Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Edwardian Era: Parma Violets

Among the very affluent classes in Edwardian times, fresh cut flowers was brought indoors to decorate each room of the house. "Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management" (1906) declared that they added a touch of refinement on the dinner table. Pretty potted parma violets, the chosen flower of the period, could even be used to decorate the breakfast table. After reading my blog (and commenting if you please), look at the delightful Lady with a Bowl of Violets (1910) by Lilla Cabot Perry.

On ladies' clothing former "artificials" would now compete with real roses and carnations. Parma violets, with their lovely scent, appeared as hat, hip, pulse or neck decorations. The shade of these pretty flowers entered fashion in amazing ways! I read about the outfit for an Edwardian bride: "corsets, perhaps in a delicate parma violet shade, could be enticingly pretty"! So here is my oil painting showing a long frock-type walking dress with a swivel hemline in that colour, with matching hat.

I should point out that a ladies' maid had much to do with the completed look of the lady of leisure. She had to be very skilled with hair and with tying in and corsetting the waist. It would take her at least an hour to sew the brush braid (cleaned and laundered) into the hemline of her lady 's dress to catch the mud and dirt (Nowwww, we know!!!)

In 3 previous posts I have summarized the characteristics of Edwardian fashion. So here are more points to take note of:

  • The skirts of dresses were narrow and flat-fronted and ended in floor-dragging swivel hemlines that had to protected by the two- and- a-half yard brush braid, sewn on before venturing out.
  • Many Edwardian hats were tilted forward to show all that lovely piled hair in the back.
  • Hat decorations were elaborate and could feature artificial of fresh flowers and dyed ostrich feathers.
  • A very lacy jabot with scarf-like frills was a single piece that could be worn with different outfits. Flower and ribbon posies, jabots and boned collars were called "novelties" in the shops.
  • I mentioned before that the S-shaped stance was not very comfortable. Ladies would lean on umbrellas and in my painting she has a long delicate walking stick.
And of course, the aim of today's painting: another trait to take note of! A new colour was born in Edwardian times: parma violet. The photo of the real flower is published with kind permission of the photographer, the rest of the collage shows images of violets from various Victorian cards. I am running away from the main topic here, but it is interesting to read the research done by The American Violet Society about violets in art.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Edwardian Era: The Walking Dress

The fashions of Edwardian Era is defined by the moneyed classes. Ladies could get into many outfits during the day! Shopping was a typical morning activity during which the lady would buy linens for the house or see her dressmaker or milliner. For the activity a "town dress" was worn. For just staying home she got dressed in her "morning dress"! During the afternoon social calls took place for which the "tea gown" was ideal. Another day activity which took place before dinners, balls and opera, was the strolling through parks or gardens, hence the "walking dress"!

Here are some more of the typical traits in Edwardian fashion. I bet you never suspected that I would take you through so many lectures, just on one particular era!

  • No more would the crinolenes and hoops, the bustles and the multi-layered petticoats be seen. From now on the skirts of dresses became narrower, going down straight down in front, a little fullness over the behind, inwards towards the knees and again outwards at the hem. This hem could extend to suggest a train. After I painted my lady I just loved the dainty line of her skirt over narrow hips. This is so different from the old full-skirted styles of previous centuries.
  • My cherry red outfit also has a frilled jacket which like a bolero makes the top appear very full and the waist petite.
  • A white beaded and embroidered shirt with high boned collar gives a lovely accent to the outfit! Blouses began to become more important after 1910 as a garment which did not always need a jacket.
  • Edwardian hats came in many styles, but this they had in common: they had to take the hair into account. This hat has a tiny pillbox with wide rim so designed that the upswept hairstyle is visible.
  • The ostrich feather ornament must have "cost a pretty penny" as only the white ones could be dyed to match an outfit. During the ostrich feather boom in Europe some ostrich farmers in South Africa became exceptionally wealthy and the "ostrich palaces" they built for themselves can still be seen around Outshoorn. Sad to say, World War I put and end to this trade.
  • The matching parasol for each outfit was not exceptional, but rather the rule in Edwardian times. The parasol was always long and elegant and the lady could rest on hers like on a walking stick when she got tired trying to maintain her tilted figure. Queen Alexandra often carried a long closed umbrella.
  • Ladies were never without gloves, and this white pair matches the blouse and hat!
In my next post I paint another walking dress and pay tribute to the most favoured flower of Edwardian times....want to guess in the meantime what it was? (Today I suppose that means guess or Google)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Edwardian Era: The Wasp Waist

The Victorian era had a somewhat austere atmosphere under their queen who was for ever in heavy mourning gear, under shawls, pleats and petticoats. Edward VII brought with him a licence to lightness, and the fresh spirit of La Belle Epoque blew in from the continent. The Edwardian woman was dressed up, out and about and sure to be seen with her sinuous S-curved silhoette!

The mainstay of the Edwardian fashion form was the tailor made corset, also seen as a "health corset"! The waist was clinched in to the smallest possible size and the tummy totally flattened. All available flesh was pushed backward to form an ample posterior and upwards to show a heavy breast line. Read more about The Edwardian Silhoette here!

I made up this painting to continue my list of typical Edwardian fashion traits:

  • Edwardian ladies, although going around with low necklines at night, was dressed from their chins to their feet in the daytime, even wearing long gloves and never venturing out without hats and parasols.
  • The "wasp waist" ruled supreme! The process could start with ribbons tied tightly, then the corset would be pulled over and tightened with some help from a ladies' maid!
  • Heavy trimmings and lots of detail in the bodice helped to enlarge the top and minimize the waist even more. Even padding could be placed against the skin under the arms. In this dress the mock bolero has scallops, contrasting trim (often in velvet as was seen in my previous painting), a blouse effect and plenty of buttons ( a great craze of the times).
  • A flat tummy and neat pleats kept the flattened effect in place in the front of the skirt.
  • This was the time of Art Nouveau, with its flowing organic lines. I painted a type of screen to show the relation between Art Nouveau design and the Edwardian sillhoette. Both styles followed a design of balance and counter-balance and exaggerated curves.
  • Edwardian collars were high and stiffened with stays and bones, making the neck appear very slim and were playing the role that the pearl "dog collars" played at night.
  • The Arts and Crafts Revival put the emphasis on beautiful handmade furniture and objects. Likewise an enormous amount of labour was spent in the making of one ladies outfit with its matching jacket, parasol and hat, belts and shoes, with all the trimmings and insets, boning, ribbons and lace. Working girls with careers could never keep up the pace!
The S-shaped stance, so very pretty, was not very comfortable and one often sees photos of Edwardian ladies leaning onto thin parasol handles, walking sticks or any nearby pedestal! There is a lot more to learn about this fashion era! My collage shows the dress pattern which inspired my painting, ( From "Costume and Fashion") and some waist-thinning corsets from the same book and from Dover clip art. Read more about the wasp waist and waist-thinning corsets here