I'm becoming more and more interested in Edwardian style, though most women interested in retro styles do not seem to share my interest. (Men seem to be a different case, with an interest in "dapper" wear that includes Edwardian style.) The Edwardian period is an interesting one, technically encompassing a mere nine years, from Queen Victoria's death in 1901 to King Edward's death 1910, but often seen to include the next few, pre-war years as well.
It was the dawn of a new century and people saw themselves as living at the height of modernity and positive technological advances. Standards of living were improving for many, and World War I had not yet slaughtered multitudes of young men and left the world in disillusioned shock.
Young women were starting to move into the workforce more, especially in white collar jobs, and experienced a modicum of freedom not available to them in the 19th century. Not surprisingly, women's fashions changed rapidly in this single decade, from cripplingly corseted, fussy, frilly, trailing dresses, to looser, simpler, and shorter dresses with a more natural shape suited to a more active life. This shift in fashion trends was cemented when women entered the workforce in great numbers during the first World War.
All this alone is enough to make me interested in Edwardian style, but as I put this post together, I also found myself ruminating on all kinds of things, from Virginia Woolf's childhood, to the pre-Raphaelite painters, to the softness of my chin, to the whiteness of my skin and how racism affects trafficked children.
But it all started with my brooch, my glorious, beautiful, amazing find of an Edwardian brooch.
This is the brooch. Isn't it unutterably beautiful? I saw it at a local vintage shop and liked it immediately. They had mislabelled it as being from the 1930s, and, given its low price of $48, I'm assuming they'd also mistaken it for a costume piece. Even so, I was in an economizing mood and put it back down. I was hanging out with a friend who loves jewelry at least as much as I do. He asked me if I really loved the brooch and, when I said I did, he spontaneously bought it for me! What a friend! I've known him since I was fifteen and he's always been a sweetheart.
Though I'm pretty good at recognizing jewelry styles and periods, and suspected this brooch was more valuable than its seller had thought, I wasn't certain until I took it to a local jeweler to have the clasp tightened. (It's a c-clasp, a good indicator that a brooch was made no later than the 1930s but often earlier.) She gasped when she saw it, got out her little loupe, and informed me that it is real gold, peridot, and seed pearls, definitely Edwardian, and worth about $400. She could not stop exclaiming about how pretty it is. I fully understood. We even squealed a bit, she and I.
|Blouse: Jessica Simpson; Skirt and belt: boutique; Boots: Ecco; Larger right hand ring: Effy; Head band, hair clip, and barettes: Stylize; Pinky ring, brooches, earrings, bracelet, and cape: vintage|
Naturally, I had to put together an outfit worthy of the brooch. I tried for an outfit that was not so perfectly Edwardian as to look like a costume. Instead, I wanted to wear one that was strongly enough informed by Edwardian style as to bring that period to mind, if only vaguely, when people looked at me. Perhaps all they'd be able to say would be, "Downton Abbey?" (a show I've yet to actually watch), but that would be good enough for me.
Comparing my outfit...
... to this actual Edwardian one, I think I did a pretty good job. Here's how.
I started with the blouse, which you've seen me wear once before, emulating a slightly earlier look.
I like the blouse's feminine details, like the lace trim.
Though lace's popularity would soon wane, the Victorian era had only recently ended and lace was still very much en vogue, as were frills.
Both are present in my blouse. I find the whole effect very pretty.
It makes me feel even more feminine than I usually do. I'm told that my mannerisms are extremely feminine (maybe sometime I'll post a video and you can tell me if you agree), but this blouse makes me exaggerate those mannerisms ...
... with a delicate step and flip of my hand.
Though the blouse is only a 1X, which is approximately a size 14, it's Jessica Simpson; I find her clothes run quite large, so this blouse is much too large for me. It cried out for a belt so I paired it with this wide, waist flattering belt with a scrolling, whiplash, cloth clasp, in keeping with the styles of the day. I then added my own scrolling rings to echo the lines of the belt.
I found this image with a similarly constructed belt after I took photos for this post. Needless to say, I was pleased.
Because it's so big, this blouse is actually hard to manage. It's constantly bunching up in unflattering ways.
I tried to keep it flat across my belly but it had different ideas.
It was supposed to look something like this but it seldom did.
The layered look -- shorter over longer -- was very popular in Edwardian fashion ...
... as hemlines continued to rise ...
... so I layered too, with a higher hemline. I thought the pleats in my skirt nicely complimented the pleats of the front of the blouse.
If I'd been going for real period accuracy, I'd have worn buttoned or laced boots. I would happily wear buttoned boots, if only I could find ones that don't hurt my back. Most have heels on them and I couldn't manage that. I find the most wonderful of them are made by the innovative, Canadian shoe designer, John Fluevog. I've yet to own a pair of his shoes or boots but I will. As God is my witness, I will!
