20th Century Fashion History: 1900 – 1910

The 20th century is considered by many to be one of the most transforming and developing centuries humankind has ever experienced. From the conservative society of the early 1900s to the progressive and eclectic world of the late 1990s. Before this century, society in general (and fashion & beauty in specific), could take decades to change significantly. During the 20th century the pace of change occurred by years, and sometimes months. Society changed the way we lived, and we changed society. The first decade of the 1900s lit the spark of flame. Here’s the 20th Century Fashion History: 1900 – 1910.

1900s fashion

1900-1910: Society

The first decade of the 20th century (or the first 14 years) are often considered to be a part of the 19th century in terms of society, culture and way of living (the British historian Eric Hobsbawm coined the concept of the “long 19th century”). In practice, it means that the first years of the new century were slow in progress, compared to the rest of the century and more similar to the 19th century. Society still had a patriarchal view of life, with women’s main position in the home and care for children. Conservatism was strong in the upper class as a counter reaction to the development of the industrial 20th century fashion history 1900 - 1910 | The Fashion Folksrevolution and also the -then- progressive thoughts of socioeconomic equality, human rights and feminism (feels like we’re still struggling over 100 years later tbh).

The socioeconomic differences were distinct, even though the industrial revolution and labour movements endangered the position of the upper class. The industrial revolution made it possible for people to get dressed more evenly hence one’s finances. Fashion began to be consumed at a higher pace and the early years of the 1900s is where the transition from tailored clothes to shops and warehouses began.

1900-1910: Style

As mentioned, the early 20th century was defined by a conservative fashion in combination with nature. Women’s fashion was neat, covering and detailed with ruffles, buttons and lace in layers. The colors were often in sweet pastels or a traditional set of a white blouse and a black skirt.  The conservative fashion took its expression by high collars, long sleeves and sometimes gloves. 20th century fashion history 1900 - 1910 | The Fashion FolksThe mentioned features didn’t only contribute to a rich and detailed look but also underlined the refined and virtuous life of a lady.  The s-silhouette was somewhat promoted with the idea of being “natural to nature”, not minding the fact that heavily tightened corsets were required to reach the ideal. (Kind of like our time’s no makeup makeup. One should look as natural as possible, with the assistance of something unnatural, ofc)

Women often had matching hats to their dresses and also an umbrella. The early 1900s saw a development of sports and social events such a tea parties. Social skills for women had for long been considered as one of the most important quality a woman could possess, this partly remained during the early years of the 1900s as the old society still ruled.

For the latter part of the decade, the silhouette became more straight as women’s fashion started to become more functional. The corsets still remained for the most part, but wasn’t as heavily defined as the previous years. The silhouette still underlined some oversized shoulders, but with a tighter and more defined skirt that followed. Around this time, and in line with the fight for women’s rights, some women also began to wear clothes similar to men’s. This included shirts and ties and darker, more neutral colors (colors associated to men and serious work). This was the first step of a more masculine fashion that would follow for decades to come! (If men refused to give women their right, the least thing women could do was to steal their clothes – right?)

1900-1910: Clothes

Women’s clothes during this period consisted of blouses, skirts and dresses. The tea gowns were used for dinner parties and social events at home. They had a high collar, though lower neckline for the evening, and often a mini-trail. The sleeves and the bust were often in focus with over dimension of rich details as ruffles and lace. The silhouette was of course in the shape of an S, with corsets to help. It was first in the 20th century tea gowns were considered socially acceptable to wear outside the home. Before, they were considered to intimate and informal. (Today they’d be one of the galas, kind of). 

Except the tea gown, another common set of clothes was the Edwardian blouse and a maxi-skirt to go with it. The blouse was often white, with a rich detail life by the use of lace. The collar was high and the sleeves oversized, following the trendy style of the tea gowns. Often wider by the shoulder and more narrow by the wrists. The clothes were accompanied by hats, gloves and umbrellas, with the latter being both an accessory and function. 

20th century fashion history 1900 - 1910 | The Fashion Folks

1900-1910: Beauty

The restricted makeup of the Victorian era was still leading the beauty ideals. Even though the doe eyes were not as heavily emphasized, women should look natural and healthy. With the growing interest for sports, one should look crisp and be a child of nature. This meant pale skin, rosy cheeks and natural red lips. The T-shape of the face (with eyes and eyebrows making the upper part) should be straight and narrow. The eyebrows were kept rather natural and often done rather low and close to the eyes. This created a rather serious and concerned look and created a shadow over the eyes. To be noted though, wearing notable makeup was only accepted if you were an actress. If you wore makeup that was distinct, you could be mistaken for a prostitute.

As for the hair, the complete ideal was a fluffy updo. Not completely like a bun we know it today, but more a big bun covering the head (see right). This fluffy hairdo was often accompanied by a large hat. The haircolor that was idealized, was dark blond with a slight touch of ginger. Also, dark brown was popular! 

1900-1910: Spotlight

Even though the early years of the 20th century owed its fashion to the centuries before, the leading star of the decade would be Paul Poiret that would open up for the fashion we have today. A fashion liberated from societal norms, conservatism and outdated views of women’s role as pretty before able. Poiret, released women from corsets and opened up for the silhouette of the Empire fashion again. With inspiration from East Asia he introduced bright colors, patterns and clothes to Western fashion. He also launched runway shows, perfumes, the concept of a fashion house and collections with a storyline. He didn’t only consider himself to be the king of fashion, he kind of was too. Read more about Poiret here!

