The Edwardian era, as the name suggests, is the period when King Edward VII was on the throne i.e. 1901 to 1910. It started when Queen Victoria died in 1901 and her son Edward succeeded the throne. He was very much influenced by the art and fashion of continental Europe and his era also saw the change in the world of fashion, especially in women’s clothing during this era.
The Edwardian era was known as the gilded age when the garden tea parties and summer afternoons called for dressing up in some eye-catching beautiful dresses. The Edwardian era was popularly known for its “dress for the occasion” motto. From formal to casual, every event has its style and needs.
With the demise of Queen Victoria, the elite and wealthy society started following the ideologies of her son King Edward VII. The heavy skirts, dark fabrics, and bustles from the Victorian era were replaced by lighter fabrics and blouses during the Edwardian era that was aimed to liberate women from the conservative traditions of the Victorian age.
What is the difference between Victorian and Edwardian fashion?
The Victorian era was known for its modest fashion which often used to be heavy and uncomfortable especially for women. They usually wore layers of petticoats that weighed as heavy as 14 pounds. Comfort was not the motto of the Victorian era.
Although with time, the hoop skirts replaced the heavy layers of petticoats and around 1870, the bustles replaced the hoop skirts. Bonnets also made their place in fashion during the 1890s. The hourglass-shaped corsets were worn during this era by the women which were V-shaped at the bust line.
On the other hand, King Edward was more into luxurious and lavishing fashion. During his era, fashion for women was moving towards luxury and comfort. The new corset shape allowed breathability in women’s clothing.
This new corset shape forced the chest forward and the hips backwards which gave an S-shaped curve to a woman’s profile. During the early stages of this era, the skirts used to be of a bell shape but as the era advanced towards its end, they turned out to be straight.
Men’s fashion did not change much during the eras. Tweed jackets and calf-length coats were popular during both eras. The three-piece suits along with waistcoats were the formal wear of the time. The main difference lies in the length of the coats and the fittings of the attire.
The Victorian era featured long coats of mid-calf length and cloaks. The fittings of the coats and shirts were often loose whereas the length of the coats decreased during the Edwardian era and the fitting of the clothes were tighter to the body.
King Edward VII had a passion for travelling. The fashion of the Edwardian era was influenced by continental Europe where King Edward spent a considerable amount of his time. He was fond of the luxurious, lavishing and enriching the culture of those places and brought it to his reign as well.
Since he was the male authority, the people accepted the changes more willingly and rapidly. The modern changes in clothing that took place during the decade of 1901-1910, continued till the First World War.
The royal and elite families were the trendsetters of the time. From morals to fashion, they set the standards and everyone else used to follow.
What is the Edwardian Era known for?
As Samuel Hynes said about the Edwardian era, “A leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun never really set on the British flag.”
This age was about luxurious and elite fashion. The wealthy class had control of society’s morals and values. This was the age of lazy afternoons and leisure activities. In women’s fashion, the Edwardian era is famous for the mature woman image that is created by the S-shaped corset.
The S-shaped silhouette replaced the hourglass figure of the females from the Victorian era. The high-class elites were responsible for setting the tone for behaviour and fashion and the middle-class people, especially women used to look up to them and be inspired by their way of living and adapted some of them in their lifestyle.
The educated female emerged in this era who shared interest in politics and social issues. The invention of new technologies like sewing machines in fashion brought readymade fashion into the trend and the women were now able to sew their clothes according to their choices. It was the era of abundance and refinement.
This brought better knowledge to women and increased their choices in fashion and all these were possible due to the hedonistic ideologies of King Edward VII. The commencement of the ready-to-wear clothing fashion started with the opening up of department stores. It made it possible for the common population to have more variation in their clothing style.
The tailors who used to make dresses at home were clever enough to copy the popular designs for those who cannot afford to buy readymade gowns and suits.
Women’s Fashion during the Edwardian Era
With the emergence of a new century, a new fashion knocked on the doors as well. The women were done wearing the heavy layers of uncomfortable dresses. The lightweight fabrics became popular and lace and ruffles made their way back to the women’s wardrobes.
The women were more active in this era and hence, they needed something that they could move freely in. Those who could afford luxurious fabrics chose silk, satin, and chiffon and tailored suit dresses were quite popular during the Edwardian era. High lace collars and long sleeve tops with a loose bodice and heavy embellishments were the highlights of women’s fashion during this era.
The lingerie dresses featured sheer colours with trimmed handmade lace and embroidery, frills, ruffles, bows, and flowers. When the women were not working or not in uniform, they preferred to wear two-piece dresses. And the party wears featured lacy tea dresses with deeper necklines.
