The Titanic and the “Titanic Era” in Costume History, Part 2

We continue our discussion on the “Titanic Era”, or more properly, “Fashions that were in style in 1912” with some more compare and contrast. So you think that the past post was overly concentrated on evening wear? Well, yes, guilty as charged. So, we are going to show some “practical” examples drawn from day wear. 🙂

To begin, the 20th Century opened up with styles structured around the infamous S-bend corset which was developed around 1901 (ironically enough, the S-bend corset was originally marketed by Inez Gaches-Sarraute, a corsetiere with a degree in medicine, as a “hygienic” corset intended to counter the ill-effects of previous models). While discussion of the characteristics and fit of the S-bend corset is beyond the scope of this article, it is safe to say that created a distinct silhouette that in turn influenced the style and cut of women’s clothing.

And just to refresh your memories, here are some images of the S-bend corset:

S-Bend corset

French Advertisement

1903corset

Advertisement, c. 1903

Summary of corset sillouettes

Summary of corset silhouettes.

And now for some pictures of the S-bend corset in action:

doirgere_d_arlette_6

Arlette Dorgère, c. 1906.

Picture 1

The above two examples are probably somewhat extreme in that they portray the “ideal” figure. The top image is of Arlette Dorgère, a French actress who posed in a number of portraits in which she is wearing dresses with S-bend corsets that seem to defy the laws of physics.

The bottom fashion plate is a bit less extreme but it still amply demonstrates the pigeon breast (aka “mono-bosom”) characteristic of the body shape created by the S-bend corset. Now we continue our story showing some examples of early Edwardian day dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1903 - 1905;  Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1903 – 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank. Summer day dress consisting of a bodice, skirt and two belts. Flared skirt composed of four 28-inch widths of printed blue and white striped cotton pleated onto the narrow waistband. The bodice is pouched at the front and slightly bloused at the back. The circular yoke consists of tucked Broderie Anglaise frills and a pin-tucked cotton infill, and with a high-boned (using five bones) pin- tucked collar finished with a tape lace frill. Sleeves with short flared striped over sleeves which are gathered into the armholes bordered with Broderie Anglaise and frills. The inner plain white cotton sleeves are narrow, tucked and reach the elbow. The bodice is lined with white cotton, and fastened with original hooks, eyes and loops. Pearl buttons. Pleated belts with five bones and hook and eye fastenings concealed by a rosette. Machine stitched. There is evidence of minor alterations. Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960)

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank.  Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960) For more about this fascinating dress, click HERE.

Day Dress, c. 1904 - 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

Day Dress, c. 1904 – 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

The above examples are only a small sample of the wide variety of day dresses that existed and were available in a variety of fabrics and trims. The earlier day dresses tended to have a lot more lace and trim that tended to obscure the curve of the breast (or pigeon breast) but as the century progresses, the lines tend to become more clean. In terms of the influence of the S-bend corset, day dresses were a bit less extreme in their silhouette but the general line still exists.

However, at the same time, there are those who argue that the S-bend corset was by no means as extreme and uncomfortable as what the popular conception is and in fact were no worse than their predecessors. We will leave that debate for another time but you may find this article from Foundations Revealed presents some compelling arguments in this regard.

However, the reign of the S-bend corset did not last long and as early as 1905, styles began to shift towards a more upright “barrel”-shaped silhouette.  Below are a few examples:

First, some illustrations from the September 1911 edition of the Parisian fashion magazine La Mode:

1911lamodedesigns3 1911lamodemaidofhonor French Plate 1911

And let’s not forget Vogue Magazine:

Vogue_1912

Vogue Magazine cover, c. 1912

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, American, c. 1912 - 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

Look familiar? Day Dress, American, c. 1912 – 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

So from the above, we see the silhouette in transition away from the “pigeon breast,” returning to the straight, flowing lines characteristic of the empire line, a style last seen nearly a 100 years earlier with the Regency Era. The years from 1900 through 1912 saw an ever-accelerating process of fashion change, pushed along by designers like Paul Poiret, which was the elimination (or at least reduction) of the corset and a major fashion influence. Of course, it could also be argued that while the influence of the corset was waning, the advent of the hobble skirt seemed to make up for it. However, the hobble skirt was merely a small bump in the fashion continuum having no lasting influence. On the other hand, the gradual elimination of the corset as a major fashion influence had far more profound an effect on fashion.

Garments, and their attendant underpinnings, were becoming less restrictive to the point where outerwear was no longer got its structure and form from the corset but rather relying more on the cut and drape of the garments themselves. The end result was the nearly seemingly formless fashions of the 1920s (although it must be noted that foundation garments were still employed but in a more muted manner).

I will stop with this survey here in 1912 and while one can easily point out many exceptions to the above, it is safe to say that the styles as worn by the female passengers (at least the more upper class ones) on the RMS Titanic were not static but rather, represented a single snapshot of a moment in fashion history that only lasted for a brief moment.

To be continued…in the next installment, we’ll actually look at some at “The Titanic Era” and film. Stay Tuned! 🙂

Afterward:

For an excellent treatment of this “moment in time”, I would highly recommend the book Titanic Style: Dress and Style on the Voyage by Grace Evans:

Titanic Style

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