How to Dress in Period Attire

Here are resources to help you put together your very own Edwardian Era attire. Our hope is that you can work with clothing you already have at home and simply add a few accessories to complete your look. With a little effort, you may impress yourself and others to find that you have truly captured the look of the time.

For those interested in creating a more elaborate outfit, we have included links to pages where you can purchase outfits, accessories, or sewing patterns if you want to make your own Edwardian clothing.

As you will see below, there are plenty of resources currently available online to give you tips and instructions on achieving an Edwardian look.


“Love in a Garden” original print by American artist, Charles Dana Gibson, 1901

 

Ladies’ Fashions | Gentlemen’s Clothing | Children’s Clothing

Ladies’ Fashions

1900 to 1908

As the 20th century dawns, feminine curves are very much in fashion. The hourglass figure of the Gibson Girl, popularized in the 1890s, is still a fashion ideal. Fashion-conscious women wear S-shaped corsets to give them the pigeon breast front. Women wear padded bust enhancers, or ruffles on their corset covers, to add what Nature failed to provide. Some pad their hips as well to make waistlines look small. Bodices of dresses and blouses, called “waists” in the period, are full in the front, with extra fabric controlled by gathers at the shoulder. Skirts are close-fitting through the waistline then flare out over the hips and to a very wide ankle-length hemline. Gowns are trimmed with flounces and lace. Wide brimmed hats balance the width of skirts.


Fashion plate from “The Delineator” fashion
magazine, August 1901


Spencer sisters, 1902
(public domain photograph)


Actress Lillian Russell as “Lady Teazel” in 1904.
She lived in Pittsburgh from 1912 to 1922 and
is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.

For less formal occasions or to go to work, ladies wear their Tailor-Mades (suits) in dark colors and with a crisp white blouse. Some ladies wear their blouses with the same high collar and necktie as the gentleman do. They may even don a straw boater just like the men, too.


Golfing outfit, 1907


Advertisement for Arrow shirt collars, 1907

Hair is worn long and pinned up in a relaxed Gibson Girl bun on top of the head. Shorter hair may be enhanced by adding hairpieces or braids.

Throughout the period, respectable women do not wear makeup, though a lady may powder her nose to keep the shine away. (Makeup will return to fashion for younger women in the 1920s. Scandalous!)


The iconic Gibson Girl created by Charles Dana Gibson, 1890

1908 to 1914

In 1908, French fashion designer, Paul Poiret, introduces a new vertical silhouette with a raised waistline and narrow skirts, a revival of the Empire fashions of a hundred years earlier that celebrated the natural beauty of Ancient Greece. Corsets become long and extend over the hips to control hips under the narrow skirts. Some corsets no longer cover the bosom so women wear boned brassieres. Vertical lines appear in blouses as tucks and rows of lace. Slightly above-ankle skirts also emphasize vertical lines with lengthwise pleats and trim. Gowns are made up of layers of lightweight fabric arranged in artful drapery. Career women are still wearing their Tailor-Made suits that follow the current narrow silhouette. As skirts become narrower, so do hats.

Hair is worn long and pinned up in a soft roll just above the nape of the neck. Many ladies still wear Gibson Girl buns. For more formal occasions, scarves or turbans can be worn with the new style of dresses.


Page from “Les Robes de Paul Poiret,” illustration by Iribe, 1908

Fashion plate depicting Londoners in front of Harrod’s, 1909

1914 to 1918

During the years of World War I, fashion expresses wartime austerity. Ornate decoration is replaced by simplicity. Waistlines are lower than the previous few years but still slightly above the natural waistline. Skirts are fuller with hemlines still just above ankle length. There is less emphasis on a small waistline. Bulky sweaters are fashionable for less formal occasions.

Hair is worn long and pinned up as in earlier years.


Paul Poiret suit in checked fabric, 1914


Fashion plate from “Gazette du Bon Ton,” 1915


Woman wearing a sweater, 1919 (public domain photograph)

 

More Information

Tea Dress and Gown Guide
This page give you more examples and history of Edwardian dresses.

Street Style 1906
Excellent candid photographs of women in daywear in 1906 London from “The Library Time Machine” website

Pinterest
https://www.pinterest.com/ageofantiquity/edwardian-1900-1920-womens-clothing/
https://www.pinterest.com/ageofantiquity/titanic-era-womens-clothing/
Note: You may need a Pinterest account to fully view boards. It’s free to sign up and Pinterest does not send invasive email.

How to Re-Create the Look

Begin by looking at what you already have. You may only need to add a piece or two. We have included links for purchasing additional items ready-made or places to purchase patterns, if you choose to sew.

Do wear:

  • White or light colored blouses in lightweight fabrics. Feminine shapes are best. Look for puffed sleeves, high necklines, tucks, ruffles, lace trim.
  • Long skirts in darker colors, ankle length or just above the ankle with a dark belt at the waistline.
  • Tea dresses in layers of soft, flowing fabrics. Add a coordinating lightweight underskirt to bring a mid-calf length down to ankle or above ankle length.
  • Above ankle length skirts or dresses if you intend to dance
  • Hats adorned with flowers or large bows
  • Straw boater hat may be worn with a blouse and skirt outfit
  • Gloves in white or light colors
  • Dark shoes with a low or medium heel. Flats are okay.

