Fashion in the Edwardian era, 1901-1919
The Last Age of Elegance
When Queen Victoria died in January 1901 a reign, a century and an entire age were passing. Her son, Edward VII, would give his name to an era of unparalleled luxury and opulence. A new decorative style was emerging, Art Nouveau, with its flowing, organic forms, which were reflected in the sinuous curves of the Edwardian lady. The height of fashion still seemed to be that of the Lady - mature, sophisticated and well-bred. But increasingly, there was hope for the ordinary woman, hope that had been founded in the last decade of the previous century. In fact, even the flowing lines of Edwardian fashion were rooted in the final years of the Victorian age. Though we conveniently define these eras as Victorian and Edwardian, stylistically, the line between them is blurred. The 1890s merge seamlessly with the early 1900s in an age of extravagance and style, appropriately called la Belle Epoque and lasting from approximately 1890 to 1914. This world began to decline by 1914, but the Great War ended it forever. Until then, throughout the early 1900s, fashion enjoyed its last true age of elegance, in what has been described as one long Edwardian summer. The woman of 1901 presented a new, flowing silhouette unlike that of any of her Victorian predecessors. Her skirt curved outwards over her full behind, downwards and apparently slightly inwards towards knee-level and then sharply outwards again at the hem. This gave the appearance of a concave skirt. It often extended into a sweeping train, even during the day. Carried out in soft, flowing fabrics and with little drapery to interrupt the outline, it could reveal more of the figure than the slim but stiff and heavily draped skirts of the late 1870s for example. The bodice above was usually moulded on a tight, and well-boned foundation. The outer layer was cut a little fuller and longer in front than the lining and was arranged to droop over the waistband. The sleeves of 1901 were quite tight at the top but flared out from below the elbow, drooping over the tight cuff. The whole effect was curved, flowing and extremely feminine. The new silhouette required a new figure, shaped by a new style of corset. The straight-fronted corset had emerged in the very late 1890s and by 1900 was the accepted fashion. It tilted the figure, pushing the full bosom forward but the narrow shoulders and full posterior backwards. This peculiar curved stance was called the S bend and was sometimes counter-balanced by leaning elegantly on a long-handled parasol or fashionable cane. The new corset also provided the tiny waist beloved of Victorian and Edwardian women, something it had originally been designed to eradicate. Furthermore, it was cut low and did not divide the bust as nineteenth century corsets had done, giving the impression of a single, wide, low mono-bosom. Full curves and a low bosom were extremely fashionable and denoted the popularity of the mature, matronly woman at this time. Fashion historians attribute this to the middle-aged King and his appreciation of the mature woman. Fashion leaders of the early 1900s included Queen Alexandra, along with a number of society beauties and leading actresses including Lily Langtry, Alice Keppel, Camille Clifford, Sarah Bernhardt and Lillian Russel. Few of them could be called spring chickens.
The mono-bosom and pouched bodice complemented each other stylistically. Neither seems balanced without the other. Bodices were sometimes adjusted on the inside by patent devices to keep them dipped in the front. Additional draped features, (such as bolero fronts and knotted fichus), were often incorporated into the design of the front of the bodice to further accentuate the bust. The bloused or pouched effect had begun in the late 1890s but was taken to an excess in the very early 1900s. In 1901 the blousing was concentrated in the very centre of the front, but by 1904 it spread round to the sides...
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