Fashion History – 1910-1920

1910 -1914

The style of the ‘S’ shape was being replaced with a straighter line and a waistline that moved up to the empire line. This style echoed the time of the regency era along with military collars and wide collars. 

The skirts narrowed and moved higher off the floor. The high collar around the neck went out of fashion. Women covered their necks for such a long time in fashion that is was a bold step! It is said that the clergy were ‘outraged’ that women would show their necks and health experts predicted there would be an outbreak of pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Dresses were often easier to get in and out of with front buttoned one-piece dresses, sleeves tended to be tight fitting. In 1912 the hobble skirt was introduced, women could barely take a full step in this restricted dress. Not rocket science to assume that this style didn’t last long. Pegtop skirts were also in fashion with the fullness concentrated at the hip and gradually narrowing to the ankles. 

Evening dress was similar to day dresses but with finer fabrics and decorative touches such as wide belts, sashes, embroidery, lace, beading and fringe. 

One of my absolute fashion icons at this time was Queen Maud of Norway. Her extensive wardrobe still survives today and I was lucky enough to see some of the pieces at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. What I remember being most shocked about was her waist. It must have been between 18 – 20 inches!

Maud engaged with contemporary fashion throughout her long life, and commissioned many of the great designers of the day, notably Worth, Blancquaert and Morin-Blossier. Her wardrobe illustrates the impeccable standards of couture dressmaking and tailoring of the period. Style and Splendour showcases some of the most spectacular garments, now in the collection of the National Museum of Art/Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, and sets them clearly in the context of Queen Maud’s life and times.

There is a book that you can buy for more images of the fabulous detailed dresses here

1914 – 1918

Brassieres had been introduced 10 years earlier, but within this period they became more popular as underwear moved away from corsets. One piece dresses were still preferred to two piece. During the war years the silhouette grew wider with much shorter skirts. Hems rose six inches from the ground in 1916 and then eight inches by 1917.

The fit on the body was often easy and the waistlines were defined with belts. Necklines tended to be square or v neck. Sailors collars were made popular during this period. Skirts were often full which was achieved through pleating. 

1918 – 1920

This period is often known as the transitional period between the end of the war and the approach to the ‘boom’ era of the 1920s. Due to a lack of supplies from the war effort the silhouette grew narrower, this shape was defined as the ‘barrel shaped’. In 1919 designers turned to narrower skirts but also dropped the hemline back down to the ankle. 

Historical Fashion – The Spencer Jacket

The Spencer jacket dates from around 1790, the definition is a tailcoat with the tails removed, originally made for men it was short waist length coat. The tails of the frockcoat were retained and up cycled to a larger collar and sleeve cuffs. The name came from George Spencer, 2nd Earl of Spencer who was a very distant relative of Diana Princess of Wales. It was reported that he made it famous after his tails from a frock coat were burnt by coals from a fire. 

Although it was started by men, women took it to another level. The coat was shorted even more to the underbust or the empire line as a short fitted jacket. Often refered to as a ‘bosom friend’. 

There were many additions to the women’s spencer jacket, with elaborate cuffs, Brandenburg piping, closing and epaulettes echoing the mens military jacket.

The practical side of the jacket was to add warmth to women’s wear – the muslin dresses which were popular at the time must have been cold at times other than summer. They were also used for indoorwear and evening dress.

The popuar choice for dresses was white and a coloured spencer jacket was one way of injecting colour to an outfit. 

The spencer jacket fell out of fashion as the waistline fell in 1820.

Emma – A movie marvel

Pudleston Makes was fortunate enough to sponsor a screening of the latest film of Emma (2020) during the Borderlines Film Festival. I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen, but the novel of Emma has never quite sat with me. Centred on a very spoilt, rich girl who is difficult to make a connection too. This film, however, was a smash making the most of the extreme caricatures that feature in the book Mr Knightly, Mr Elton, Mr Woodhouse, Miss Bates, Harriet Smith, etc. 

The costumes were something of a marvel, Alexandra Byrne the costume designer, did a fantastic job of recreating the outfits that would have been worn in the later part of the Georgian era (approx. 1825).

From about 1800 – 1818 was called the regency period for costume, an era that maximised on simple lines, light fabrics and the use of white as a new accessible shade to be worn in dresses. From about 1819 – 1835 was called the romantic era, this was a time that introduced more volume to the hair and the costume with more and more embellishments, finer fabrics (such as silks) and vivid colour. 

A couple of fantastic, notable items include: 

Yellow Mellow 

There was a frequent use of the colour yellow, which was a popular colour for the era which featured in fashion plates with the move away from the regency white to the vivid colours of the romantic period. Yellow in particular was very fashionable and the different shades had interesting names such as Canary (bright, intense yellow), Jonquil (after a small wild daffodil, hence a pure yellow), the delicate Primrose, named after the popular English spring flower, and the deeper and richer Evening Primrose. It’s suitable to also mention the yellowish shades of Straw, the golden beige hue of ripening corn, and Drab, a dull yellow brown as dreary as it sounds. I liked the constant thread of the warm colour throughout the film.

The tailoring

Wonderful tailored jackets, from frock coats, spencer jackets and empire line over coats were very eye catching. There was some artistic licence within the creation of these gowns, one of which was the marvellous pleating on the back panel – a wonderful touch.

Complimentary colours    

The colour palate was marvellous, but the specific scene of the engagement with whites and greens was beautiful. Emma’s dress had green embroidery on a light white dress to compliment the sycamore tree that Mr Knightly proposed. A wonder finally to a line up of almost perfect costumery! 

The Red Evening Dress in the V&A

There was an almost exact replica of the beautiful red net empire line dress that is kept on display at the V&A. This for a costume geek like me was a dream to witness.

Giraffe nod

In the 1820s a Giraffe was placed within London Zoo, this in-turn created a strange phase to replicate the women’s hairstyle to the top of the giraffe’s head and their ears. This style was the start of some extreme volume in hair as we moved into the 1830s. Within Emma, Mrs Elton arrives as a larger than life character, only fitting that she should have a hairstyle that was whacky at the time.

One thing that didn’t quite sit right was the size of the men’s collars, maybe artistic embellishment.

Overall – you must watch the film. 
Throughout 2020 Pudleston Makes are touring venues to talk about Georgian Fashion. For more information look online at for more information on Historical Fashion talks.