What they wore


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John Morris

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Does anybody have any idea what some of the richer ladies, Mrs. Thayer, Mrs. Widenor, Mrs, Carter, Mrs. Cardeza, etc. wore off the Titanic. I really only know about Mrs. Brown and her velvet black dress. Also, does anyone know if their clothes are still in existence.

Any knowledge would be appreciated
John Morris
 
Jan 31, 2001
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I have heard of a third-class female passenger (the name fails me), wearing off a ruby-red house coat into a lifeboat. The coat is now displayed in her hometown museum. I'm not so sure on the class she was in or the location of the museum; I read this in a book long ago.
 

Jim Kalafus

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That was Marion Wright, and the coat was, and may still be, on display at the town museum in Cottage Grove, Oregon.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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There's a thread - long retired - on this subject.

We know Dorothy Gibson wore a white silk evening dress covered by a cardigan sweater. She also had on black pumps and a long coat. Dorothy wore this costume again in the Eclair-produced film "Saved from the Titanic" in which she starred after her rescue.

Edith Rosenbaum (Russell) wore a hobble-skirted woolen dress, a matching fur cape and muff, a knitted hat, and those blasted embroidered pumps with buckles, one of which she lost in the scramble to board boat 11 and actually spent a few minutes hunting for along the grate of the deck!

The photo of the George Harders on Carpathia show the couple looking quite spiffy, he in a sport suit, overcoat, and snap-brim tweed cap, she in a floral-printed jacket, a hobble-skirt, fur stole, plumed cloche, and high-buttoned shoes.

Lady Duff Gordon, ironically, did not take time to dress, flinging on only a lightweight silk kimono and a fur coat over her night gown. She wore a scarf draped turban-style over her hair. On her feet she had on only carpet slippers without stockings and she carried a small velvet jewelry bag. The kimono is alive (and not so well) in my possession, being on loan from her family and awaiting conservation and eventual museum donation.

Mrs. Astor wore a light colored evening dress which, according to several newspaper reports, was exchanged for a heavier wool dress into which she was assisted by her maid and others in the comparative seclusion of the gymnasium. She also supposedly had an evening scarf which she gave to a steerage class lady (Mrs. Aks?)in the lifeboat later. This scarf survives in the collection of the Titanic Historical Society.

I have a theory about hobble skirts being the cause of some accidents involving first class ladies both before and during the sinking. (Hobble skirts, the fad of the 1910-14 period, were already notorious for causing women to trip as they alighted from streetcars and subways.)

So I've always thought that Mrs. Harris' tripping down stairs earlier in the day of the 14th might have had to do with a narrow hemline.

Was a tight-ankled skirt also to blame for Mrs. White's injury enroute?

Might it have contributed to Mrs. Churchill's fall as she boarded boat 6 or the fall of the young French girl (Mme. Aubart?)at boat 9?

Most tragically, did that infernal fashion prevent Miss Evans from successfully negotiating the rail at boat D?
 
Mar 20, 2000
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True. A very dumb fashion. Odd too that it coincided with advancements in the women's rights movement of the time. Can you imagine a wierder picture - suffragettes fighting for their rights wearing skirts they can barely walk in? The hobble skirt btw was - shock! - invented by a man. Go figure. His name was Paul Poiret, a real chauvinist pig 1910 style! Our Lucile hated him with a fashion passion!

Randy
 

Jim Kalafus

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But, being singularly ugly AND impractical, the hobble skirt does serve as a wonderful illustration as to WHY the Irene Castle look became so popular. For me 'though, the Pola Negri/Gloria Swanson look (Ca. 1923) was about as awful as 20th Century fashions got. Close second: The Annie Hall Look. Distant Third: Culottes
 
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Daniel Rosenshine

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If all the ladies hated and tripped in the hobble skirts, how did those skirts ever become popular and last for 4 years!?

Mrs. Harris blamed an oil spot from a tea cup cake for her slip.

Daniel.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Daniel,

Most ladies did not hate anything that was stylish. If that were so, women would never have submitted to tight corsets or hoops or bustles or any of the other (to our thinking) hideous contraptions that were worn in the name of beauty.

The extreme version of the hobble skirt, introduced in 1910, was about 28-32 inches in circumference at the hem which reached to the ankle or instep. These were not generally adopted, however. Eventually, by 1912, skirts were draped in a way so as to give the effect of a tapered skirt but allow enough room through the cross-over opening for women to walk fairly easily. Slits were also employed as well as kick-pleats to permit a normal stride. Even so, these skirts still tended to catch at the ankle at times and caused women to trip. The narrow skirt was indeed fashionable for four years but not the extreme example of the hobble. The term just became a general one for all tight skirts.

As to Mrs. Harris, I think had she been wearing a full skirt - and we can safely bet she was not - she would have been able to maneuver around the tea cake oil spot.

Randy
 

Tracy Smith

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Nov 5, 2000
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If wearing a brick around one's neck was in style, some women would run out to buy their bricks.

And, James, we must not forget Twiggy in the awful fashion hall of shame. The Twiggy fashion made anorexia "fashionable".
 
Aug 29, 2000
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Let's hear it for Balenciaga- a man who gave a lady YARDS of fullness and enough fabric to slipcover an elephant- of course only Grace Kelly really looked good in it!
 
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Daniel Rosenshine

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Dear Randy,

Wow your knowledge on fashion is exceptional and unlike any I have seen before. I'm looking forward to your book.

I do agree with you on the oil spot and Mrs. Harris.

All the very best,

Daniel.
 
Jun 4, 2003
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Hi all! What kind of coats were the most popular in that time of the year? Fur ones or rather woolen since it was spring? I think I have also seen a sable fur coat by Mrs. Cosby's daughter in an issue of Titanic Commutator some years ago! Thanks!
 
