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Titanic Era Fashion

by Nancy DeWitt

Fascination with the glamour and tragedy of the RMS Titanic reached a crescendo this past week with the 100th anniversary of the ship's fateful voyage. It was hard to miss news stories about Titanic-themed museum exhibitions, memorial cruises and the release of the 3-D version of the blockbuster movie Titanic. A number of exhibits at other museums are focusing on clothing from the Titanic period, which I admit is one of my favorite eras of fashion history. Fortunately, we always have Titanic Era fashions (and automobiles) on display in the Fountainhead Museum.

The "Titanic Era" actually fell at the end of what we call the Edwardian Era, or La Belle Époque (the Beautiful Age). Around 1908 the curvaceous, womanly figure of the Edwardian lady gave way to a more lithe, fluid and upright look. Women no longer tortured their figures with the S-curve corsets. Instead, the new ideal was a long, slim silhouette reminiscent of the Directoire & Empire styles from 1790-1820. Single-piece dresses with high, empire waists were worn over long corsets that started just above the waist and fitted well down the thighs. This new style of corset did not squeeze in the waist, but it constricted the hips and was so long that sitting down was often a challenge.

Dresses during this period were often layered and sewn in asymmetrical patterns embellished with brocade fabric, lace trim, fringe or beading. Popular materials for day dresses included silk and velvet. Walking skirts of the time reached the ankle or instep.

Evening dresses were floor-length and many had trains. These were made of light or sheer fabrics adorned with lace or trimmings over a silk underlayer. Tunic styles were especially popular. Hats were not worn with evening gowns. Instead, it was fashionable to adorn one’s pompadour hairstyle with elaborate combs, jewels, aigrettes, feathers or a tiara. Long gloves were essential.

By day, women wore large hats to offset their narrow silhouette. These were adorned with an abundance of decorations, including flowers, lace, fruit, feathers and even entire birds. Hats that lacked these ornate trimmings compensated by being extremely wide. 

One hundred years after the Titanic's tragic voyage, the elegance of the era can still be seen in modern fashion. From Edwardian-inspired wedding gowns to the oversize, heavily adorned hats worn at the Kentucky Derby, these "unsinkable fashions" represent timeless sophistication. 

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