Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Manor House
"The clothes of this Edwardian period are very constraining. I can't dress myself...I feel like a child" Miss Anson
THE PROJECT|THE HOUSE|THE PEOPLE|EDWARDIAN LIFE|YOU IN 1905|TREATS|SNOB QUIZ
Lady Olliff-Cooper
Photograph of a woman wearing a tennis outfit

A 1911 tennis outfit. Women of the Edwardian era were not expected to compete seriously at sports.

Photograph of an Edwardian lady in 1913, who is wearing a fur muff

An Edwardian Lady in 1913 - notice the real fur muff

Photograph of three sisters

Three sisters (1910) - the elaborate hairstyles of the era were not easy to create without a lady's maid


Snob Status
Quote
"They are constantly saying upstairs that they understand how downstairs feel
but they haven't really got a clue"
Lucy
Edwardian Life:
Dressing Up

Fashion and Clothes
Fashion preoccupied many Edwardian women, especially when they had the money to follow it. But their role models weren't actresses, models or singers. Alexandra, both as Princess of Wales and Queen, was seen as the leader of Edwardian fashion with her beautiful clothes, high-piled hair and distinctive multi-stranded pearl chokers.

An Edwardian lady married to a wealthy man would buy her finest dresses from Paris, the mecca for fashionable women at the beginning of the twentieth century. Other fashionable shops of the time were Harrods and, in 1909, the newly opened Selfridges store on Oxford Street.

It wouldn't be unusual for someone like Lady Olliff-Cooper to need to change her clothes five or six times a day. And very few of these dresses would be what today we'd call practical. Not only did each meal carry its own dress code, but if she needed to receive a visitor, pay a call or go riding, she'd have to change both her clothes and often her hairstyle as well.

The ideal female shape in Edwardian eyes was no Kate Moss. The famous London models were all over six feet tall and very curvaceous. But women in the Edwardian times had something that is not often used now to help them achieve such a figure - the corset.

The Corset - Upstairs
A new design of corset introduced in 1900 was intended to be more "natural" and "healthy" than Victorian ones that exerted great pressure on the waist and diaphragm.

It produced an S-shaped figure by forcing the bust forward and the bottom out. But in bigger women the effect was rather more a "kangaroo stance" with an overhanging "balcony bust" which could end up a foot ahead of the rest of the body!

To add to the difficulty, the corsets and the dresses and high-necked blouses that Edwardian women wore only did up at the back, meaning the wearer needed help in getting dressed - from her lady's maid.

In Manor House, Lady Olliff-Cooper and Miss Anson, used to 21st century freedom of movement, find that tight laced corsets, which are supposed to be as tight as possible on formal occasions, restrict both their breathing and their appetite.

The Corset - Downstairs
Perhaps corsets were acceptable to those who bore the pain to be attractive. But the female servants downstairs are obliged to wear corsets as well, even though they don't share the same fashion worries. The corsets often make it painful to bend down to clean grates or scrub floors.

Working long days with next to no time off, the maids don't get the chance to dress up. Even if they did, they'd have nothing to wear - a maid is given three sets of working clothes, which in Edwardian times they would be expected to pay for themselves. These were print dresses for the mornings for doing the dirty work, a black dress and a white cap and apron for afternoons, and her own clothes for outdoors and church on Sundays.

Our maids are allowed only one bath in a tin bath in their room each week and this is filled by carrying up jugs of hot water, and then carrying down jugs of dirty water. Nevertheless, according to House Rules, they are expected to be "clean, neat and presentable at all times" so should wash their "face, feet and underarms each morning before dressing." Becky, Jessica, Erika are forbidden to wear make-up, jewellery or silk stockings.

Hairstyles
To achieve the necessary fullness that was fashionable at the time, a lady's maid would wind her mistress's hair around balls of padding, inelegantly called "rats". These elaborate styles provided the ideal platform for the elegant picture hats that are so redolent an image of the Edwardian period. These were huge, often anchored by vicious-looking hat pins with jewelled or enamelled ends; decorated with lavish trimmings such as osprey or ostrich feathers. They could cost as much as 50 guineas (around $4,000 at today's prices).

^ back to top

 

 


© 2003 Channel4. All rights reserved. | PBS Privacy Policy