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Entries in 1910s (33)


What I Actually Wore #0048

Serial #: 0048
Date: 05/10/2010
Weather: forecast 21°, mild and muggy
Time Allowed: 10 minutes

The outing: a trip to the Melbourne Museum, to see the Titanic exhibition. The theme: turn-of-the-century ambiance. Although I wanted to dress somewhat thematically, I didn’t intend to slavishly follow the fashion of 1912. Just a vague suggestion was all that was necessary.

My asymmetrical long skirt is voluminous (actually the opposite of the era’s narrow silhouette), and made of indigo denim; an old favourite by the New Zealand label Obi. The dusky pink silk blouse I paired with it has cute little puffed sleeves, three buttons along the neckline, and is finished with a bow. It is so quaint and picturesque, like something from a vintage storybook.

As the skirt is a little big for me, I cinched in the waist with a butter soft leather belt I bought overseas. The large round buckle is silver and inset with red leather, and the belt is long enough to be worn slouchy around the hips, or tight around the waist. It was an expensive purchase, but worth it because its bright colour lifts any outfit.

Also mandatory was a hat. Although I do have one hat reputably from 1910, it was a little dainty for this huge skirt. Instead, I went for this modern red wool felt fedora trimmed with grosgrain ribbon. Black stockings were typical of the times, although the patent black shoes with Louis heels, and three straps with little silver buckles that cross the foot above the vamp are more Twenties-style.

The plait is the finishing touch – it’s practical (a bun or low chignon doesn’t fit under the hat), and it makes me look like a turn of the century schoolgirl. And in fact, we are given a ‘boarding pass’ when we enter the exhibition, and mine reads I am a young schoolgirl, one of the real passengers who was lost at sea.


Top: Cue
Skirt: Obi
Belt: Mango
Hat: Milano
onyx baubles, handmade by me
Watch: Kenneth Cole
Shoes: Nine West


What does one wear to fall in love?

One summer when romance was blooming, Princess Tatiana was carefully packing for a holiday rendezvous in lands far, far away. She consulted the oracles to ascertain the climes and culture of that exotic country, so that she could be sure to bring with her suitable raiment.

Everything she chose was the best her slender purse could afford, for although she was a princess, she had fallen on hard times. Still, there were pretty dresses of silk and lace, and liquid silver; delicate sandals for dancing and beaded purses; deliciously impractical lingerie – and daydreams.

Will you choose your prettiest garments already soaked in happiness…?

A romantic moment on a dusky terrace, by George Barbier for ‘Falbalas et Fanfreluches’, 1921What will you wear to fall in love? Will you like Tatiana choose your prettiest garments already soaked in happiness, or like one of her friends find yourself discarding your customary sober colours and donning bright hues to express your joy? Would you be content with your existing wardrobe and its attendant comforts, or would courtship be the perfect excuse to indulge in a shopping spree?

Princess Tatiana wore a cream lace top that magical evening a lifetime ago when she tumbled into love. Already it was a favourite, but it was then imbued with new memories. And although autumn came and her fairytale romance withered like a summer rose, the pretty lace top still hangs in her wardrobe, waiting perhaps for a new summer.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Come tonight it’s the perfect excuse to wear something pretty, something you love – even if you’re not in love. Have a happy day! 

Scroll down for more romantic notions of 1910s and 20s fashion.

‘Le Jaloux’ by Georges Lepape

A boating scene, by George Barbier, for ‘Modes et Manières d’ Aujourd’hui’, 1914

Doeuillet dress, by André Marty, for ‘Gazette du Bon Ton’, 1913


Bathing Beauties

In the mid 18th century, Dr Charles Russel recommended the use of seawater for healing various diseases. Twenty odd years later William Buchan advocated the practice in his 1769 book Domestic Medicine. Suddenly it became fashionable to go to the beach.

But there was a hitch. Along with the healthful benefits, there existed the dreadful possibility of immoral behaviour. The solution? Bathing machines, segregated beaches, and voluminous costumes made from wool or silk taffeta preserved the modesty of the sexes. 

“Heartbreakers along the seashore’, 1898. Image from the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-100442-1898.

Bathing costumes, 1910. Images from

Two women in bathing costumes drying their hair, c.1925-1932. Image from the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-106971.

Over the years, the bathing suit shrank – sleeves and bloomers becoming increasingly shorter – and by the 1920s with the popularity of all sporting pursuits, it was quite appropriate to wear sleeveless long tank tops belted over modesty shorts that stopped mid-thigh.

Today of course anything goes, and the only reason we might cover up is to prevent sunburn. But just think of the time and money (and pain!) we would have saved on all that depilatory paraphernalia!

Read a detailed history of Victorian bathing suits at Fashion 1900. For more fantastic images like this one below, look no further than Mack Sennett's Comedies Arcade Cards of the 1920s at Immortal Ephemera.

