Period Fashions Reference Library

Fashions of the Titanic era
by Catherine Bishop

1912 evening dresses 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. 1912 evening dresses
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.
1912 dresses 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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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. 1801
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.
Corset Cover
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.
1801 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.
1801 Corset
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.
1912 evening dresses Evening Dress
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.
Day Dress
1912 evening dresses 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

1807 dress

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


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 1807 dress 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.
1912 dress 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.


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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.
1912 wrap 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.
1912 parasolsParasols & 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.
1801 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

Choosing Patterns:
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.
Recommended Patterns
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.
Costume Patterns
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

1912 tea
  • Vintage Victorian (
    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 (
    Links to many dance and historical sites, calendar of dance events.
  • Past Patterns (
    Patterns for men, women & children from the late 18th century to WWII
  • Reconstructing History (
    Patterns, clothing, notions
  • OMG that dress (
    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 (
    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 (
    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 (
    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:
    • 1. 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.
1912 tea 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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Other Publications
Exhibition Catalogues, Fashion History Books, Fashion Plate Albums, Reprints

Bradfield, Nancy. 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.
Dover Publications:
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