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Entries in 1910s (32)


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.


There once was a girl who had a little curl

What is it about the combination of frilly white lace and black stockings? Cute, but saucy; nice, but naughty. Add some curls and a touch of red and we have a little Victorian doll blown-up life size. It harks back to a time when a glimpse of a woman’s ankle was a scandalous affair of note. A time when women submitted meekly to the men in their life – or else they sat on the shelf. A mute doll, either way: a problematic and uncomfortable notion.

Interestingly when I tried to do some research online on Victorian dolls and Victoriana, I came upon sites dedicated to the collection and decoration of Victorian style dolls – aimed at adult women. I hurriedly clicked away.

Cute, but saucy; nice, but naughty. Add some curls and
a touch of red…

And then there’s ‘steampunk’ – a much more fascinating concept, as Wikipedia describes it: “the word is … used loosely to describe imaginary, mock-Victorian worlds, where the look and technology of the Victorian era may sit alongside impossible machinery or fantastic creatures”. Which leads me to Neo-Victorianism. The rabbit-hole just gets deeper the further you go… and I would love to have gone to the conference “Neo-Victorianism: the politics and aesthetics of appropriation” held in 2007 at Exeter University.

Image credits: black and white engraving in bottom left: "Maison tournante aérienne" (aerial rotating house) by Albert Robida, c.1883. All others public domain.A few months ago (in the middle of winter) a friend and I were driving through Prahran, a popular area of Friday-nightlife, and I saw a young girl in her twenties channelling Brassaï, dressed up in an extremely short white dress and black stayup stockings. Their tops were clearly visible, falling short of the hemline by several inches. She wore bouncing blonde curls and was very pretty, like a doll. “… but, on the street?” I said in doubtful astonishment to Gigi. I sincerely hope she was hiding a few moves up her sleeves in case she had to defend her honour, because she was hiding little else.

I bought my dress in Vietnam months ago, from a great boutique called Tuyet Lan Orchids. I was initially drawn to the heavily embroidered soft fabric, but was suspicious the dress was originally designed for much shorter people. The salesgirl assured me however, that leggings – which I didn’t have the heart to tell her I Just Don’t Do – would negate the brevity of the skirt.

For me this is just a saucy party dress, but I’ll keep it cute by wearing my frilled ‘modesty shorts’ underneath and my high, high red heels on my feet. Good for stomping on impertinent toes.