The death of Queen
Victoria in January 1901 marked the end of one era and introduced the world to
the Edwardian era which was named after King Edward VII, his reign was brief
and covered 1901 to 1910, and there was much in store within this time. The
working classes found their voices in the trade union movement and their status
in society elevated which allowed them to finally be treated as humans and not
machinery. The role of women in society also began to change. In August 1901
the first cinema was opened in Islington, the first Nobel prizes were awarded,
1902 saw the polygraph machine being invented by James Mackenzie, the Balfours
Education Act standardized and upgraded the educational systems of England and
Wales, the Midwives Act were women could not call themselves or practise as a
midwife unless she was certified. 1907 saw women being able to stand for
election in a county and town, and being able to take the office of mayor. Many
more marvellous things were to come through this short period. King Edward
would then die in 1910, within his reign he had led his country to more modern
The Edwardian era was
known as the Belle Époque – Beautiful Age, and it stood up to this claim.
Charles Dana Gibson’s illustration ‘Gibson Girl’ was indeed the portrayal of
the Ideal woman of the early 1900s, which brought confidence and independence
to the feminine ideal of beauty and makeup.
Funnily enough women
using makeup within this era kept it secretive, as it was more widely popular
amongst the women of the street and the stage, so with that came the
recommendation to not wear it, unless you were a ‘working girl’.
Women in those
professions wore makeup as it made them appear more youthful, to clientele,
which was mostly desired, as it still is today.
With controversy in tow
about wearing makeup, many women still wanted to appear full of youth, so a
quick remedy for the desired appearance was the use of lemon juice as it would
keep the face looking fresh and clean. An important look for hostesses in high
Beauty Salons weren’t a
thing just yet as women were still reluctant to be seen as ‘in need’ of any
such treatments, but for those who did go in they would use the back entrance
as to not be seen.
So with all this mystery
and desire to be beautiful without others knowing, what was the desirable look?
For the everyday women it included; pale looking skin, women would find
countless ways to remove freckles. Dusting powder was placed all over the face,
rouge was applied on the cheeks to have a healthy rosy look. Dusting powder was
also used on the eyes to complete the look. Mascara was used on and off, it
didn’t really come into focus until 1913. As the face was very pale the lips
would become the contrast, red was often used. Brows were kept natural and
Hairstyles had a soft,
feathery and loose suppleness about them, even with being quite large and
usually padded to create the amplitude and size that was popular during this
era. The most commonly worn hairstyle was the pompadour, which was actually
named after Marquise de Pompadour (who was Louis XV’s chief mistress in the mid-1700s),
the shape consisted of being high, rounded and curved away from the head, it
can be enhanced with a bun, chignon or knot (similar to a topknot). The way you
would dress the hairstyle was dependant on what en vogue was and what the
Curls were all the rage
and women had curling irons that were heated in the fire. Once applied to the
hair, it would unfortunately lead to either singed hair or baldness. Heated
irons were also used to create frizz – which was defined as soft and fuzzy
edges that would go from the fringe to the nape.
A common method was to
test the tongs on newspaper beforehand, or for the woman who was extra
protective about her hair she would wrap newspaper around strands of hair to
protect it from the harsh overheated irons.
The marcel wave, which
was also came into vogue, and was more than likely the inspiration for the
‘permanent waving machine’ created in 1906 by German hairdresser Karl Nessler, perms
involved wrapping the hair around rods and covering it with the likes of
alkaline paste and asbestos, gas was then used to steam the curls tight. This
was obviously very damaging to the hair. During testing Karl had burnt off his
wife’s hair – twice. Not only was this invention damaging but it would take six
plus hours and would cost more than the average women made.
For the female suffering
from baldness or partial baldness, wigs and spare hair came into play but not
only to conceal but to enhance the natural hair, pieces included, fringes,
fronts, switches, pompadour rolls and frizettes. One way to get hair was at a
Hair Market in which dealers would buy the hair from a women’s head. Men also
wore wigs but not to enhance the natural hair, instead to hide baldness.
How did women dye their
hair? Henna was spread with a small toothbrush throughout the hair which was
then wrapped up in a hot towel for at least 15 minutes, this would then create
gorgeous copper shades. Sulphate of iron was used to darken hair, if you wanted
to bleach the hair you would have to use dioxygen and ammonia. Grey hair was
thought to be caused by dryness, so to prevent this a concoction of glycerine,
oil, rum and oil of bergamot was applied throughout. Women were privy to looking their best, even
in the 1900s.
Paris dictated Edwardian women’s fashion in Britain and America, whilst London
influenced the men’s style. Dresses were frilly and feminine, with each
creation being garnished with lace trimmings, ribbons and tucks. Popular figure
of the time was the ‘Grecian bend’ or S-bend, which involved pigeon-breasted
bust, petite corseted waist, and full, swayback hips created from a harsh
included, one or two-piece trimmed shirtwaist dresses which would commonly be
worn in white, black or brown. Sheer white afternoon gowns with extensive
handiwork applied. Tailor-made jackets and skirts for working women and silk
evening gowns either in high-necked day style or with sultry bare arms and neck,
for those who could afford it.
Fabrics that were
available included, natural fibres; linen, cotton, wool and silk. Cotton or
linen was the common choice for households’ daily wear in sheer cotton and batiste
or opaque poplin. Evening wear was most often silk of some kind; wool was seen
in the tailor-made suit and outerwear.
By 1901 25% of all
office workers were women, this allowed them money to spend and with this came
a new freedom on their bicycles, which meant they would change the way they
dressed. Burdensome skirts and crinolines were discarded in favour of unrestricted
garments and even cycling trousers.
Women were pushing at
the boundaries of society, in all aspects, and eventually it would all lead to
the Suffragettes and women’s rights. This was the beginning of a new era.