How To Dress In The Edwardian Era

Edwardian Shirtwaist Costume

‘ I am sure she was well dressed […] for I cannot remember what she had on.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Edwardian women were advised not to neglect the importance of dress: ‘Suit your dresses to the occasions upon which they are to be used’ (Household Companion, 1909). ‘A trailing gown of velvet and lace is not adapted for shopping or travelling, any more than a tweed skirt and flannel blouse is appropriate to an afternoon reception.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

To be well dressed, isn’t costly, as a well fitted gown of cheap material always looks good: ‘the aim of all who aspire to be well dressed should be simplicity and taste’. (Household Companion, 1909)

A well-dressed woman will ‘rather follow than lead the prevailing fashion, and in no event will permit the costume of the day to lead her into violation of good taste and common sense. The golden rule in dress is to avoid extremes.’ (Household Companion, 1909)




How To Dress In The Edwardian Era

In the morning, at home:  ‘Morning dress should be faultless in its way. […] For morning wear simplicity in attire is imperative. Silk should not be worn. Cotton and woolen are the proper materials.’ (Household Companion, 1909) The morning dress is ‘a loose, flowing dress, made high in the neck, with a belt at the waist, and with loose sleeves fastened at the wrist […] It is important that a lady should always dress neatly at home. She is then ready to receive a morning caller without having to change her dress.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

‘For morning wear, shirt blouses of coloured flannels, washing silk, and nuns’- veiling are pretty, comfortable, and good style. The custom of wearing old afternoon dresses in the morning should be banned by every well-dressed woman. A well-cut shirt, with collar and tie, and a tailor-made skirt of tweed or serge is an ideal morning costume, for an Englishwoman, at all events.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

edwardian cotton dress
Edwardian Wash Dress

Summer morning dress: ‘For young ladies, whether married or single, there is no prettier summer morning wear than white or very light dresses of washing materials. Yet those must be always fresh and clean, and the collars and cuffs irreproachable.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

On the street: A walking costume with dark gloves and a hat or bonnet. The walking dress should be plain: ‘A rich or showy dress in the street is apt to attract more attention than is desirable or always agreeable.’ (Household Companion, 1909) The skirt should clear the ground: ‘There is nothing more disgusting than to see a rich dress sweeping up the dirt and filth of the street. Fashion seems to decree this at the present time, with the ungraceful result of seeing nine women out of ten awkwardly holding up their skirts. The tenth sensibly ignores fashion in favor of comfort.’ (Household Companion, 1909) The shoes should be ‘high, warm, and easy to the feet, with a low, broad heel, and should be always neatly blackened.’

Carriage dress: A lady ‘may dress as elegantly as she wishes’ with very light-colored gloves. (Household Companion, 1909)

In the evening, at home: A woman ‘should change her dress for the evening. Some neat and dainty costume should be worn, according to her taste, for it is in the evening that she is thrown most with the male members of her family, and is most likely to have visitors’. (Household Companion, 1909) ‘In Europe, the evening dress requires the exposure of the arms and neck; but in this country the more sensible plan of covering these parts of the body is widely the fashion, and should be observed except on very special occasions.’ (Household Companion, 1909) Perfumes ‘should be used only in the evening, and with the strictest moderation, and that perfumes to be tolerable must be of the most delicate kind.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Evening calls upon friends: An evening dress for at home wear with ‘a hood, or some light head-wrap easily laid aside. A bonnet should always be removed at the commencement of such a visit.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Dinner party: Demi-toilette: a less elaborate evening toilette than for a formal dinner party, ‘high dresses if the material be sufficiently rich’. (Household Companion, 1909) ‘Real flowers may be worn’.

Formal dinner party: Full dress, ‘as elaborately as for a ball, though ball dress and dinner dress should by no means be the same. The occasions differ widely, and the fitness of things needs to be strictly observed.’ (Household Companion, 1909) Jewelry ‘may be freely worn’.

1910s Christmas Peacock Evening Dress
1910s Peacock Evening Dress

For balls and soirees: ‘The dress for balls and soirees should be of the richest within the lady’s means. Yet a certain degree of repression is important, if one would avoid seeming overdressed.’ (Household Companion, 1909) Full dress is worn with white kid gloves which are never removed in the ballroom, and white satin or kid boots. ‘Ladies may […] make their fullest display of jewelry. As everything about a ball-room should be light and attractive, it is in order for elderly ladies, who do not dance, to wear dresses more youthful in style and color than would be suitable for dinner, concert, or opera. For those who dance, silk dresses are, as a rule, objectionable. Flowers are the proper ornaments for the head and dress. French ladies select them with reference to the season; but this is not insisted on in this country, and summer flowers may be worn at Christmas.’ (Household Companion, 1909) Artificial flowers should be worn instead of real flowers because the ‘heat and dancing are apt to cause real flowers to droop and shed their petals.’

