between affluence and 'skirt length'. When people have more money to spend - they can afford more fabric, wholesale or retail!

Just take a look at fashions prior to, and after 1940.

Even guys - anybody have 'cuffs' ('turnups') on their pants these days?


John M
Hello all-

Well, to put another perspective on this "gilded/hemline" theme; there is a theory that hemlines shorten during more progressive or liberal times. As Randy has pointed out, in the 1820's and 30's it was a more accepting, freer time. The Victorian era gets the reputation as a prudish time, which sets the modern mind thinking that is how it always was throughout history. Even that concept is misleading: sure, women were expected to be parlour ornaments lets say, 1840 on, but that was because they could be. With the industrial revolution kicking in, there was more people making more money than ever before (yes, at the expence of the rising "underclass", but that's another story). The wife, with servants, and little else to do, was a social status, not unlike the "corporate wives" of today. And if costume could promote this much the better. By the time of Gilded/Edwardian era, social activity became a new fashion: women were working more outside the home (bicycles allowed more freedom in movement), and society ladies were now involved in any number of reform or advocacy organizations. And dress reflected this un-ornamental living. Of course with WWI, both men and women had to get, well, "down and dirty" in social responcibilities. The post-war years, getting to Tracy's thoughts, was an extention of the tearing down/rebuilding of what we would call the modern era. Which one can understand as coinsididing with practical living- who can imagine hoop-skirts ever being common again?!

Well, enough of my epoch!
Take care-
A small correction from an old cyclist. In Edwardian times the bicycle was a toy for the wealthy. Women who could afford them used them for recreation but working women could not afford them. Quite a few cycling advertisements of the time include women but they are always well-dressed women on a pleasure excursion.

On page 38 of The Birth of the Titanic there's a picture of an Edwardian woman with her bike and her long skirt. Can anybody spot something very unusual about the bike?

In the same book, it's noticeable that the working women have skirts that clear the ground quite well.

Inger Sheil

Dave, I would have thought that bicycles were a practical means of transport for some of the Edwardian middle class rather than just a 'toy for the wealthy'? James Moody, for example, used one to get around Southampton and nearby townships. Agreed that working women couldn't afford them, but they did have their practical applications and were used as such. In Conan Doyle's story, 'The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist', the female character is forced by circumstances to earn a living as a music teacher. She used her bicycle as a means of transportation, getting her to and from her train station.

Typical Sherlock Holmes moment:

With a resigned air and a somewhat weary smile, Holmes begged the beautiful intruder to take a seat. and to inform us what it was that was troubling her.

"At least it cannot be your health," said he, as his keen eyes darted over her: "so ardent a bicyclist must be full of energy."

She glanced down in surprise at her own feet, and I observed the slight roughening of the side of the sole caused by the friction of the edge of the pedal.

"Yes, I bicycle a good deal, Mr. Holmes. and that has something to do with my visit to you to-day."

My friend took the lady's ungloved hand, and examined it with as close an attention and as little sentiment as a scientist would show to a specimen.

"You willl cxcuse me. I am sure. It is my business," said he, as he dropped it. "I nearly fell into the error of supposing that you were typewriting. Of course, it is obvious that it is music.

You observe the spatulate finger-ends, Watson, which is common to both professions? There is a spirituality about the face, however" -- she gently turned it towards the light -- "which the
typewriter does not generate. This lady is a musician."

My favourite historic cyclist is indubitably Michael Collins, who in the late teens/very early 20s used to cycle around Dublin, dressed as a businessman, conducting the work of the Irish War of Independence. Never mind that there was a hefty price on his head - he joked his way through military checkpoints, and there was not a soul who cared - or dared - to pointed out that probably the most wanted man in the British Empire moved freely in their midst, undisguised. There's a great photo of him with the bicycle.
I imagine I should have clarified a little better what I meant by "working women". Of course, women in farming, factory, servant etc. capacities could not afford much of anything, let alone cycles. I was speaking of what was considered the "New Woman" of this said time frame. Stenographers, governessess, secretaries- yes Inger, also music teachers! were in this odd catagory of middle class working (outside the home) women. I think of Hazel in "Upstairs Downstairs". Sure, fiction, but that character represented a role that was transpiring on both sides of the Atlantic.

Back to bikes... I believe that the reason women's bicycles have a lowered cross-bar was originally to accomodate the skirts, although there was a fad in the 1890's for a bloomer style cycling outfit. Never saw it again after 1902 or so; I guess the ammount of a ladies' woolen-stockinged leg was too much for the streets!

Take care-
There's a theory that hemlines rose and fell in relationship to prosperity- and there can be an argument made for that. I have read in various sources that increased athleticism and women travelling more in the workplace and in service work during WWI as nurses and other war-related occupations necessitated more convenient skirts. WWII certainly brought trousers for Rosie the Riveter and her sisters.
I have also read in fashion history books of yesteryear that fashions changed due to war. In peace time, more material is used in women's wear. In wartime, less is used so that the material could be used for military purposes,(which would sort of explain shorter hemlines) although this doesn't really hold up when you look at time lines. For instance, WWI had ended when the shorter skirts of the 20's came into vogue. The only time I can really see justification for that theory is the coincidence of the miniskirt with the height of the Viet Nam conflict, and that the midi came out in the 70's after it ended. Any other thoughts?

I do think a psychological effect on, or reaction to transitional times plays a large role in lifestyle in general, dress in particular. When WWI broke out, skirts flared out; any semblence of the more masculine lines (the one trouser leg-esque hobble) was defeated by a much more feminine, almost 1830's silhoette. This was a result of a more passive role women were expected to take during the time of male "Over There!" bravery. Of course, the realities of the war, and it's unprecendented brutalities was cause for a more practical and involved outlook, including dress. After the war, there was a slight attempt to pre-war styles, however a liberating effect was put in place and it's hold was strong. Colorful dress shirts for men were quite popular in the 1920's, although we may not be able to tell judging from black and white photos. I think that was a reaction to the dingy browns and greens soldiers were forced to wear. Women, after working in munition factories etc., were probably not too keen on corsetry and sweeping hemlines.

Now, the pendulum can swing the other way: after WWII, Dior's "New Look" (very 1915) brought feminity back after a long sleep within a more austere time. The 60's mini was often considered a throwback to the rambunchous 20's, the 70's had a 30's feel, the 80's had a 40's/50's style, the 90's had a double retro (30's/70's!), and now...well, you get the idea.

The thing that I think of, getting back to the original question is this: the "labels" we give to times, or eras...whatever- that is usually done in retrospect. Any decade I mentioned before, I don't believe anyone living day-to-day within that time really thought of "THE ERA" in which they were moving about. Now I always hear of the boom years of the 90's, well- evidently that passed me by. But years from now kids might ask me if I was some dot-com millionare who lost his fortune! It would be like asking my Grandparents if they lived like "Great Gatsby"; and then getting laughed at in my face! It's this funny, difficult, confusing thing about history- the more we try to box it up all tidy, the more we find ourselves stumbling about!

Oh well...I guess I'll just stumble on anyway!

Take care-

John Meeks

Former Member

I know exactly what you mean, and what you're getting at - with one qualification...

When I was a younger guy, I can assure you that there was something special about..that we were conscious of living in...the 'sixties!

...I guess you had to be there...!


John M
John, Amen to that, brother! But if you can remember the sixties, then you really weren't there! (wink)

(a fellow flower child)
Not open for further replies.