The 20th century brought major transformations in Western fashion, but these changes didn’t appear immediately. Trends of the late 19th century (like Edwardian fashion) lingered through the decade of 1900–1909; in fact, these 1900s fashion trends lasted up until about the Great War (World War I).
That said, the 1900s fashion saw subtle but important shifts toward modern styles of dressing. Here’s a look at Edwardian fashion and what your ancestors may have worn during the first decade of the century.
Fashion of Edwardian Era
The decade of 1900–1910 was part of what was known in the Western world as the Edwardian age, in reference to the reign of British monarch Edward VII (1901–1910). The Edwardian age was known for the excesses, elegance, and strict social rules modeled by the wealthy.
Edwardian fashion from the late 1800s continued to influence the early 1900s. Women still wore corsets and long skirts. Men still wore suits. A complete wardrobe included hats and gloves and, for women, often an umbrella. Edwardian fashion was opulent and formal, with expensive fabrics and trimmings. They favored a distinguished, mature look.
One of the hallmarks of the Edwardian era was dressing to fit the occasion. The advent of department stores selling ready-to-wear clothing made it possible for more people to have a variety of outfits. Clever home seamstresses could copy patterns they couldn’t afford to purchase.
What Did Edwardian Women Wear?
The well-dressed 1900s woman was covered from the neck down. Her silhouette was an S-curve. The shape came from a corset that put less pressure at the waistline by pushing a woman’s chest forward and her hips back.
Women’s Dresses in the 1900s
Women wore dresses or tailored suit dresses. Those who could afford it chose sumptuous and elegant fabrics, such as silk, satin, damask, or chiffon. High lace collars topped long-sleeved tops that were often heavily embellished and bloused loosely at the bodice. Hemlines grazed the floor and sometimes dragged in a modest train. If working women weren’t in uniform or workwear, they often favored versatile two-piece outfits. Party dresses included delicate, lacy tea dresses and evening wear with deeper necklines.
At the beginning of the decade, skirts were fitted at the waistline and flared at the hemline. Gradually, the curvy bell shape relaxed. Straighter, tailored suits became popular by the end of the decade. In resistance to mainstream styles, French designer Paul Poiret created corset-free dresses that draped in loose, straight lines down the body. (This look would become much more popular during the 1920s.) When participating in sports such as tennis, cycling, or horseback riding, women donned clothing made for these activities. Ladies also sometimes donned chunky, button-down cardigan sweaters while working or playing.
Women’s hats and hairstyles
Edwardian fashion is known for dramatically large hats, such as wide-brimmed, straw cartwheel or sailor hats, heavily-embellished picture hats, and wide, flat caps. Smaller hats, such as straw boaters, were popular for sports. For driving, some women tied long, sheer veils over silk motoring hats.
Enormous hats required hairstyles that could support them. The most popular hairstyle was a full pompadour, with hair swept loosely up into coils or buns. Women might have added braids, false hairpieces, or wigs to give styles more structure and height. Some women used hot curling irons to create frizzy or curly edges. It was also stylish to tuck fresh flowers or decorative combs or hatpins into styled hair.
What did Men Wear in the 1900s?
If not dressed for manual labor, in the early 1900s men generally wore three-piece suits (jacket, trousers, and waistcoat, or vest) with high, round-collared white shirts, neckties, and derby or bowler hats. Some men, including younger men, donned sack suits (similar to modern business suits) all day. Men who could afford it chose different suits and accessories for morning, daytime, and evening use. Though some men sported beards, the clean-shaven look was popular; so was a fairly bushy mustache that curled up on the ends, an iconic 1900s fashion look.
Summertime allowed an escape into cooler and slightly more casual linen or flannel suits, which men topped with a straw boater or Panama hat. When it was time to play, men changed into sportswear specific to the sport, such as golf, motorcycling, tennis, or baseball.
On the job, working men wore uniforms or sturdy, practical clothing that protected them from hazards or the elements. Men in photos from this period may appear in canvas, duck cloth, corduroy, or leather clothing, perhaps topped with a wool jacket or heavy sweater (jumper) if the weather was cold. Factory workers often wore white shirts and ties beneath protective aprons.
How Did Children Dress in the 1900s?
During the Edwardian era, crawling babies wore practical one-piece rompers. Otherwise, children’s clothing styles were simplified adult styles. Young girls wore knee-length dresses, often starched and decorated with lace, with black stockings and shoes or boots. They tied ribbons in their hair; fancier outfits may have included a hat. Playtime might call for a pinafore dress and blouse. Young boys wore long-sleeve shirts with knee-length shorts and tall, dark socks, sometimes with jackets. As children grew older, the hemlines of trousers or dresses crept closer to the ground.
View 1900s Fashion in Your Family Photos
What did your ancestors wear during the early 1900s? Look for details in their outfits that might hint at their lifestyles, tastes, or ages. Ask relatives for old family photos, or search the free FamilySearch Memories to see what others may have shared about your family. You can even upload some of your own 1900s fashionable family photos to Memories!