Gilded Age to the Edwardian


May 12, 2005
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All,

First of all this discussion belongs on the fashions thread.

Now just to touch on some points here. The young of the ruling class are almost always in the forefront of fashion for the obvious reason that they have the money and the position to buy the best.

They therefore set the styles, or at least they used to before rock stars took over. Only matronly, conservative women (i.e. horse-faced royalty)in the old days would have worn dress styles or hem-lengths beyond the time that they were fashionable. No one then or now cares what some frumpy old lady wears. Such an unfortunate won't have any affect on style, however distinguished she is. It is youth and beauty and fame and money that set fashions. That much has not changed.

High society - and increasingly the entertainment world - led the fashions of the day during the early 1900s. Women of the middle and lower classes imitated them. They themselves set no fashions as they had no influence. It was a classist, elitist world then. No one cared what bosomy Mrs. Jones or Farmer Brown's snaggle-tooth daughter wore. It was the latest queen of society or of the stage to whom women looked for sartorial inspiration.

The couture world was truly an industry then. The ready-to-wear trade was just beginning. It was only when high-society literally bought into simpler, sportier clothes that things began to change.

Another point- corsets did not "vanish" and hemlines never "jumped." Only somebody with a dabbling knowledge of costume history could think that that's how it happened.

The truth is that few fashion trends are instantaneous. Most are only gradual in their progression.

Corsets were becoming obsolete as early as 1900 when high-fashion tea-gowns were being made so voluminous that they were unnecessary. By 1907, looser corsets were coming into vogue for general wear and, bit by bit, especially during the years of WWI, they pared down more and more until, in the 1920s, they were being discarded altogether. All women at one single, given time did not suddenly stop wearing corsets.

And hemlines, as I mentioned above, crept up gradually beginning in about 1910. There was no "jump" from ankle to knee length. To suggest such a thing is ludicrous and shows a lack of understanding of the fashion system and, more importantly, of women.

I would recommend to those interested in this subject that they invest in some old fashion magazines, instead of buying the latest fashion coffee-table book(unless it happens to be mine!). That way you will have a more authentic idea of what was actually being worn at a certain period.

The field of costume research, though there is a changing of the guard already, is still for the most part shoddy and pedestrian. I say look to original illustrated sources, not to contemporary mass-market picture books on this subject if you want the truth.

Randy
 

Tracy Smith

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Apr 20, 2012
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Randy said:

"The truth is that few fashion trends are instantaneous. Most are only gradual in their progression."

and...

"And hemlines, as I mentioned above, crept up gradually beginning in about 1910. There was no "jump" from ankle to knee length."

I was looking at the phenomenon of skirts shorter than floor/ankle length from the long perspective of history where nearly all women wore ankle/floor length skirts for all of previously recorded history. Of course, it is given that lengths did not "jump" from ankle/floor to calf or knee length skirts overnight; that isn't being questioned. But this was a process that took no more than ten or fifteen years. When you put ten or fifteen years against thousands of years of previously recorded history, it was a very short time for something like this to take root, gain critical mass, and permanently change how women dressed.

And my emphasis was on average, everyday, real women, from all walks of life and how this change of dress affected their lives and how they perceived these changes. Actually, I care about the frumpy old lady and the snaggle tooth daughter because they are people like me; someone who might have lived next door to me and whom I would have known. I was not addressing this from the viewpoint of high fashion.

I've seen examples of high fashion shows in recent years and have seen some extreme and sometimes outlandish designs, but for the most part, these designs are not worn by any sizable number of women in their everyday lives.

I suspect that the permanent abandonment of floor/ankle length dresses, from calf length on up had more to do with practical reasons than with fashion. David said something about the Industrial Revolution and I'd been thinking about how women's lives became more active during this time and how floor length skirts were probably heavy and cumbersome and hampered many physical activities.