1900-1910: Transition to the 1910s

With Poiret’s liberating of women’s corsets he took the first step to a straight silhouette and a fashion that made life easier for women. Poiret, amongst others, in combination with WWI, created a  functional fashion with shorter skirts, simple lines and clothes that are similar to today. As in midi skirt, sweaters and cardigans! The 1900s were the last steps of old society and the first steps of the new life that awaited people. Out with the old and in with the new!

Next week I’ll talk about WWI, ransons and the years leading up to the flapper girls: 1910 – 1920! Hope you’ll like this series folks! Xx

20th century fashion history 1900 - 1910 | The Fashion Folks

44 thoughts on “20th Century Fashion History: 1900 – 1910

  1. Such an interesting read! It’s amazing how far we’ve come in terms of dressing and what’s now viewed as appropriate and not (it seem there isn’t much that’s no longer inappropriate tbh, lol). I find it fascinating that even after all those years, the 80s embraced the same puffy shoulder, though with a bit more structure and corsets are having a major moment in fashion now. We seem to always go back and pull from the past. I also find it quite interesting that it was a man who liberated women from the ridiculous wardrobe restrictions they had to endure daily with all the opposition women faced from men in general during those times. I wonder how he was viewed and respected amongst other men of his time. We owe Fashion Week and all to him tbh. Such a great article, beautiful, thanks so much for sharing and I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead!



    1. I’ve actually neve thought of it tbh. How other men viewed him, but that’s such an interesting point of view. I mean, men looked down at women as they did when they opposed the societal norms and blamed it on the gender. But when a man opposed it, he was probably seen as an idiot (?) a fool? Not sure how they viewed him. But with his success, he ought to have at least some cred for what he did! Xx


  2. Style from 1990-1910 was fascinating, I agree – it’s funny to think about how they matched their accessories to their outfits to such an extent; can you imagine if we did that in modern day?! haha.


  3. A very interesting read! Thanks for sharing!!
    Adi xx

  4. This is such a wonderful history of the evolution of women’s fashion (and beauty)! You did an amazing job concisely explaining the careful transition from the old to the new.

    As I was reading, I kept wondering who in the world would be considered our modern day Poiret? It’s so hard to separate out transitions in dressing if you’re living in the era that things are happening. Have we transitioned into completely utilitarian and athletic dress? Everything goes? Or will our era’s transition be genderless dressing? Curious about your thoughts on it.

    Style Tomes

    1. Thank you love for the kind words!

      And that’s a terrific question, I could do a whole post on the subject! I think the internet and social media have both equally made the fashion world so big and full of different designers that it’s hard to pick out one. There are of course the very top as in Raf Simons, Alexander Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, Riccardo Tisci, Miuccia Prada and more, and they’ve obviously done something significant within their design range to work at the level they do. But perhaps not something that have pushed the boundaries of fashion to something completely new, or with a clear breaking point. I know that people thought Gianni Versace was amazing in the – once in a lifetime – kind of thing. And Alexander McQueen is consider to be a fashion genius above the “average” level of fashion genius. I’d say that what Giambattista Valli does with his silhouette is a great breaking point, but it’s more fashion art than a realistic everyday change.

      But no, I don’t have a clear answe to your question. Fashion changes in so many different ways possible now and it’s hard to point out one thing that have made a bigger and lasting difference. That’d be social media for now perhaps. Some would maybe say that Anna Wintour has changed fashion with the size zero, celebrity fashion and fashion’s underlining as a cultural institution. But who knows, some thinks that she has destroyed fashion and it’s democracy!

      As for fashion today. If one stops and thinks about it, it’s kind of easy to break it down. We don’t wear completely the same things we did five years ago. And we won’t wear what we’re wearing today in five years either (not the clothes/details that makes us look what we look like today). But there’s an overall chill vibe in fashion atm. A lot of ripped jeans, boyfriend jeans, loose shirts, bandana scarves, flowy dresses, sweaters and pantsuits. (You know exactly the style I’m talking about haha). The average girl has a blouse with statement sleeves, tight jeans, sneakers and a leather jacket. It’s very basic, very every day and very contemporary! 10 years ago it was low waisted jeans, a longer tank top, flip flops and an it bag. I can say now, as I live with our fashion today, that the style 10 years ago is hideous. And it’s hard to believe that we’ll think of today as hideous, but the chance and -most likely- is definitely there!

      I rambled a lot now, but hope you got some perspective!

  5. Oooh! I love your history posts, and this one is not disappointing! You’ve broken each segment down into easy to read blurbs, and I can’t wait for the next one!

    Amber – amberelb.com

  6. I feel like everything prior to the 1920s looks very conservative and never something I would wear. I mean there are certain elements that I guess we may use in today’s wear but I would say the 20s are where fashion really made some leaps and bounds. Especially with pants and the flapper style! I totally love Downton Abby for that as you see fashion transition throughout the decades as they go into the 20s.

    Awesome post love!

    xoxo Rina

  7. Oh, I love the era of 1900-1910. Not necessarily for the fashion {it just looks too uncomfortable to me, but I love the shoes and hats!}, but for the society. This is such a brilliant tribute/history lesson to that time period!


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