V: Costume Wars – Victorian vs. Edwardian

I’m starting off my Costume Wars series with a bang! Many would say the Victorian and Edwardian eras were similar. They were consecutive eras of British history, together encompassing almost a decade. However, differences in the attitudes of these eras can be seen through trends in fashion. This post will go through some of the more obvious changes in dress, and the more subtle. Let me know in the comments which era of fashion you prefer!

Let’s start with Victorian fashion. With the era beginning in 1837 and lasting until 1901, this can be characterised in one word: conservative. There were many laws and legislative measures introduced during this period, many of which formally excluded working-class men and women. These restricted views were reflected in the Victorian style of dress. Women’s fashion was modest, to say the least, and skirts were made of uncomfortable linen. Also, dress sleeves had dropped shoulders and became tighter further towards the wrist. Following the general theme of discomfort, let’s move on to the most notorious piece of uncomfortable garment: corsets. The ideal female profile was a ‘V’ shape, and this was achieved through corsets that forced the abdomen down. The classic Victorian bonnet was also worn until around 1870.

Emma Hill by Ford Madox Brown (1853), wearing a Victorian style bonnet

The Edwardian era began after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and lasted until around 1912. It is defined as a more relaxed era, fashion-wise, and this is reflected in many of the changes in womenswear. Skirts became straighter, and sleeves were less tight and tended to be cinched with a ribbon at the wrist. The ideal women’s shape became an ‘S’ instead of a ‘V’ – because of this corsets were designed to support the abdomen rather than push it down. The Edwardian era saw the emergence of the flamboyant feathered ‘Merry Widow‘ hat, described as a replacement for the Victorian bonnet.

A 1900 illustration showing the contrast of the ‘V’ and ‘S’ shaped figure

Menswear only changed slightly between these periods. Three piece suits with waistcoats were popular during the Victorian era and were adapted in the Edwardian era. Details incorporated from 1901 such as straighter coats and jackets are still used in clothes today.

A contrast between Victorian and Edwardian fashion

As you can see, there were a lot of differences between the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It’s interesting to note that fashion reflects the general attitudes of the time. You may have noticed I’ve used ‘restrictive’ to describe Victorian fashion and ‘relaxed’ to describe Edwardian. I wonder how we could sum up our fashion trends in one word? I hope you enjoyed this first post in my Costume Wars series! Let me know your thoughts, and which era’s fashion you prefer.

Bye for now,

Lucinda

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