Mourning ball gown: ‘Ladies in deep mourning should not dance, even if they permit themselves to attend a ball. Should they do so, black and scarlet or violet is the proper wear. Where the mourning is sufficiently slight for dancing to be seemly, white, with mauve, violet or black trimmings, flounces, etc., is proper’, with white gloves ‘sewn with black’. (Household Companion, 1909)

Opera: ‘The richest full dress should be worn at the opera. The head should be bare, and dressed in the most becoming style. Jewelry may be worn, according to taste, as there is no place where it shows to better advantage. A light or brilliant colored opera cloak will add greatly to the lady’s appearance and comfort. Gloves of white, or delicately tinted, kid only are to be worn.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Other places of amusement, such as theater: An ‘ordinary walking-dress […] [with a] rich and elegant shawl may be worn […] The sensible fashion is now making its way to remove the hat at theatres and lectures, out of due regard for those whose view of the stage may be obstructed. This being the case, there is no need to spoil the hair by wearing hat or bonnet on the way thither.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Church: ‘Plain and simple dress should be worn for church, with very little jewelry. The costume should be of quiet colors.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Business wear: How to dress for business in the Edwardian era

DIY Edwardian Wool Skirt
Edwardian Plaid Wool Skirt

In winter: Material for ‘winter wear […] should have warmth without much weight’ (Home And School Sewing, 1901) ‘Wear warm, light garments, to secure an even temperature. In winter it is even more important to protect the spine than the chest. Wear a silk sleeveless jacket next the skin, if you do not wish to wear a flannel one. At any rate, if you are delicate, young or old, cover the spine with a strip of flannel tied by a ribbon, and extending to the hips. There will be no need to fear colds, bronchitis, or phthisis, if this precaution is taken, and it does not prevent wearing a decollete gown.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Wear under-bodices of ‘palest pink or cream silk and wool’ under ‘transparent lace yokes and collars […] which do not show when worn under the lace, and yet are quite capable of keeping off the sudden chill which is so apt to eventuate in pneumonia.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘It is not a good plan to wear furclose up round the throat, as it makes the throat delicate, and is extremely difficult to discard without taking cold.’ Winter hats are smaller than summer hats. Materials for winter hats are velvet, plush and felt; and they may be trimmed with wings, fur, embroidery or fruits. ‘Ribbons as trimmings are very suitable for bad weather; flowers are admissible for winter hats, but are not used extensively.’ In cold weather, wear woolen gloves over the kid gloves. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Rainwear: How to dress suitably for wet weather in the Edwardian era (in the middle of the page) ‘For windy weather all the garments should be as close-fitting as possible. […] Gauntlet gloves are useful ; they prevent the wind from blowing up the sleeves. For serviceable skirts it is not a bad plan to have the hem lined up inside with leather about four inches deep. It helps to weight the skirt and keep it down, and in wet weather if the hem gets muddy it can be easily sponged and dried. Boots are the best wear for winter ; if shoes are worn, gaiters should be added for the sake of warmth and dryness.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) There were already rubber shoes which were worn ‘during the winter and stormy weather. Rubber shoe coverings are made to protect the shoe from water and snow and may be in the form of either slippers or arctics.’ (A manual of shoemaking and leather and rubber products, 1912)

‘It is wise to remove quills or feather mounts when strong wind is to be encountered, for they suffer terribly from the elements. A knot of ribbon should be ready to replace the more perishable adornment for the time being.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Traveling costume: ‘Ladies should wear neat traveling dresses of suitable material and simple style,’ which are ‘quiet in color, materials that will not show dirt being preferable. A waterproof cloak is a very desirable addition, as it may be at any time suddenly needed. In summer travel a long linen duster, belted at the waist, should be worn over the dress.’ (Household Companion, 1909) Traveling ladies should ‘display as little jewelry as possible, and carry the smallest amount of baggage by hand. It is important to have the initials or full name on all trunks.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Country or seaside: Simple and ‘inexpensive dresses’ are worn with a hat ‘with a brim sufficiently wide to shield the face and neck from the sun’. (Household Companion, 1909) Indispensable for the holiday is a ‘serge or tweed dress made with a short [ankle length] skirt; […] lined flatly having no separate foundation, and fastening down the side of the front; thus only do they make for comfort and lightness of weight.’ (The Delineator, 1902)