The tea gowns featured billowing sleeves and flowing skirts in contrast to the tight bodice of the Victorian era. These were not just worn during the afternoons but also made their way to intimate social gatherings as well. During the early stages of the Edwardian period, the skirts worn by the women were bell-shaped, fitted at the waist and flared at the hemline.
Gradually, the bell-shaped skirts went out of style and straight tailored suits started coming into fashion. The famous French designer Paul Poiret created the corset free dresses that were a step against the mainstream fashion that was followed since the Victorian period. Women slipped into comfortable dresses that were designed especially for sports like tennis, cycling or horse-riding.
Button-down cardigan sweaters were also quite famous among women fashion for work and sports. Frills and ruffles were for leisure time. Tailored skirt suits were common day wear for the ladies working in white-collar professions. Large and enormous hats were also worn by the women with their dresses as part of their accessories.
Straw cart-wheel or sailor hats, picture hats, wide-brimmed hats with feathers, soft curls and flat caps were common. Hats were designed as per occasions. The wide-brimmed hats used to look amazing along with a chiffon dress at an evening party. Smaller hats such as the boater hats were worn for sports activities like horse riding or boating and fishing. These were designed to protect from the harsh climates and direct sunlight during leisurely activities.
The hairstyles were made according to the style of the hats to support them. Among the various hairstyles, the most popular one was the full pompadour, which required the hair to be loosely swept upwards into a bun or coil. False hair-pieces like braids or wigs were also worn by the women to add up more height and structure to the hairstyle and the hats.
Men’s Fashion during the Edwardian Era
The three-piece suits that included a jacket, trousers, and waistcoat or a vest along with high collared or round collared white shirts, neckties, and derby hats were the established fashion among the men during this era. The loose fitted shirts and jackets were replaced by more bodice fitted shirts and jackets.
The modern fashion of today’s men is inspired very much by the Edwardian era, especially the formal looks that include jackets and coats with straighter cuts. The sack suits were famous among the younger men which are very similar to today’s business suits. As the Edwardian era was about luxury and elite fashion, those men who could afford had different suits and accessories styled for the morning, daytime, and evening use.
Casual linen and flannel suits were an escape from the extreme weather during the summertime. Panama and boater hats were paired with these suits. There were sports-specific dresses for men as well which they used to wear while playing sports such as tennis, golf and riding etc.
Working men had uniforms specific to their job that protected them from hazards and allowed them to work comfortably. The most common uniforms of the day included duck cloth, canvas, corduroy, or leather clothing along with a heavy jumper of the woollen jacket during the cold seasons.
White shirts along with ties beneath the protective aprons were frequently worn by the factory workers. As hats and false hair were common among the women fashion, the men of the era were seen to have sported beards, although the clean shave look was more popular. A bushy moustache curling up at the ends created the iconic 20th-century look.
Edwardian vs. Victorian
As mentioned above, the change was considerably seen in women’s fashion rather than men’s fashion. The dresses evolved from the Victorian to the Edwardian era gradually while keeping some of the traditionality alive.
The Victorian woman was not allowed comfort or boldness in her fashion. The hourglass-shaped corsets were prevalent that used to compress the abdomen and forced it downwards. They were designed to be V-shaped at the bustline. Stiff linen fabric was used to make wide and bell-shaped skirts.
Edwardian women, on the other hand, understood their needs well. They were educated and were thorough about the specifics of the fashion that they wore. From work clothing to sports, their wardrobe had them all. Comfort and flexibility made their way into fashion. The new corset, popularly known as the “health corset” allowed the women of the time to breathe through the fabrics they used to wear.
In contrast to the Victorian style corset, this one was constructed to support and lift the abdomen. The S-shaped curve was promoted in women’s profiles in which the chest is forced forward and the hips backwards. The skirts used to be bell-shaped earlier but gradually they started becoming straight.
Which era had the best fashion?
Which era had the best fashion is debatable. Although we are well aware of the fact that the Edwardian fashion is the one which prevailed for a longer time. It even made its way back to the modern age of fashion.
The Victorian traditions, while making outfits inspired from the vintage era, is also quite popular but the modifications highlight the fact that comfort is as much important as the style. Dress reforms are often connected with social reforms during any age. This is exactly what happened during the Edwardian era as well.
The orthodox and traditional values were no more able to hold the women of the age. They were now educated, participated in social activities such as sports and worked outside the home as well. They adapted the masculine fashion of tailored jackets and bloomers for comfortably working, cycling or riding.
The glorious age of the Edwardian era continued till the First World War even after the death of King Edward VII and after that, it gradually came to an end. But all the ruffles and laces, the chiffons and bonnets, the embroideries and other embellishments have kept on inspiring the fashion in the upcoming ages.