Fashions of the Titanic era
by Catherine Bishop
AN OVERVIEW OF FASHIONS 1910-1912
This page is a guide to introduce the evening dress styles of the early
20th Century to aid in the design and construction of a period ensemble.
Included are descriptions of the components of an outfit, including undergarments and accessories.
Hairstyles, jewelry and headdresses are discussed as well. There is also some sewing advice and a list
of patterns that might be useful, as well as some books and websites with useful information, and finally, places
to shop in the Boston, MA area.
The period of 1910-1912, called the Titanic Era or Pre-World War I Era,
saw the end of the
Edwardian Era, a decade of very soft, feminine fashions
with flowing trained skirts, ruffles and lace and S bend corseted silhouette.
By 1910 the silhouette of ladies
dresses had simplified and became columnar, with a new, long, corset design which
gave the body an upright posture. The
overall silhouette of 1910 is somewhat reminiscent of 1810 with columnar skirts, hair
piled on the head in wavy
curls and neoclassical details.
Evening dresses were usually made of fine silks, with open necklines and short sleeves, which could be
cut in one with the body of the dress. Fabrics were silk satin, brocade, lace,
chiffon and embroidered silks. Many fabrics could be layered to create a rich effect without a lot of bulk.
Closures were usually hidden under the various layers. The bodice lining was structured, closely fitted to
the figure and boned.
Day dress usually had long sleeves,
fairly fitted to the arm. For day wear one-piece dresses in silk or cotton (lingerie dresses with lots of lace trim),
blouses and skirts, jackets with matching jumpers or skirts were all popular.
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HOW TO REPRODUCE A PERIOD OUTFIT
To achieve the silhouette and support your dress properly the correct undergarments are very helpful.
The most common undergarments are (in the order they are put on): chemise, corset, corset cover, drawers,
and petticoat. There are also many combination undergarments that take the place of their single counterparts.
For example: you might wear a combination chemise and drawers, then the corset, then put on the petticoat and
corset cover. The most common laces used in undergarments were Valenciennes, Cluny, and Torchon lace.
The chemise is a sleeveless closely-fitted garment with open, round, neckline with drawstring, made in
lightweight linen, cotton or silk. White is the usual color for easy laundering. The chemise is worn under
the corset to help keep the corset clean, and to protect the body from the corset. Knee or mid-calf length,
flounce (not very full) or lace trim at the hem armholes, and neckline.
A combination undergarment worn under the corset is a chemise and drawers in one, with split drawers;
the legs are not as full as drawers worn over the corset. The Chemise or combination would be fairly
simple as it is worn under many other layers of undergarments. There were also knitted fleecy cotton union suit
style winter combination undergarments.
The petticoat was worn over the corset to fill out the skirt and add a layer of warmth or, if the dress was
very sheer, a level of opaqueness. They would be fairly smooth over the hips, so as to not add extra bulk at
the waist and hips. The hem can have wide, fairly flat, flounces edged with fine lace or embroidery. Petticoats
were made of cotton, linen, silk or fine wool flannel. Some petticoats had removable lace flounces for more versatility.
The corset cover and petticoat can also be combined into a Princess slip, with plain fitted body and trim at
the neckline and wide flounce with lace trim at the hem.
The corset cover is worn over the corset to hide the corset if the blouse is sheer, protect the dress from the
corset hardware, and add a little extra fullness to the figure if desired. The shape is scoop-necked, usually
sleeveless, with drawstring at the neck and waist, and a fitted peplum below the waist.
The corset cover could also have attached drawers or short petticoat.
Drawers are worn over the corset (unless they are part of a combination chemise and drawers). The waist
is fitted smoothly over the hips, with a drawstring or button at the waist. Legs are mid-calf length and
flared, with fine lace trim and flat flounces at the hem.
Bust Improver or Bust Ruffles
A bust improver or bust ruffles can be worn to enhance a small bust-line. It is a semi-circular garment,
with full, lace trimmed, ruffles worn over the corset to fill out the front of the blouse.
The fashionable corset shape was smooth and columnar with small waist and hips. The corset changed
from the previous style which pushed the figure into an s band, pushing the bust forward and the derriere
back while compressing the stomach and waist. The new corset shape was less extreme. The stomach and hips
are reduced and smoothed, and the bust support is minimized, necessitating the need for a brassiere. The corset
usually hooks with a busk in the front and laces in the back or side front, there are several configurations.
Some of the longer models have elastic panel below the waist to allow the wearer to sit comfortably.
The brassiere was made of sturdy cotton and fitted closely to the figure, it was often boned and had shoulder
straps. It was could have some lace trim but was usually a fairly simple garment.
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The Fashionable Silhouette
The basic silhouette was columnar, with a slightly raised waistline, smooth fit over the hips and full
length skirt with not a great deal of fullness. Sleeves were fairly fitted with no gathers at the top.