Seaside costume: Linen and pique gowns, ‘ready made pique dresses are purchasable in good shops at a moderate price, these being trimmed with embroidered spots and coloured machine-stitchings, and made with blouse bodices and fanciful collars and plain skirts with shaped flounces.’ (The Delineator, 1902)

Golf costume: ‘short [ankle length] skirts and cotton blouses […] Golf costumes of a single color are the favorites, trimmed with bands of cloth in a lighter or darker tone of the same color. Unobtrusive as well as gay effects are in evidence, red predominating.’ (The Delineator, 1902)

Edwardian Bathing Costume
Edwardian Bathing Costume

Bathing dress: The bathing costume ‘should be made of blue or gray flannel. The skirt should come down to the ankles, and the sleeves should be long. An oil silk or India-rubber cap, fitting tightly around the head, will protect the hair from the salt water.’ (Household Companion, 1909) A bathing corset may be worn.

Cycling costume: Edwardian bicycle costume





What Colors To Wear

‘Pale-blue is apt to make blondes look ashen. Dark-blue, on the contrary, is very becoming to them, and a blue velvet gown brings out all their delicate coloring. Neutral tints are very unbecoming to them. Brunettes with an inclination to be sallow will do well to avoid blue, as it makes them appear greenish or tawny. Green is trying to them unless they are very fair. It suits blondes perfectly, especially those who have color.

Pale brunettes should affect shades of red, which increase their beauty. Crimson may be worn by blondes. Yellow is a superb contrast for a pale brunette, especially under artificial light, when it is more subdued than in the sunlight. This color softens an olive skin, and borrows from it a creamy tint, harmonizing wonderfully well with dark hair and brilliant eyes. On the contrary, yellow is unbecoming to most blondes.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

‘Elderly ladies should dress as richly as their means permit. A thin old lady may wear delicate colors, while one of stout person or florid complexion will look best in black or dark grey. But for young and old alike the complexion and figure have much to do with determining the suitable colors. Rich colors harmonize well with brunette complexions, but for blondes and those of delicate tints of face the desirable colors to be worn are those of more delicate hue.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

In winter, warm colors should be worn, such as warm shades of brown, red, dark blue and grey. ‘For a long time white was not considered winter wear, but it has become much more general. […] But it should be a warm, creamy white, not a blue-white ; and the material should be a warm one, such as velvet, wool, or fur. Sometimes a cold-coloured costume can be made to look warm and suitable for winter by the judicious admixture of warm colours in the trimming’. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) ‘Brown, gray and deep blue are for traveling.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)





Clothing Materials

‘Dress fabrics in woolen goods should always be soft to the eye and to the touch. China crêpes, colored silks of medium weight, make charming costumes, and are to be preferred to the stiff silks; but a black silk gown should be of good quality, as an inferior grade does not wear well and soon grows shabby. […] Mixed cotton and wool goods are usually almost worthless. One all-woolen gown is worth two of them.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

‘Serges and tweeds should be employed for coats and skirts for hard wear. A good Harris tweed, tailor-made, is practically everlasting, and for the country and hard wear is excellent.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)





Economy In Dress

A woman doesn’t have to be rich in order to look well dressed, but she has to spend her money wisely: Always buy good material ‘that will not shrink or roughen if wet, that will not fade when exposed to the light, and that has no loose threads in the weave to catch and draw’, as it’ll be cheaper in the long run. ‘It is economy to buy the very best possible material. Fewer clothes may be bought if necessary, but the material and texture should be good. Well-made garments that are bought are expensive; garments of equal quality can be made at home more cheaply, if a woman is skillful and if her time is not more valuable spent in some other way.’ (A Manual Of Home-Making, 1919) Standard dress materials, such as serge and broadcloth are ‘far more serviceable than so-called novelties for which a high price is charged on account of some peculiarity in the weave.’ Don’t buy cheap lace as it’ll always look cheap: Rather use less, but good lace and embroidery. A well fitted gown made from good material looks better than ‘than one made of inferior material and loaded with trimmings.’ (Home And School Sewing, 1901)