But I digress. Being all black, my outfit would most likely have been a mourning outfit. I've talked about Queen Victoria's lifelong mourning of her husband's death, and the subsequent vogue for mourning clothing and jewelry before so I won't go into it now. The basic idea was that black was both the colour of sorrow, and a drab colour. It being unseemly to dress in bright, happy colours when mourning the death of a loved one, drab black was considered appropriate. Yet, there was still room for a great deal of beauty within such a limited palette.
Even so, my jewelry choices were overstepping the bounds of etiquette. Gold would have been out of the question. I added these great, vintage earrings anyway because, in fact, I am not in mourning. As much as they look like they were made no later than 1920, I'm almost certain that they are, in fact, made by the costume jewelry company simply called 1928.
|Three pair of my 1928 earrings, all with their trademark, swirled back.|
They're easy to spot by distinctive, swirling patterns on their backs. 1928 have been in business for about 40 years, and specialize in designing jewelry inspired by styles from about 1900 to about 1940. It seems entirely fitting to me that they got the contract to design a line entitled, Downton Abbey. Their pieces are inexpensive and I've "liked" about 50 of them their site. I'm a bit out of control. If you want to find them at even cheaper prices, vintage pieces are easy to find on Etsy.
I added this great vintage bracelet that really isn't even a little bit Edwardian in style but is so pretty, I just wore it anyway.
I thought it would nicely play up the green in my brooch.
I kept gravitating toward green during this shoot. It probably had something to do with the brooch.
I bet you almost forgot about the brooch that started all this, didn't you? That's okay. I didn't. How could I?
So, I was all about the green.
Of course, you all know I love me my nature ...
... a lot!
Now, about the hairstyle. I was in a hurry when I left home so I quickly cobbled together a hair style that was only very distantly related to Edwardian styles. I didn't do a good job of it at all, to be honest, but I'll tell you what my influences were and maybe I'll do a better job next time.
My main inspiration in wearing the gold headband was the Edwardian tiara craze.
After I'd worn my outfit, I looked for images of such tiaras online and realized that I should have pulled my hair forward onto my forehead and also fluffed it up. It would have been quite easy, since fluffy is my hair's default no matter what I do.
|This is what my hair usually looks like when I wake up.|
You should see it when I wake up. Oi!
Oh well. As I say, I was in a hurry.
It kind of worked, sort of, a little, if you squint a lot.
You'd need a better historian than I to confirm this, but I think this hair style was hearkening back to people's ideas of ancient Greek culture and mythology. These themes were very often used in costumes or "fancy dress" as it's called in England. Here, we see a man dressed as Bacchus, the god of wine and merriment, and very often associated with the free expression of sexuality. It's not pushing it to suspect that the "nymph" costumes of the women around him would have been understood to signify that they were his lovers, whom he pleased most completely. In short, these costumes are a little "naughty."
My guess is that the buttoned down, sexually repressive Victorian era is precisely what gave rise to the popularity of such costumes. If one could not actually be free, at least one could pretend to be free.
As with period costumes of any day, Edwardian notions of ancient Greek fashion were strongly influenced by contemporary fashion. Note the layering of the "toga" (or whatever it was meant to be) and the huge hair, piled on her head in distinctly Gibson Girl style.
Just as my "Edwardian" look is so 2016, Edwardians dressed as ancient Greeks were so 1909.
You can see this in this supposed authentic rendering of Greek dress drawn in the early 1900s.
So, in my modern interpretation of Edwardian fashion, I took some liberties, like adding this pink brooch which is a bit reminiscent of Art Nouveau, still alive and well at the turn of the last century.
Later, I saw the sad, even defiant look in my eyes in this photo. To me, this is the look of a sexual abuse victim. I can almost always recognize this look in others. Our eyes are haunted with sorrow.
When looking for images of Edwardian women, I stumbled on the haunted face of Vanessa Stephen Bell, Virginia's Wolf's sister. She has the same sorrow in her face that I do, the haunted eyes of a survivor. She and Virginia were both sexually abused as children, as was I, as were some of you.
My God, what an unhappy child!
Virginia Woolf had the same sorrow in her eyes.
As I always say, even as we're enjoying the beautiful clothing of the past, let us not assume that life was any better in the past than it is today. Vanessa had money and a great education, was renowned for her beauty, and belonged to the Bloomsbury Group, one of the most celebrated literary, intellectual, and artistic circles in the world.
And she was sexually abused in an era when Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, was telling the world that there was no such thing as child sexual abuse and women were delusional if they said they'd been sexually abused.
