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Edwardian Image Review

Early Edwardian Women (~1900-1909)

The early Edwardian period is in essence a continuation of the Belle Epoque that is marked by what clothing historians call the "S-Curve" Silhouette. This rather unnatural silhouette is characterized by a tiny waist with a skirt that is smooth over the hips and gently flares into a trumpet shape--puddling on the floor. Bodices and blouses generally have high collars and pouter pigeon (pouched) front.

The desired shape is created with the help of the new health corsets (pictured above) which reduced pressure on the vital female organs and dispensed with the constricting curve at the waist that was customary with previous corset styles. The new contraptions contorted the torso into a new shape that gave the appearance of the figure leaning into the wind. Notice that the "Center Neck to Waist" measurement appears to be longer in the front than in the back.

Edwardian undergarments are marked with a shift in vocabulary. Lingerie is now the accepted term for a lady's "unmentionables;" drawers are now called knickers or bloomers. Otherwise most of the layers remain as they were.

Overall, feminine garments become much softer and more graceful than the previous period and the huge sleeve shapes will fade away.

Women increasingly turn to tailors with a desire to decorate their garments with the qualities of men's wear. Female clothing made in this fashion was labeled a tailormade. Generally these ensembles were suits comprised of matching skirts and jackets paired with a shirtwaist (blouse). This was the preferred attire of the Edwardian working girl. Tailormade ensembles allowed her to blend into a "man's" world while remaining very much a lady.

Notice the heel of her shoe. This is a Louis heel which will remain popular throughout the period.

The spirit of Edwardian woman was captured in the artwork of Charles Dana Gibson. Published in many popular literary sources, his pen and ink caricatures of his contemporary society captured much detail about life and fashion in Edwardian society. This is so much the case, that we often refer to the period as "the Gibson Girl" era. Also, the typical hairstyle--a pompudour upsweep with a chignon set toward the back of the crown--is often called a "Gibson" knot.

Hats are large in scale and lavishly decorated with artificial flowers, lace, buckles, feathers, and/or bird wings. Picture hats (aka cartwheels) were the largest of them all. Generally considered a lady's best hat, brims could be even wider than the one pictured here.

This evening gown (and the way that the train is positioned) clearly shows the effects of the health corset, notice how the chest is thrust forward and the hips thrust backward.

Evening gowns were generally of the same silhouette as daywear with lower necklines and shorter sleeves. Sleeveless varieties were also available with only shoulder straps to hold the dress up. The length of these gowns was generally to the floor with a train.


Late Edwardian ~1909-1914

The late Edwardian period sees an abrupt silhouette change. The S-Curve evolves into a more vertical, columnar line. Referred to as Empire-Revival, the key characteristics of this silhouette have much in common with the lines of the early 19th Century. These include:

--a reduction in undergarment layers

--a slightly elevated waistline

--simplicity in silhouette: the natural outline of the body itself was no longer disguised

While the styles may harken back to earlier days, they are a bit more severe in this new interpretation and are also influenced by trends of Orientalism. The fashions of Bakst, Poiret, and others were heavily marked by influences in cut, draping, and decoration practiced in the Far East.

Hats continue to be an important accessory in a lady's wardrobe. They remain on the larger side, but some styles grow in height rather than width. The hat pictured at the left (above) is an example of this. Referred to as a toque, this hat is characterized as being a tall brimless hat that somewhat resembles a lampshade.

Hats are still generally decorated, although they are done so to less excess. Hair styles, too, are less extravagant--losing much of their bouffant quality.

The evening gown pictured below (left) seems to have a hobble skirt (a style originated by Paul Poiret). Her torso enjoys liberation from the corset of the early Edwardian period, however, her skirt is cut so narrow around the ankles that it is impossible for her to take a full stride. The fashion plate at the right (below) depicts another style characteristic of this period--a tunic worn with an underskirt.

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