Gilded Age to the Edwardian

Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith

Member
Well, I guess the point I was making in my original hemlines post, is that it was some time after the First World War when skirts shorter than ankle/floor length were worn by the vast majority of women, for the first time in recorded history.

I know that wars, economic realities, etc, have had an effect on hemlines in the 20th century, but such conditions apparently did not affect women's hemlines until the 20th century. I'm wondering what the great catalyst was in the 20th century that finally did in the long dress/skirt essentially for good?

And I'm wondering how many women continued to wear floor/ankle length dresses even after they were passe, considering that they'd gone their entire lives never showing so much as an ankle? I've seen photos of the British Queen Mary of Teck wearing floor length dresses even in the 1930s.

We must remember that even calf length dresses were probably considering very daring when they first came out.

But once skirts came up off the floor for good, it wasn't all that long before women wore pants. If I'm not mistaken wasn't Katherine Hepburn one of the first women to wear pants in public in the 1930s? And I've got a picture of Amelia Earhart and other female fliers wearing pants in the 1920s. Of course, the first large scale wearing of pants by women was in the 1940s, when the women moved into war work.

Speaking of the 60s, it was in my sixth grade year, 1969-1970, that the rule that girls must wear dresses or skirts to school was finally lifted.
 
Kyrila Scully

Kyrila Scully

Member
Tracy, even in the sixties, I remember women in the backhills of Kentucky, including my grandmother, who still dressed like pioneer women with the long skirts and blouses, sunbonnets and ankle length aprons. I even have a photograph of her with my grandfather, who also appeared to be wearing pioneer clothes. That's just how they dressed. My mother's aunt was finally "modernized" in the 70's and wore up-to-date ladies' polyester slacks and tops. Maybe that's why I feel so comfortable in the 19th century.

Kyrila
 
K

Kris Muhvic

Member
Hello!

Tracy- I can't really say what the pivotal reason as to why womens leg's became "acceptable"...possi bly the influence of the autobobile? There is another theory regarding shifting errogenous zones...hm-hm; busts, arms, bottoms, necks, backs, and even legs have gotten focused on in fashion. By that I do not mean simply exposed (think of the bustles of the 1870/80's). In the 30's hemlines dropped, but backs were exposed- and the bias cut nature showed, or implied the shape of the...posterior! (really for the first time).

Kyrila and John-

Not to start an issue, but, being born in '69, I sometimes wonder (I'm over 30 now, so you don't have to trust me;)), about this 60's nostalgia. Sure, an upheaval of just about everything, seemingly very exciting. But I can not believe it was all "Peace-Love-we're changing the world" sort of thing. A little story: when I was born, slap-cry-"it's a boy!"...my Mother's first thought was "I hope he doesn't go to Nam!". Yeah, ridiculous, but watching the body-count on TV every night, I can understand her fear. And nobody knew when it was going to end, least of all the kids (I can say "kids" now!) that were there...they didn't care about a concert in the mud, they were trying to stay alive. I guess what I'm getting at is there is another, more painful side; not the "it was so cool" perspective that I always see portrayed. Hmmm...I guess, in way, John answered my question, being conscious of the time. One couldn't help but be so.

See what I mean about history?!
Ugh! I better stop...

Take care-
Kris
 
D

Dave Hudson

Member
Tracy,

"I'm wondering what the great catalyst was in the 20th century that finally did in the long dress/skirt essentially for good?"

I know I'm simplifying this more than I should, but I would say the primary reason would be the Industrial Revolution. This was one of the primary reasons for both the great wealth that led to the Gilded Age as well as for the technology that would eventually kill that entire way of life. In short, technology led to a more modern way of thinking. This new way of life applied to everything; science, transportation, politics, and more importantly, fashion and society. Everyone wanted to be as modern as possible and that meant that old styles had to go. This was the age of progress and reform, not tradition and conventionalism. It was only a matter of time until prosperous women found ways to use this new philosophy to gain social status (be it by philanthropy, electrically lit ballrooms, or ankle-length hemlines).

Ironically, it was this same idea of reform that ended up balancing the classes and ending the Gilded Age. Thus, by the 20's, previously lower class women could now afford these new fashions. This new (and very LARGE) market forced fashion companies adapt. Because the new middle class didn't have as much refinement and pedigree, they didn't restrict themselves to more formal and elegant styles. The fashion industry realized this and thus, corsets vanished, hemlines jumped, and the new woman was born.

"And I'm wondering how many women continued to wear floor/ankle length dresses even after they were passe, considering that they'd gone their entire lives never showing so much as an ankle?"

For the women who were born of more refined and affluent families, elegance and class were still the prevailing motives when picking out clothes. To them, the new woman was the new commoner. Short hemlines did not apply to them.

At least this is my take on the whole thing.

Happy


David
 
L

lisagay harrod

Guest
I got an answer to my querie and then some!

Thanks to all...

Randy, I had forgotten that Mark Twain coined the term "Guilded Age", an important reminder...I'm a lover of Twain. Did you catch the Ken Burns piece on PBS? It was wonderful.

Cheers,
Lisa Harrod
 
R

Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
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

Tracy Smith

Member
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.
 
R

Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
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
 
D

Dave Hudson

Member
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


David
 
R

Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
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


Randy
 
K

Kris Muhvic

Member
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
 
D

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?
 
R

Randy Bryan Bigham

Member
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.
 
J

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?
 
Top