In the Edwardian years, both men's and women's clothing reflected the opulence
of British society and the expansive personality of Edward VII.
King Edward VII lived life to the full. He enjoyed the best of everything and plenty of it. Where he led, his more well-heeled subjects almost certainly followed. A great deal of time, energy and money was spent on having fun, and fashionable leisure activities, such as yachting, horse-racing and dancing, all demanded that the participants be correctly dressed for the occasion.
Women's fashions tended to be highly elaborate. They relied heavily on decorative touches and plenty of them. Applique, embroidery and other trimmings were the order of the day. Lace was particularly popular, as manufacturers had developed machine-made laces almost as fine as hand-made ones.
Fine, delicate fabrics were used to make dresses, skirts and blouses. Chiffon, muslin, crepe-de-chine and gauze were the favoured materials, and pastels, notably pink, mauve and soft blue, were the fashionable colours.
Day wear covered ladies from head to toe, in high collars, long sleeves and full-length skirts. Accessories included parasols and gloves, while hats were absolutely essential. These were always trimmed, often with feathers. Evening gowns, by contrast, displayed the wearer's neck and shoulders, and some necklines plunged very daringly.
INS AND OUTS
Early in the Edwardian period, straight fronted corsets were used to give women an S-shape, with their busts and backsides emphasized. Later on, the S-shape went out of fashion; the new, pencil-thin skirts required their wearers to have trim bottoms and waists, though large bosoms remained fashionable. At the same time, colours became bolder and hats broader and more striking. High necks were ditched in favour of V-necks.
Fashionable Edwardian men, meanwhile, dressed along classic lines, with top hats, morning coats and pin-striped trousers for work and dinner jackets for evening wear. White shirts with detachable collars were worn both for night and day.
Formal dress required tail coats, waistcoats, starched shirts and gloves as well as top hats. Ties were compulsory except on very informal occasions, when cravats were usually worn instead. Blazers and boaters, usually sported with white flannels, were fairly common leisure wear, and lounge suits were perfectly acceptable for other informal occasions. Homburg hats became fashionable after the trend-setting king took to wearing them.
EDWARDIAN FASHION COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The best places to search out Edwardian clothing are specialist dealers and clothes markets.
General antiques shops and flea markets are unlikely to turn up anything of interest. With luck, the attic of an elderly friend or relative may reveal a trunk full of goodies. the biggest problem for any would be collector though, is quite simply the scarcity of Edwardian items.
It is easy to see why men's clothes are hard to come by. Male fashions remained pretty well constant, and clothes were generally worn until they fell to pieces. Women's fashion, however, have always been much more fickle, and styles changed far too
quickly for garments to be lost through wear and tear. Edwardian women's clothing is scarce mainly due to the fact that much of it was recycled during
World War 1.
Most collectors try to assemble whole outfits rather than fiddle about with odds and ends, though some specialize in specific items, such as blouses, hats and nightdresses. This can also be rewarding, but complete costumes on a tailor's dummy make for a more interesting display.
Strong light is liable to rot fabrics, so it is best not to keep your items out on show for long periods, and they should always be stored away carefully between times. Lay garments between sheets of tissue paper, in a box, and keep the box in a cool dark and, above all, dry place. Make sure that you use an acid-free variety of tissue paper, as other types can be harmful to the clothes. Also check carefully for moths before you put the clothes away.
When buying, check the garment for faults or repairs. New trimming or lace are common improvements, so beware of these.
The best fabrics are likely to be more expensive, but are more collectable. Some of the materials in use at the time were extremely fine and luxurious - more so than comparative materials today - and are certainly worth a relatively high price. Check silks for signs of 'shattering', where the fabric splits and breaks into separate strands; lining silks were toughened with a metal solution that corrodes with age, thus shattering the silk.
It is unwise to collect old garments with a view to wearing them, as they will lose their value. For an Edwardian look, wear reproduction clothing, which is much stronger.