World of Dress Fashions 1908
By Mrs. Eliza Aira
In this 1908 installment, Mrs. Aria (Eliza Davis) reviews the latest fashions for women that were worn in the early 1900s on board the First Class and possibly Second-Class sections of the transatlantic steamships.
"We are waiting anxiously for the arrival of the Americans," have been the cheering words of the London purveyors of the frock luxurious during the recent " slump."
The metropolis has not been exactly a land of good luck, and the strict sway of economy—for their wives — has been enforced by the rulers of the financial roost, whose fortunes have suffered from the vagaries of the Stock Exchange, and other causes.
Verily then will it be a case of "Hail, Columbia!" when the ship brings over its usual merry cargo from the land of the "Stars and Stripes"; or, as some fashion Writer aptly christened it "the land of the shirt waist."
Not that we only welcome the Americans for what we can get out of them, that would be ungracious indeed, but somehow or other they do contrive to bring with them the spirit of cheeriness which cries "clown with depression," and the spirit of liberality which cries " down with thrift!"
We have been suffering from too much thrift in the world of dress, at least not exactly in the world of dress, for never was costume more prodigal and more elegant, but in the world of buyers, and there has been a general sort of tendency to let last season's frocks do.
And, of course, they do not, not to the eye of the connoisseur, or there is an unmistakable difference in the cut of today and the cut of yesterday; in the drape of the sleeve, the hang of the skirt, in the angle at which the hat is worn, it is at once revealed to the expert that these are the styles "of yester year."
And what are the styles of the moment? Well, undoubtedly, I should say the first favorite is embroidery. Embroidery stretches its elegant and magnificent length on frocks of every description, from the most solid cloth to the most diaphanous ninon, from the most sumptuous silk to the ethereal chiffon. All alike are enriched by traceries worked by hand, of silk, of metal, of jewels, and occasionally of a combination of all three.
Another item which, as they say in theatrical slang in America, deserves to be "featured and starred," is the long narrow skirt which terminates three or four inches above the waist line, beneath a belt of petersham or glace ribbon, or galon.
These long narrow skirts are sometimes quite plain, while others show three little rucks just above the knees, and again their hems will be undecorated or patterned with braids or embroideries. Under either of these conditions the long narrow skirt is ubiquitous.
For walking wear it is complete with a long narrow coat, either seamed round the waist or cut perfectly straightly into panels at the back and front, outlined with braid or embroidery, bearing the smallest of collars turned down on either side of a double or single-breasted waistcoat.
This represents the mode of the moment. The entire costume is either made in cloth of one color, or in cloth of two colors; such combinations as a coat of nut-brown with a skirt and waistcoat of champagne color, or a coat of dull blue with a skirt of striped blue and white, are amongst the most favored.
Many of the long coats are cut with the shoulder seam and sleeve in one, a certain amount of fulness being arranged below the place where the arm-hole might be, a fancy prevailing also on shorter coats which bear a box-pleat in sacque fashion down the center of the back and are open in the front to show a waistcoat.
The waistcoat is an amazingly popular garment. You may find it in brocade with a seam round the waist, you may find it in embroidery, and you may find it in plain cloth with metal or enamel buttons.
It supplies some measure of warmth and comfort and forms an attractive frame for the lawn or ninon shirt which reigns supreme. All these shirts, by the way, are finished at the neck with a tucked collar-band bordered with an infinitesimal frill, the base being covered with a narrow glace ribbon tie tasseled with gold.
The hats which crown the narrow skirts and long coats most sympathetically take the Directoire outline, and high crowns and narrow brims are much in favor, these brims turning up more at one side than the other, while their decoration is a group of ostrich feathers, or feathers from some wild or tame fowl which has been considered worthy of slaughter in the cause of millinery and lovely woman.
As a change from the far too universal cloche of our last year's fancy, these small high-crowned hats are very delightful, but I doubt whether they will become everybody, and their most serious rival at the moment is the toque made of embroidered velvet, or silk, or jeweled or beaded net.
These may easily be described as a new edition of the mob cap, while their decoration consists of one very large and good ostrich feather which trails its graceful length at one side.
As with our walking costumes, so with our evening dresses. All alike show the long straight outline as narrow and as slender as possible, and the inclination towards the Greek form of drapery, square-fronted with pointed ends tasseled, grows stronger every day.