Fashion notes

I found my quaint navy ‘bathing’ dress in a charity shop, drawn to it by the quaint puff sleeves and skirts. It buttons down the front; is trimmed with white piping; and its brevity really does require modesty shorts. I first wore this dress on a beach weekend with friends in Ocean Grove, and preserved my feminine mystique by wearing black ‘pettishorts’.

The white shorts in the first image above are vintage 1950s, and were commonly worn by female tennis players, I was told by the elderly lady who sold them to me.

A beloved treasure of mine, the vintage paper parasol has been with me for years. It was in virtually pristine condition when I first bought it. It was I who accidentally – and lamentably – ripped a couple of holes in the paper. It is still, however, a perfect shade from the blasting Australian sun.


The Woman in White

Inspired by the book The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, this ensemble is only Victorian in spirit, for it is comprised from clothing of very different eras, some separated by 100 years.

The white linen skirt is Victorian – or possibly early Edwardian. Just floor length on me, it features a ruffle on the hem, and a slight train – possibly a remnant of the Victorian bustle, as the owner of the Etsy boutique suggested. As the average height of a Victorian woman was 5’3” (three inches shorter than me) with a waist of 25”, this skirt must have been made for a giantess. (Some incidental trivia: Jane Austen was my height, and considered tall for her era.)

Its texture is ribbed; a very sturdy fabric that has stood the test of time – and the rigours of modern-day cleaning products: oxygenated Napisan (a stain-remover and whitener that is safe for most garments). There are also two period mends that are barely discernible.

The shirt is by She’s Beck, a now-defunct Australian fashion label. I bought this in the early Noughties on sale. I loved the pinstriped shirting, the gathered sleeves, and the military detail of the single pleated epaulet attached to a purposefully ripped shoulder seam. The latter detail always astonishes people.

A white leather obi belt by Witchery is reminiscent of a corset (without the associated agony and breathing difficulties).

The white straw hat is vintage 1930s, bought on eBay for a song. There is a darling little black velvet bow that nestles just under the upturned brim, above my chignon. The black onyx and sterling silver earrings I made myself, when I realised there was a gap in my earring collection for simple bauble drops that go with anything.

Black and white stripes always add a storybook flavour: the striped stockings are new, also found on eBay. White leather Boston Belle sandals that have managed to turn up in a few photoshoots were a good find in a charity shop for a few dollars.

I roam the gardens of Daylesford Convent, a 19th century mansion built in 1860, the same year The Woman in White was published. A fitting setting for an outfit inspired by one of the first mystery novels. 

To see additional angles and extras, check out the Out-takes & Extras gallery.


From Suffragettes to Fashionistas

What is the everlasting appeal of the 19th century style boot? Tight around the lower foot with a myriad of buttons or lacing, they cover up that part of the female form that was back then considered particularly erotic: the ankle. In effect, these boots actually enhanced and drew attention to this scandalous portion of the anatomy.

Boots – apart from the equestrian boot – only formed daily wear for the nonworking woman in the 1830s; but by the 1850s, mass production made them affordable to all. They became a symbol of emancipation, and at the turn of the 20th century, suffragettes were marching through the streets in them.

Of course boots for us are now simply a question of individual preference and come in every imaginable style and colour. In my 20s I decided that a pair of knee-high, black leather lace-ups were an imperative addition to a modern wardrobe. Mine are so modern that they actually do up with a zip at the side, but my eldest sister Blossom remembers hers in the 70s actually laced up. You couldn’t leave anywhere in a hurry.

…I do find them [Victorian style ankle boots] delightfully quaint, like something out of a storybook.

I’m not a man, and don’t think of Victorian style ankle boots as particularly erotic, but I do find them delightfully quaint, like something out of a storybook. The two-tone pair in the picture above is by Swear London. The uppers are made from a distressed denim, with the caps from striped red and white canvas.

There are purely decorative denim buttons on the outside of the ankle. I remember seeing them in the window of a boutique in groovy Greville St, and falling in love with them one winter before I finally succumbed, and bought them (on sale!) in the spring.

Caps, incidentally, were originally used to make flimsy, earliest version of boots more practical for outdoor wear; the boots were referred to as being ‘galoshed’.  

Check out the antique examples below, from Shoes: A celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More by Linda O’Keefe. Another great resource: All About Shoes, from the Bata Shoe Museum in Canada.

(Left) Cutouts playfully expose colourful stockings; (right) more functional walking boots for colder weather.

(Left) Tight lacing had the opposite effect from that which was intended; (right) pearl and silver buttons fasten lime-green kid.

(Left) Ornate boots worn by opera goers; (right) summer walking boots of silk fabric and metallic thread.