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


  1. Apart from your really wonderful French belle's you have painted, this is such an informative blog Marie.... love reading the history behind all the fashions!

  2. Thank you, Debbie. You have no idea how much I appreciate your comments! I read a large collection of books so that I can say everything in my own words and from my own perspective! Hugs, M

  3. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the Edwardian Era!! I remember wearing petticoats as a young girl and occasionally I wore a slip with a hoop!! Should I even be telling anyone this? Love your post as well as this beautiful painting of this Edwardian "Lady".

  4. Thank you Hilda, I love this topic and will soon show what Edwardian skirts were all about. I too remember the 1960's and the lovely petticoats. We would always sit in low armchairs, because then you could show off many layers of lace peeking out under the wide gingham skirts!