The ideal fabrics for making these gowns are the soft and thicker kinds of satin and crepe de Chine. and that variety of silk which is known to the initiated as charmeuse.
On the Greek draperies and hems of the long clinging evening dresses, embroidery plays an important part, the key pattern being very much in demand, and sharing attent on with the intersected circle pattern.
The tops of the gowns are mostly cut square with broad vests of lace overhanging loosely in bib fashion or tucked beneath the folds of the tunic. And for the making of these dresses white is the most popular choice, while many shades of yellow are also favored and the latter intrude themselves into the realms of everyday dresses, a deep apricot tone of cloth being amongst the novelties fresh from the Parisian market.
The Parisian market also sends us some wonderful embroideries of platinum cords, on dull light cloth and silk, and again it is directly responsible for the introduction of waistcoats made of cretonne. But these were first introduced last year.
So, too, were the smart hats made of cretonne, pretty enough in their way with chiffon veils to soften their somewhat hard outlines. And while I am ta king of outlines I am recalled to my pleasant duty of describing the dresses illustrated on these pages.
A tea-gown under glorified circumstances might well be evolved from my artist's suggestion No. 1. I can picture it most admirably made in thick white crepe de Chine with a silk netted fringe of white, interspersed with gold, gold and white corded tassels hanging from a golden boss, while the under-sleeves and bodice are made of transparent lace, also showing this tracery of gold.
Picture No. 2 displays the key pattern embroidered in oxidized silver on a pale grey satin. Grey chiffon lines the soft grey lace which forms the under-skirt and under-bodice, while pendant fringes of grey chenille hang from bands of embroidery to make an apology for sleeves.
The other two sketches portray walking dresses—the first is of the perennially adorable blue serge, the box-pleated skirt bearing a stitched band, while the long coat has plaited braids terminating in tassels on either side of an embroidered piqué waistcoat.
The hat is made of green straw lined with bronze chip, an odd combination of color this, which may be extremely effective. Of a dull shade of pink is the other walking costume made in the finest quality of cloth, with a fringe and a silk ruching to trim the hem, and embroidery playing its decorative part on the tunic, the bretelles, and the sleeves up to the elbow.
This is embroidery of silks of different colors, dull blue and green predominating. The hat is dull red with the straw lining of pink, a large velvet pin edged with gold, fastening a group of shaded feathers at one side.
But to return to the subject of hats, I remember that amongst the novelties is the muslin shape tightly covered with Shantung and lined with Yedda. This makes a capital style for wear with the tailor-made costume and bears as its trimming merely an aggressive bow of satin ribbon the same color as the straw lining.
Amongst other novelties in hat trimmings is the bunch of crocuses or tulips, these in variegated colors are strikingly effective on a background of plain straw. And on other plain straw hats a distinct attraction is the pin, ribbon bows, or simple wings, being held with hat pins of bell-shape or lozenge-shape entirely made of straw.
As I am writing, the newest toque has just been presented for my inspection. It is rather large and round, formed entirely of scarlet velvet geraniums, and from one side emerges a monster black osprey. As a very clever young friend of mine observes :
"You can tell the riches of your friends this year by the size of their ospreys."
Brobdingnagian are some of these, and their price prodigious.
True economy is perhaps, after all, remarkable by its absence, since we have to consider besides ospreys, elaborate embroideries, and in carefully following the classic mandates of the hour which exact simplicity of form, we are bound to take note of the sumptuousness of fabric.
As the popular color, peacock-blue usurps the place this year of the violet of our last season's fancy, and hats of this tone are ubiquitous. Duly decorated with fine feathers and worn with light frocks or black frocks, their charm is at the moment irresistible.
Peacock-blue is also allowed to make collars and vests to black cloth dresses, and decidedly new is a peacock-blue hat trimmed with Parma violets.
Another advent in the world of millinery is the beehive straw, while the very last straw which has not, however, broken the camel's back, is a thatched straw, and this is usually made into a crown and joined in happy union to the brim of fine chip.
And as someone else once said in some other great book, " those, whom fashion has joined, no woman should set asunder "—until next Season.
Davis, Eliza (Mrs. Aria), "The World of Dress," in The Cunard Daily Bulletin: Fashion & Pleasure Resort Supplement, Liverpool: Cunard Line Steam Ship Co. Ltd., 1908.