I find historic fashion shows fascinating and enjoy watching models parade around in fashions typical of different time periods. Some of the best fashion shows are put on by Ivan Sayers, who is well known in the Vancouver area.
How women achieved the historic look of the Edwardian period seems to be one of his favourite presentations. The demonstration began with a model coming on stage wearing a shift – the underclothes of the period. Of course, there were more underwear layers which were added one by one as their use was explained. An important part of the look was the corset which manipulated the figure so that the bust was thrust forward and the rear was pushed back to achieve the S-bend of the Edwardian silhouette. Once the foundation was laid with the various underwear layers, the dress went on top and then, crowning glory the hat which completed the upper stroke of the S.
The look was elegant but restrictive and not appropriate for working women. Fortunately, there was an alternate, tailored look. Suits were popular with active women. These suits consisted of long skirts and coats, shirts with ties and, of course, were finished off with a hat. For the athletic woman there was another alternative, the bloomer costume. It may have made cycling easier but was not well received as Alison Gernsheim wrote, “But is was a good many years before old-fashioned people could get used to the sight of unchaperoned girl cyclists in bloomers, as can be seen from a letter quoted by Mrs. C.S. Peel. ‘Two ladies – or, as Grandpa says, two shameless females – in bloomers bicycled through the village yesterday, and some of the women were so scandalized that they threw stones at them. I didn’t dare to say so, but I thought they looked very neat, though I don’t think I should quite like to show my own legs to the world like that.’ ”*
Here fashion criticism was aimed by the aged at the younger generation with their new fashion. Perhaps this criticism became more frequent as access to clothing became easier for all of the classes in society with mass production. It was no longer so easy to determine where a person belonged on the social scale by their dress. My research didn’t uncover any criticisms of the aged wearing clothes too young for their age anywhere on the social scale.
There was a significant change for the elderly that was ushered in during the Edwardian age. That was the introduction of the Old Age Pension act in 1908. This was means tested so only the people towards the bottom of the social scale would have been eligible for pension payments.
Futura. Family Life in Britain 1900 to 1950. Little, Brown Book Group, London, 2007
Gernsheim, Alison. Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1981 *
Harris, Jose. Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914. Penguin Books, London, 1994.
O’Day, Alan. The Edwardian Age: Conflict and Stability 1900 – 1914. The Shoestring Press, Inc. Hamden, Connecticut, 1979