‘Beautiful feathers are durable and graceful ornaments for bonnets; cheap ones are poor economy. Low-priced finery is not worth buying. One should never economize in this way. It is never wise to buy one article of dress noticeably richer than the rest of the wardrobe. For example, a velvet dress is serviceable, but unless one can afford other costumes as elegant, it is out of place.’ (Household Companion, 1909)

Edwardian Bicycle Costume

‘No greater economy can be effected than by selecting one or two colours for the season’s array of clothes, and keeping to them, even though bargain counters beckon with alluring trifles of other hue, and accessories of undoubted novelty, in the wrong tint, tempt almost beyond all human power of resistance. […] Autumn and winter sales are useful to the woman who wishes to economise in dress; that is, if she is able to keep her head sufficiently to select not only what will be useful to her, but to reject everything that she does not really need.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Tailormade costumes should be well cut without much fashion details so that they can be worn for some years: ‘No one detects it if we wear last year’s golfing clothes, if well cut to begin with; and the accessories – belt, tie, veil, and gloves – can be always fresh.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2) ‘One of the best economies is to have all necessities of good quality. The possession of good boots and shoes, and well-cut, well-fitting gloves, gives an assurance which even a nicely-brushed, though much-worn, skirt is powerless to disturb. […] It is better to have a smart hat, neat neckwear, and belt, with a blouse that has seen some service, than to have a smart new-blouse with a last year’s hat and untidy shoes.’ Transferable hat trimmings ‘with safety pins firmly stitched at the back’ are also useful to change a morning hat into a dressy one for afternoon wear.

If the shape of a garment is outdated, refashion the dress instead of buying new material. To remodel a garment, ‘it should not be worn until it is very shabby, but should be carefully ripped apart, brushed and shaken in the open air. If the material can be turned, remove all stains by stretching it out on a clean, smooth board and scrubbing it with a soft brush and soap and warm water, rinsing such places by holding the material over a bowl and pouring water through it. Be careful not to stretch it while doing this. Lay a cloth over it and press on the wrong side while it is still damp. […] In remaking any material, it is generally advisable to combine it with some other fabric. Frequently this may be done by making a yoke or vest, cuffs and collars on the waist, and introducing a panel or bias fold on the skirt, being careful to select materials whose coloring will be low in tone and that will not attract attention to any lack of freshness in the original goods.’ (Home And School Sewing, 1901)

‘One of the best ways of effecting economy in dress is to have a sufficiency of clothes to prevent the necessity of wearing things on unsuitable occasions. For instance, if you have a short, stout skirt suitable for country wear, there is no danger of having to walk out in muddy lanes, when staying with friends out of town, in the good cloth skirt of town walking length. Always have two or more evening dresses in use, so that the diaphanous best one need not stand the strain of theatre or quiet evening wear. Never sit for long or lounge in a well-cut new cloth skirt. The knee breadth will bag at the knee almost as seriously as a man’s trousers. Make, or buy, a pretty rest gown to lounge in : this is not an extravagance, but an economy. No woman can afford to do without a rest gown […] to save her street clothes.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘Clothing will look better and wear longer if properly cared for. Careful folding, brushing, and cleaning have much to do with the appearance of a wardrobe.’ (Home And School Sewing, 1901)




How To Store Clothes

‘Well she knows that if garments are laid aside carelessly, folded badly, or hung up without due regard to the set of the coat or skirt, their appearance will be far from pleasing when next they are worn.

Whenever possible, coats, skirts, and costumes should be hung in preference to keeping them in a drawer or box, however carefully folded.

Dress hangers are not always available, therefore carefully placed loops, by which garments can be hung on a wardrobe hook, must not be forgotten.

For skirts, there should always be two loops on each side on the waist-belt. Dress bodices and coats usually have the loop placed at the neck, although many people prefer a loop under each arm by which to suspend them. Princess gowns can be suspended by loops sewn inside at the waistline, or under the arms.

Edwardian Clothes Hanger
Edwardian clothes hanger (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

The better plan, however, is to use some of the many forms of hangers that are now provided for the woman who wishes to care for her clothes when not in use. […] The simplest form of hanger […] is the curved wooden arm, with a metal hook in the centre. It costs only a penny or two, and is slipped into the sleeves of coat or bodice. […] For skirts, a very simple but most satisfactory device consists of two metal bars, some four inches long, and covered with felt, between which the skirt band is tightly gripped. The bars are controlled by a sliding ring, and such a holder will carry two skirts if required.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)






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