I was happy to find photos of Vanessa looking happier in old age. But we all know what happened to her sister, Virginia: she committed suicide. I've always wondered what role the sexual abuse played in Virginia's suicide and have been stunned and dismayed by how seldom the topic is even entertained as a factor in her frequent, debilitating, and eventually fatal depressions.
Irony? I only looked up photos of the Stephen sisters in an effort to find images of older Edwardian women. If you do a google search for "Edwardian woman," most of the results are actually photos of some of the most celebrated beauties of the day: teen girls! To me, the culture of the adulation of teen beauty, and the culture of child sexual abuse are inextricably linked, one to the other.
Do a google search for "middle aged Edwardian women" or "older Edwardian women" and guess what you'll find first and most. Mug shots. I'll just let you sit with that fact for a moment ...
... and let us continue.
My main reason for looking for images of older women was to illustrate the fact that soft chins like mine were not the death knell of beauty that we are told they are today. I've been feeling bad about my chin lately.
I had trouble finding photographs to illustrate this point because, as I said, I had trouble finding many images of older, Edwardian women at all. But that's not the best evidence of the vogue for softer chins anyway. It's most evident in Art Nouveau, profile pins which were an extremely popular accessory in late Victorian and Edwardian fashion.
Chin lifts? Why on earth would a woman want to alter her womanly softness? So the argument would have gone, if the idea of chin lifts had come up at all, which, to the best of my knowledge, it did not.
You can see more of this womanly softness of face in Edwardian cameos, which were also very popular.
I guess I'm not in bad company after all.
Even idealized young women were depicted with soft chins.
So I needn't hide mine. Right?
Heck, forget about soft chins. Softer, fuller body types in general -- like mine (and yours?) -- were considered the ideal of beauty. The idealization of skinny bodies is very much a 20th and 21st century phenomena that had not yet taken hold in the Edwardian period.
So. Let's wrap our heads around that and embrace it.
And then there's my white skin! My God. The glare radiating off my skin hurt my eyes as I put this post together.
I'm fine with the way my white skin looks, but I have a fraught relationship with what it signifies.
In Europe, white skin was lauded as especially beautiful for centuries. When I was studying Old and Middle English literature, I came across this over and over again: the beautiful, milk white maiden. The most accepted theory about the reason for this is about the European class system: poor women had to work in the fields and thus grew tan, while rich women had leisure time indoors and thus had whiter skin.
The sad fact is that, with Western colonialism, white skin has come to be seen by many as the most beautiful skin, period. If you doubt this, look at any fashion magazine and tell me what percentage of the models are white. It's starting to change, thank God, but we've got a very long way to go.
Is white skin actually more beautiful than any other colour? Obviously not. In fact, in certain light, it really isn't very pretty. As with any skin type, it's all about the right lighting.
But there is not doubting that colouring like mine was the unquestioned ideal in Edwardian times. That's part of why I went with Edwardian style makeup for my wedding. There was no point in fighting my natural skin colour; enhancing it was the key.
It can be pretty. But it is racism, pure and simple, to say that it is the most beautiful skin colour.
But, and here's the kicker: As a sex trafficked child, I was frequently told that I was more marketable than most children because I am so white. In a bizarre twist, racism extends to the preferences of paedophiles, and they liked to pay for my very white body. It made my life a living hell.
You may have noticed that I've been mentioning my pale skin a lot lately. I assume this is because I've only recently begun to really try to understand the lifelong effect of how marketable my whiteness was. As yet, I'm at a loss, so I'll drop the topic for now. I'll probably come back to it in a future post. If any of you had similar experiences, I'd love to hear your views on it all.
|Madeline After Prayer, by Daniel Maclise|
The fact remains that whiteness was considered beautiful for a long time. Though the Pre-Raphaelites came quite a bit before the Edwardian period, when thinking about the glorification of white skin and auburn hair, they too come to mind.
I've often been compared to the women in Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
|Proserpine (a raped Roman goddess), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
I am able to see why.
|Beata Beatrix, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This is said to be a painting of the moment of his wife's death by laudanum, a opium derivative.|
When I looked at some of the photos of me for this post, this Rossetti painting was the one I thought of most. It has captivated me since I was in high school. To me, in her dying moment, this woman captures a lot of what I've been talking about in this post. She has a certain, pale beauty about her. She looks more natural and comfortable than Victorian women. But she also has a great, haunted sorrow about her that reminds me a great deal of poor Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell ...
... and me. But I'm not dying and I'm not depressed. I've made some peace with the fact that all these things -- beauty, brains, insecurities, and deep sorrow -- can exist in one person. It has always been thus and it always will be. But sometimes a brooch helps. It really does.
(If you were sexually abused, you might find this post helpful: Healing from Sexual Abuse: 26 Things That Work For Me.)