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.
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 revolution 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.
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. The 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?)
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.
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!
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