Mar 20, 2000
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George,

Today, with our centrally heated homes and offices, we think furs are too heavy for spring but they were not in those days. So they were much in evidence on Titanic as elsewhere in April 1912 (except in very warm climates).

As to types of furs, it's been said that sable is always in style if you can afford it. Ermine was another of the aristocrats of furs then, as was chinchilla. Other popular skins were fox, moleskin, muskrat (or musquash), oppossum, even skunk and monkey.

Of the kinds of furs we know that women wore that night, there was sable (Molly Brown I think), broadtail and fox (Edith Rosenbaum), squirrel (Lucy Duff Gordon) and I think several instances of sealskin, though I can't recall who all wore it.

Fox (white, gray, various shades of brown and red) would have likely been quite common. Silver fox was desirable but not quite as fashionable yet as it would become. Several women wore stoles along with full length furs and a few carried muffs.

In addition, cloth, woollen, velvet or silk coats, lined and/or trimmed in fur, would have been worn. Some dresses, suits, even evening gowns were trimmed in fur.

Randy
 
Jun 4, 2003
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Randy, thanks for your lengthy and fully detailed account in this matter. Once more, your knowledge of such things proved useful.Take care!!!
 
Jun 4, 2003
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Hi again! Randy, since you are obviously interested in such topics, I wonder whether you could shed some light into another "similar" matter: that of jewels. What kind(s) of jewelry were the most appropriate and/or fashionable back then? I know this has also been covered elsewhere but I believe your opinion counts since the sort of clothing one wears surely effects their jewels, accessories etc. Were jewels too much on a voyage or rather perfect for such luxurious surroundings? I also believe the Cameron film has some flaws concerning this issue: Rose, for instance, wears too many of them during the film, especially in the dinner scenes, but I read somewhere about Mrs Astor that it was not so proper for her too to wear much jewelry in such a young age, so it was not for young Rose, too. Any other "fashion" info would be appreciated! Thanks!!!
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Hi George,

Actually, this subject isn't my forte. I think Shelley Dziedzic might be able to speak to it best but I'll give you my views and what information I have.

First of all, the amount of jewelry a lady wore depended on her social position as well as her age. For instance, for a young girl or unmarried lady to wear a lot of diamonds was considered terribly bad taste. An older woman of established position like Eleanor Widener (who was known for her pearls, by the way) would likely have worn some striking pieces for a special event en route - such as the dinner she and her husband hosted in honor of Capt. Smith on April 14.

But it would have been thought more than a bit gauche and nouveau riche to go about the ship wearing a lot of flashy jewels; it was, after all, a relatively small place and you would be seeing the same people over and over. So it would have been silly or, as we in Texas say, "real tacky."

Regarding your observation of the character of Rose in the movie Titanic, you are very right that a young woman (of good taste)would not have worn a proliferation of glittery jewels. But Rose was a bit daring and so it would have been in character for her to flout convention that way.

Young single ladies in real life who cared about observing social customs, however, would have worn simple jewelry like a couple of strings of fine pearls, a dainty small brooch perhaps. But garish rings, dangling earrings, jangly bracelets and such would have been avoided - unless one were appearing in a Salome tableau or wanted to be mistaken for a gypsy!

Likewise young married women and older matrons would have opted for pearls which were universally favored as being in the best taste.

As Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) said in an article in "Dress" magazine for May 1912 (on newsstands April 10, coincidentally):

"...To me the pearl embodies all the charm of the woman's soul. It is mysterious and elusive and for its sake men lose and risk their lives every day. Its whiteness and lustre are the ornament par excellence..."

A sidelight: The collection of pearl jewelry that Lucile had with her on Titanic included a $50,000 necklace which she had got "on approval" from her jeweller's in Venice just before sailing. It was not insured and stored in the purser's safe. Of course it went down with the ship. To put into perspective what kind of financial loss that was for her, bear in mind that her New York branch was capitalized at $50,000! So that was one expensive necklace!

Randy
 
Aug 29, 2000
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Thinking back on some of the jewelry seen in Titanic movies- one hilarious piece comes to mind worn by Thelma Ritter in the 1953 Titanic when her character "Maude Young"- a Molly Brownesque figure pulls open her coat on the tender and says "Let me flash my badge"-which was an enormous jewel encrusted pendant of Wagnerian proportion. This, of course, was ridiculous worn in boarding attire during the day-and Molly, flamboyant but fastidiously correct would never have worn such a thing. Large Victorian brooches of human hair and jet and parure sets had given way to far more delicate and naturalistic shapes. Then, as Randy pointed out, much depended on one's station in life, and the occasion for which it was worn. Rose's Heart of the Ocean pendant I think was a bit over the top for a young girl-the thing was enormously over-scaled and the setting not particularly Edwardian in design. There is a nice sampling of jewelry to be seen in the recovered artifacts collection of the real ship- especially rings and pendants. You may notice Helen Mirren in SOS TITANIC wearing a serviceable pocketwatch with a pin clasp on her breastpocket. Silver or nickel was the common metal for these worn by nurses, stewardesses and service personnel. Society women were wearing watches on thin leather bands on their wrists as early as 1880- mostly for outdoor activities-men clung to the pocket watch and fob until WWI. I treasure a gold band bracelet belonging to my grandmother from 1913. Plain silver or gold single wide bangle bracelets were very popular, often engraved with the name of the wearer. Pendants which spelled out a sentiment were also in vogue- Charles Frohman, the theatre impressario who died on the Lusitania, gave famous actress Maude Adams (Peter Pan)a necklace where the stones spelled out "Dearest" in 1907-diamond, emerald,amethyst,ruby,etc. Pearls were always prized and in the best taste and still are. Queen Mary was famous for her triple strand chokers. Fascinating topic indeed.
 
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