In the 1850s, the Bloomer dress, a knee length dress, with loose Turkish trousers gathered at the ankles worn underneath, was introduced by Elizabeth Smith Miller and popularized by Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Never adopted by most women, it still enjoyed a small following for a few years. It addressed many complaints that women then had of the fashions of the time: heavy skirts dragged the ground, picking up dirt, debris, and even mud during rainy weather. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragist, commented that before wearing the Bloomer dress, she could not ascend a flight of stairs at night carrying a baby and a lamp because one hand was always necessary to hoist one's skirt up when climbing stairs and for many other activities. In short, she was saying that the shorter skirt allowed her to be more active, as one hand was free from always having to attend to the skirt.

But, unfortunately, the Bloomer dress was ahead of its time and most women eventually gave up wearing them in public because of the scornful way they were treated when so attired.

But the early 1900s was another time entirely. More and more women were doing new things....riding bicycles, flying planes....and increasing numbers of women went to work, especially after the First World War began. So, my theory is that skirts crept up to meet practical needs rather than fashion needs at first, and fashion obliged by creating new stylish shorter skirts. Of course, I know that it isn't all this simple, but I would think that is a factor, especially in the lives of average, everyday women.
 
May 12, 2005
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Tracy,

I am only saying that, however much one might identify with the average, everyday woman, their needs were not taken into consideration by most designers of that day. Designers then virtually dictated fashions. That can't happen today. There are too many to form a monopoly. And women have come so much into their own today that they exert a kind of consumer power that was impossible in Victorian/Edwardian times. Let's face it, most women back then weren't paying for clothes with their own money.

As for all the sporting activities that we think of as being so revolutionary, the truth is that it was upper-class women who made these activities fashionable along with the clothes they demanded. Bicycling and flying and playing tennis all became chic because society women adopted those sports. Not because middle class women took to them. It's a fact, whether we like it or not.

Now, I'm not touting the upper class. I come from a plain old, conventional middle-class family myself. So I'm not being a snob here. I'm just pointing out that elitism had everything to do with fashion in the past. It still does to some extent.

I'm all for recognizing the average Joe (or Jane in this case) but it doesn't change the fact that very little in fashion before WWI was inspired by the practical needs of working women. It was not possible because "Society" did not recognize those needs as valid.

Randy
 

Dave Hudson

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Apr 15, 2011
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Randy,

"...corsets did not "vanish" and hemlines never "jumped." Only somebody with a dabbling knowledge of costume history could think that that's how it happened."

I admit that I am a dabbler, not a committed researcher such as yourself. I was merely stating my view of it.

I know that dresses weren't 2 inches above the ground Monday night and 2 inches above the knee Tuesday morning, I was speaking in a long term sense. Relatively speaking, the twentieth century has been a whirlwind of momentous change.

"To suggest such a thing is ludicrous and shows a lack of understanding of the fashion system and, more importantly, of women."

Ouch! I'm kinda at a loss for words. I'm sorry.

I guess what I'm saying is that my post wasn't meant to be taken as researched fact. It was a commentary on my opinion of the time period. It's not an article for ET. Tracy asked a question and I answered as best I could. I probably should have phrased a lot of it differently.

I'm not angry, but I do understand why you are. I know how it can be when someone who doesn't really know what they're talking about makes a long, detailed post about something you specialize in. It gets very frustrating to read someone's information when you know it's wrong. I think we've all encountered it here before. We both know that I'm no fashion expert, much less a hemline historian, but I like to think I know a little about 20th century sociology. Like you said, I dabble. I do admit that my understanding is somewhat underdeveloped.

I hope there's no hard feelings.

happy.gif


David
 
May 12, 2005
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David,

Mercy. No offense has been taken or intended. Words seem more forceful when written. There ARE people gullible enough to be believe such things as fashions changing overnight. I used to myself. Anyway, I'm glad you're not one of them.