Don’t wear:

  • Neon or other super-bright colors
  • Mini-skirts or shorts
  • Spike heels
  • Sneakers or athletic shoes

Thrift:

How to Make a Titanic Dress on a Budget
This page gives you great instructions on how to put together an outfit from what you may have and local thrift stores. There is also a great instructional video as well.

Purchase:

Ladies’ Emporium

Nataya Vintage Style Dresses

American Duchess Shoes

Sew:

Folkware Patterns
These patterns are designed to fit over modern undergarments. Much easier!

Gibson Girl Blouse

Armistice Blouse

Walking Skirt

Metropolitan Suit

Metropolitan Hat

Edwardian Underthings

Laughing Moon Mercantile
1909-1913 Day and Evening Dress

Past Patterns
1900-1919 Patterns
Important: Past Patterns are designed to fit over period undergarments.

Reconstructing History
Edwardian Patterns

Downton Abbey Patterns

Titanic Era Patterns

Great War Patterns

Truly Victorian
Edwardian Patterns
Important: Truly Victorian patterns are designed to fit over period undergarments.

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Gentlemen’s Clothing

Styles for men have not changed much in the last one hundred years, though we dress far more casually now. Everyday attire for a gentleman is a suit, vest, and tie, worn with a white shirt, gloves and a hat.


Golfing attire, 1901


Irish immigrants, 1909 (public domain photograph)


“The Benjamin Poole and Bell Sack Suits,”
1912. New York Public Library.

 

How to Re-Create the Look

Begin by looking at what you already have. A modern-day suit will likely fill the bill. Find a vest that most closely matches in color, or something lighter and complementary, and you’re almost there. Add a necktie and a hat to top it off. You may only need to add a piece or two. We have included links for purchasing additional items ready-made or places to purchase patterns, if you choose to sew.

Do wear:

  • Long-sleeved white button-down shirts
  • Neckties
  • Vests and/or jackets
  • Trousers
  • Suits
  • Knickerbockers (trousers that end in a band below the knee). Avoid the very full “plus fours;” they did not come into fashion until the 1920s.
  • Dress shoes
  • Hats: Straw boaters, Hamburgs, Newsboy caps

Don’t wear:

  • Tee shirts or short-sleeved button-down shirts
  • Jeans
  • Shorts
  • Baseball caps
  • Sneakers or athletic shoes

Purchase:

Gentlemen’s Emporium

River Junction Trade Co.

Sew:

Reconstructing History

Edwardian Patterns

Downton Abbey Patterns

Titanic Era Patterns

Great War Patterns

Laughing Moon Mercantile

Men’s Shirts

Trousers

Frock Coat

Sack Coat

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Children’s Clothing

For young boys, go for the classic sailor suit or, for older boys, knickers with a white shirt, socks, and shoes. Add a jacket for a more formal look. Boys wore their hair cut short.

Girls wore dresses in similar styles to their mothers. Many of the current heirloom patterns for girls are inspired by the Edwardian era. Girls wore their hair long, styled in long curls or in a loose ponytails tied at the neck with large bows.

pic_fashioplate_children
Fashion plate from “The Delineator” fashion magazine, August 1901

1910 Buckland children
Buckland children, 1910 (public domain photograph)

1913 Sears Roebuck catalog, p303
Ucanttear Brand Wash Suits for young boys, 1913 Sears Roebuck catalog

1913 Sears Roebuck catalog, p308
Ucanttear Brand Suits for Boys From 8 to 16 Years, 1913 Sears Roebuck catalog

1910-1920 Two children riding hobby horses
Two young children riding hobby horses, 1910-1920 (public domain photograph)

More Information

Good Taste and Bad Taste In Dressing Children (Victoriana)

Pinterest
https://www.pinterest.com/lizziegran/edwardian-childrens-clothing/
https://www.pinterest.com/elvacawood/edwardian-childrens-clothing-1901-1920/
https://www.pinterest.com/maklinens/edwardian-childrens-clothing-apparel/
Note: You may need a Pinterest account to fully view boards. It’s free to sign up and Pinterest does not send invasive email.

How to Re-Create the Look

Look for correctly styled flower girl or communion dresses for girls, knicker sets for boys, and sailor suits for young boys. These are often available from wedding sites.

Do wear:

Girls

  • Dresses
  • Tights and dress shoes
  • Straw hats with large bows or ribbon streamers

Boys

  • Long-sleeved white button-down shirts
  • Solid-color long sleeve pullover sweaters
  • Neckties
  • Knickerbockers or knee pants for boys
  • Newsboy caps

Don’t wear:

  • Tee shirts
  • Jeans
  • Baseball caps
  • Sneakers or athletic shoes

Purchase:

Children’s Cottage

Strasburg Children

Tuxgear

Sew:

Past Patterns
1900’1919 Patterns

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*2016 Laura Mason Lockard, Christina Papp, Dan Simkins