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ÒA fashion plate showing the exterior of Harrod's department store in Knightsbridge, 1909. The ladies' silhouettes emphasize the vertical, with the waistline raised and the skirt width reduced. The lady in the foreground, who wears a cream military-style coat over her pinky-grey chiffon dress, holds a drawstring bag called a 'Dorothy'. Handbags became essential accessories once narrowing skirts precluded the use of pockets. Applied decoration in the form of braid, tassels, beading and embroidery remained an essential feature of fashion.Ó Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress; Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: The National Trust, 1996. p. 252, fig. 220.

Fashion in the period 1900–1909 in the Western world continued the long elegant lines of the 1890s. Tall, stiff collars characterize the period, as do women’s broad hats and full “Gibson Girl” hairstyles. A new, columnar silhouette introduced by the couturiers of Paris late in the decade signaled the approaching abandonment of the corset as an indispensable garment. With the decline of the bustle, sleeves began to increase in size and the 1830s silhouette of an hourglass shape became popular again. The fashionable silhouette in the early 20th century was that of a confident woman, with full low chest and curvy hips. The “health corset” of this period removed pressure from the abdomen and created an S-curve silhouette.

In 1897, the silhouette slimmed and elongated by a considerable amount. Blouses and dresses were full in front and puffed into a “pigeon breast” shape of the early 20th century that looked over the narrow waist, which sloped from back to front and was often accented with a sash or belt. Necklines were supported by very high boned collars.

Skirts brushed the floor, often with a train, even for day dresses, in mid-decade. The fashion houses of Paris began to show a new silhouette, with a thicker waist, flatter bust, and narrower hips. By the end of the decade the most fashionable skirts cleared the floor and approached the ankle. The overall silhouette narrowed and straightened, beginning a trend that would continue into the years leading up to the Great War.

Women’s Dress & Style from 1900 to 1919

The previous century had produced crinolines, bustles, polonaises, dolmans, abundant frills and furbelows of every description ; but the new century, at the height of the Belle Epoch was bowing to simplicity and to common sense, and, though details were still elaborate, fussy trimmings and unnatural lines were gradually being abandoned. This trend of simplicity was enormously intensified and sped up by the The Great War, which clearly established two great principles in women’s dress — freedom and convenience. And men wore three-piece lounge suits with bowler or cloth caps. Jackets were narrow with small, high lapels. Most collars were starched and upstanding, with the corners pointing downwards. Some men wore their collars turned down, with rounded edges and modern knotted ties. Beards were now reserved for mainly older men, and most young men sported neat moustaches and short hair.

Men

Men wore narrow-cut lounge suits, with pointed collars turned down, and plain or simply patterned modern knot ties. Cloth caps were popular amongst the working class, though trilbies or homburgs were worn by the middle classes. Hair was cut very short at the sides, parted severely from the centre or the side and smoothed down with oil and brilliantine, or combed back over the top of the head.