And dabbling is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a great past-time of mine. What do you think I'm doing here?
happy.gif


Randy
 

Kris Muhvic

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Sep 26, 2008
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The thing I notice most of all is, when speaking of any time frame, is how clothes/costume/fash ion does not only pop up, but also becomes an almost crucial aspect when studying history. It is almost an extention of the living players within our gathering of information. What one did, thought, wrote, ate, and yes, wore, can release so much understanding- I know that is what is interesting to me, and I don't think I'm alone in that!

Your T-shirt-and-jeans-gu y-that-will-be-ignor ed-100 years-fom-now-friend ~
Kris
 
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Daniel Odysseus

Guest
Hmm... I know this is about 2 months late, but I always thought that the guilded age and the Edwardian were the same thing... Did they bleed together or something?
 
May 12, 2005
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The Gilded (or Guilded) Age would have begun in the Victorian era. I think the term was coined by Mark Twain in the 1870s. The Edwardian years are (specifically)1901-1910 or (more broadly) 1897-1914, encompassing the last years of Victoria's reign and the first years of George V's.
 
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Janie Whitty

Guest
Randy,
Your posts are just the BEST. Shelley & Kris too - I have soaked up every inch of this thread (on threads). I don't post very often but I read them all! Thanks for this info. My grandmother was classic Edwardian age and had the clothes to go with that you have so expertly described in all I have read here.

Because Victoria died in 1901, I am surprised to learn that her influence lasted so far into the decade. Was that the high neckline that was her influence?
 
D

Daniel Odysseus

Guest
Hmm... That's interesting, Randy... Thanks. But what do you mean specifically and more broadly?
 
May 12, 2005
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Janie,

You are very kind. I love the period in all its facets and am happy to share my enthusiasm for it. How fun to have had an Edwardian grandmother! My great-grandmothers were Edwardian. One in particular, Lillie Whitfield Tanner, was born in 1890 and married on April 23, 1912. Sadly she died young from cancer, age 36. I inherited my love of fashion from her. She was an expert dressmaker and followed all the latest trends. I am proud to own her sewing machine with which she made all her clothes from 1915 until the year of her death in 1928.

As to Victoria's influence into the first decades of the century, I think there was some but for the most part it was a time of high-energy and excessive luxury - not her style. And the new fashions didn't reflect her conservative ideals. High necklines did last a few years and, you're right, they may well have been a final sartorial vestige of her influence.

Daniel,

Specifically: Victoria died in 1901, succeeded by her son Prince Albert Edward who became King Edward VII (coronated 1902). He died in 1910.

Broadly: After Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1897, Royal public duties were mostly taken up by Edward, around whom the Court then naturally centered. Many historians point to this date as the true inception of his reign. Although Edward died in '10, historians also generally consider the last few years before the outbreak of the First World War as "Edwardian."

All my best,

Randy
 
May 12, 2005
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Some "starter" books for those interested in learning more about Edwardian life:

AN EDWARDIAN CHILDHOOD by Jane Pettigrew (Boston: Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown and Co., 1992).

This is a wonderfully illustrated tribute to the world of children during the early 1900s. If there is a perfect "beginner's" book to instantly transport you to that magical time, this is it. The fanciful etiquette of the period, regarding a child's place, is put in amusing perspective. The domains of the nursery and schoolroom as well as the glories of play and toys are discussed. This book makes a great gift!

EDWARDIAN PROMENADE by James Laver (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958).

A companion volume to "Victorian Vista," this book by the great social commentator James Laver is a crash course in everything about the opening years of the 20th century that so intrigues - from the lives of the Royals and the social rounds of the American elite to the delights of the theatre and musical hall and the contemporary art scene. Not forgotten are the sporting activities (particularly that of "automobiling" and "aeroplaning"), the politics, the enormous suppers (many menus are reproduced), and naturally the luxurious clothes! The text takes the form of excerpts from contemporary diaries, letters, books, and newspapers so that one has the feeling that you're actually stepping into that far-off world and becoming part of some great and merry party. The book is also beautifully illustrated.
 

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