Skirts could have peplums or shaped overskirts and skirts might be split or shaped to reveal pleated or
decorated gathered underskirts.
Ladies’ evening dress in this era consisted of a gown, usually in soft fabric such as chiffon
or lightweight satin, often ornamented with elaborate lace or beadwork. Necklines were open,
with soft filmy fabrics laid over a fitted foundation. Closures, of hooks and eyes or snaps,
were hidden under multiple overlapping layers of cloth. Sleeves are short and lightweight
without any fullness at the shoulder. They can be cut in one with the bodice (kimono sleeve).
The waistline was slightly raised, the skirt was full length, which fit smoothly over the hips,
and was just off the floor. Evening dress skirts did not have trains and
had enough fullness for dancing, though they were cut and draped in such a way as to appear
to be narrow columns. The skirts were often layered with chiffons and fine lace over satins
with brocade accents.
Dresses could be one or two piece silk dresses in a single color are common, with button detailing, braid
and lace trim, or elaborate collars and asymmetrical skirt trim. Lingerie dresses were also popular, covered
with lace insertion trim or white on white embroidery. Nautical tailored or elaborate lacey blouse and skirt
ensembles are popular, with a light colored blouse with darker skirt. Tailored suits are worn for outdoor activities.
Period Illustrations and descriptions
A Tailored Suit for Vacation Days
Drawing by A. M. Cooper
No. 2032—Coat with Basque
Pattern cut for 32, 34, 36, 38, and 40 inch bust measures. Quantity of material required for medium size, or 36-inch bust, four yards of twenty-two- inch material, or three and one-fourth yards of thirty-six-inch material, with one-half yard of black satin or bengaline for collar and cuffs of the basque
No. 2033—Skirt with Inset
Pattern cut for 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30 inch waist measures. Length of skirt, 40 inches. Quantity of material required for medium size, or 26-inch waist, six yards of twenty-two-inch material, or four and one-fourth yards of thirty-six-inch material, with three fourths of a yard of contrasting material for the inset
Copyright, 1912, by The Crowell Publishing Company
June 1912, Woman's Home Companion
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The following is an excerpt from a January 1912 magazine, giving a fashion forecast for the Spring.
The author covers skirt widths, waistlines, fabrics and colors
THE SILVER LINING
POINTS IN THE PRESENT FASHIONS THAT LIGHTEN THEIR
APPARENTLY RECKLESS EXTRAVAGANCE
BY CLARA E. SIMCOX
In fact I see little to indicate any marked increase in the width of coat -and skirts for the Spring.
Rumors reach me from abroad that Paris has out-Parised itself in the matter of narrow dresses, and that those that are,
are as nothing to those that are to be. I am none too credulous in regard to such reports, for it is physically impossible
to make skirts appreciably narrower than they have been, though much may be done to create that effect by bringing them in
from the hip to the knee—a tendency that I spoke about some time ago. As I say, I think there will be no real change for
the present, but when it comes the drift must be toward greater
rather than less width. One hears even now predictions or positive assertions of such a change,
but I think they are due to the fact that many French houses have moderated the extreme scantiness of their
models while still keeping them narrow enough to be graceful. Also, the use of soft materials, and the present
style of gathering almost everything at the waistline and draping up tunics and overskirts, gives the impression
that there is greater width than really exists.
The waistline is still more or less of a wanderer, though many women are beginning to express a decided preference
to the skirt fitted in to the natural line of the figure. On the other hand there is excellent authority for the
Empire waistline with no fitting at all between it and the hips. The raised waist certainly gives a woman height
and slenderness, and I don't much wonder that it keeps its place season after season in the face of changing fashions.
For my evening dresses I am using principally brocaded silks and velvets. They are shamelessly extravagant, but they have
the saving grace of being so beautiful in themselves that they can be cut very simply and call for almost no trimming.
THERE are one or two new colors or revivals of old colors that promise to be good for the Spring. Taupe, I think, will be
quite as smart next season as it has been this. Fortunately it is not a color that can become common, for one only finds
it in the materials of the better, finer grades. All the shades of gray that range from mole to elephant's skin will be
worn, and there are two or three new evening blues that are very lovely. They come under the head of royale, but I think
lapis lazuli describes them more accurately. With gold or silver they are extremely brilliant— too brilliant indeed for
day, but most lovely under artificial light. Lemon or citron is also a smart evening color; American Beauty is excellent
in point of style and most helpful to almost any one, for it brightens the dullest hair and complexion. Black is still
used with white, but more often with silver.
THE DELINEATOR FOR JANUARY 1912
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Accessories and Outerwear
Gloves, Shoes & Stockings
Long white kid leather gloves are de rigueur for evening wear. Shoes for evening are pumps in
leather or silk, with medium heels, with bow or rosette decorations or narrow straps. Day time shoes
can be boots with buttons or laces or pumps with multiple straps. Stockings are opaque, usually white,
black or a color to match the gown in cotton or silk. They could be embroidered. For outdoor day wear
gloves would be dark or tan colored kid leather.
Belts, Collars & Guimpes
Belts can be of leather or cloth, with fancy buckles or rhinestone or cut steel ornaments. Collars can
be of lace or pleated silk in elaborate styles. Guimpes are under-bodices, with or without sleeves, to
fill in open-necked dresses; they are easily washable—very practical when dresses cannot be washed easily.
Fans & Purses
Fans are small to medium sized folding fans. Styles vary from revivals of early 19th century styles with
neo-classical motifs, ostrich feathers in a variety of colors, silk leaf decorated with metal spangles.
Purses are small in German silver mesh or solid silver, can be suspended from the waist. Day purses can
be leather with metal frames.
Cloaks, Coats & Shawls
For evening wear fine silk shawls, long and rectangular, decorated with beading or embroidery. Also
cocoon coats and capes in rich velvet, silk or brocades and fur trim. For day wear tailored long coats with rows
of buttons or large frog closures. A lightweight sheer silk veil or scarf can be wrapped around the
hat/head for out-door wear.
Parasols & Muffs
Parasols are long handled, with a large curved canopy. The canopy can be in cotton, linen or silk, in white,
colors to match the gown, stripes, woven or printed patterns, or embroidered. Handles can be in wood, gold,
silver, bone, or semi-precious stones. Muffs can be large, fairly flat, rectangles, made of velvet, silk or fur.
The following is a short list of fashionable jewelry pieces: bead necklaces (keep them short for dancing, long
for non-dancing activities to avoid breakage); rhinestone brooches and buckles in art nouveau styles; teardrop
earrings or pearls or colored stones; art nouveau style brooches and pendants with floral swirl motifs with
enamel, colored stones and pearls; gold bar pins; lavaliere necklaces; gold bangle bracelets.
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Hair, Headdresses and Hats
Hair was worn piled on the head in waves and puffs, volume is wide, increasing the visual width of the head, with
not a lot of vertical emphasis, the ears are usually covered. Lots of false hair: braids, ringlets, entire hairstyles,
and rats (padded hair forms) were used.
You can purchase cigar or donut shaped hair forms or save the hair from your hairbrush and shape your own rat that will
match your hair exactly.
Headdresses, Combs & Tiaras
Evening headdresses can take the form of: bandeaus and wreathlets in ribbon, rhinestones or silk flowers
worn across the front of the hair, forehead, or back of the head; tiaras in silver, gold and rhinestone with
pearls; feather aigrettes in ostrich, bird of paradise, or egret feathers; rhinestone ornaments or hairpins;
hair combs, in tortoise, aluminum, silver or plastic, with rhinestone, colored gem, or gold inlay decoration.
Hats are often very large with lots of ostrich feathers, large ribbon bows and flowers. Materials can be in
straw, silk covered buckram or wool. Smaller styles, in tricorn, round crown, or flower pot shapes are also worn.
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Sewing your own outfit: Hints, tips and Recommendations
Highly Recommended Patterns
Past Patterns: Their patterns are taken from actual period garments or antique patterns, with complete,
tested, professional sewing instructions, and often the patterns come with exhaustive historical notes. Some
patterns are available in a wide range of sizes, others just in the size of the original.
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion: The Patterns Of Fashion books contain reduced scale drawings, on grid paper,
of patterns taken from actual garments. Guaranteed to be historically accurate.
Past Patterns, used in combination with Janet Arnold (if Past Patterns doesn't have the exact garment you need) and
Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail (see below) will give you a good historical recreation.
Folkwear: Folkwear has some good dress patterns, especially for undergarments and a cocoon coat. The dresses
are a bit later than Titanic and not quite accurate.
Sense & Sensibility and Laughing Moon: They offer some dress patterns from the Titanic-era.
Slightly less accurate than Past Patterns or Janet Arnold but still good patterns. When using these look at period
illustrations and garments to tweak the dresses, like adjusting seams, closures or skirts for the look you want.
There are also other smaller pattern companies that we have no experience with so we cannot review them.
Then we come to the large commercial pattern companies, mainly Simplicity and Butterick. Neither of them is
particularly accurate as they have to appeal to the mass market, though Simplicity is better than Butterick,
they are, in the end, costumes. The skirts are not usually cut full enough for dancing. At this time we don’t
know of any Butterick Titanic-era patterns.
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Summary of Web Addresses
Vintage Victorian (www.vintagevictorian.com)
Katy Bishop’s website, primarily focuses on 19th and early 20th
Century fashion, specializing in evening dress. Publishes the Vintage Dress Series books. On-line free fashion history
library. Links to other vintage fashion sites.
The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers (www.vintagedancers.org)
Links to many dance and historical sites, calendar of dance events.
- Past Patterns (http://www.pastpatterns.com)
Patterns for men, women & children from the late 18th century to WWII
- Reconstructing History (http://store.reconstructinghistory.com)
Patterns, clothing, notions
- OMG that dress (http://omgthatdress.tumblr.com/)
A blog that posts photos of dresses from on-line collections.
A good resource for visual images of extant garments.
The site can be searched by date and theme.
OMG That Dress (omgthatdress.tumblr.com/search/1912)
A blog that posts pictures of beautiful dresses and links to their original source.
Reproducing 1912 Fashions (Sensibility)
Reproducing 1912 Fashions (pdf, Sensibility)
Burnley and Trowbridge (http://www.burnleyandtrowbridge.com)
Buckles, books, clothing accessories, fabric, patterns, notions &tools, shoes, tapes & trims. Has button moulds
good for covered buttons that are so popular in the Titanic-era.
Online Fashion Engravings Database
at the Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs (http://www.bibliothequedesartsdecoratifs.com/consultation2/consultation.html)
The massive online fashion engravings database at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris is a wealth of inspiration for
men's and women's fashions spanning the 18th, 19th and
20th centuries. The sheer volume of information,
and the fact that it is all free, makes this one of our favorite online resources. Be prepared to spend hours!
It is only in French, so if you are not a French speaker, here is a simple set of navigation instructions:
Click on this link to the database.
- 2. Click the "Recherche Simple" link.
- 3. In the "Termes de Recherche" box, enter the word Mode.
- 4. In the "Documents numerises" section, select "Album Maciet".
- 5. Click "Rechercher" at the bottom of the page.
- 6. Select a collection to view by ticking the box,
then click on "Voir les Notices" at the bottom of the page.
The collections are organized chronologically.
- 7. This will pull up the information for the book you selected in a box to the right.
In that box, click on "Voir les vignettes Maciet".
- 8. Click on any thumbnail image to view the larger image.
- 9. Click on "Impressions" to save or print the image.
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Books with Patterns
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1I: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction 1860-1940.
Drama Publishers (1977); ISBN: 0896760278
Patterns taken directly from ladies garments, 1/8 scale patterns. An excellent resource with several
dresses from the period: 1908 Day Dress, 1909-10 Evening Dress, 1911-12 Day Dress, 1913-14 Afternoon Dress.
Doyle, Robert. Waisted Efforts.
Sartorial Press Publications (1997); ISBN: 0968303900
Corset patterns, history, and fitting.
Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909.
Players Press, Inc. (1991), ISBN: 088734609X
Theater related patterns, tips and hints. A little earlier period but has some good advice.
Waugh, Nora. Corsets & Crinolines.
Routledge (1990); ISBN: 0878305262
Undergarments with reduced scale patterns and historical notes.
Waugh, Nora. The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930.
Theater Arts Books (1987); ISBN: 0-87830-026-0
Reduced scale patterns and costume history by era.
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Exhibition Catalogues, Fashion History Books, Fashion Plate Albums, Reprints
Costume in Detail: Women’s Dress 1730-1930.
Costume & Fashion Press (1997); ISBN: 0896762173
Detailed sketches of clothing construction. Details many of the dresses in Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold.
Sadako Takeda, Sharon; Durland Spilker, Kaye; Galliano, John.
Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 - 1915. Museum exhibition catalogue 2010.
Prestel USA (2010), ISBN-10: 3791350625
Exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Exhibition Website.
Everyday fashions 1909-1920 (Olian, Joanne)
Women's Fashions of the Early 1900s: An Unabridged Republication of "New York Fashions, 1909"
Parisian Fashions of the Teens: 352 Elegant Costumes from "L'Art et la Mode" (Dover Pictorial Archives)
New England Area Stores for Fabric and Trims
Zimmans (Lynn, MA) luxurious home decorating silks to-die-for, trims.
Fabric Corner (783 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA) shot (changeable) cottons, silks.
Play Time (283 Broadway, Arlington, MA) ribbons, trim, beads, findings, feathers, tiaras.
Things We Love (1339 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA) high quality beads and findings.
Sewfisticate (Somerville, Framingham Dorchester, MA) discount fabrics.
Vintage and Antique Textiles (538 Main St, Sturbridge, MA) vintage lace, costume, trims.
Boston Bead Co. (10 Front St, Salem, MA) high quality beads and findings.
Thoreauly Antiques (25 Walden St., Concord ma) vintage lace trims buttons.
Osgood’s Fabrics (333 Park St., W. Springfield, MA) Discount fabrics, large selection.
Delectible Mountain Fabrics (125 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont)
A Beautiful Corset (10 Derby Square, Salem, MA)
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last updated 24 jul 2014/csb