Women’s Clothing circa 1912

Overview

Changing Trends in Ladies’ Fashion

The years 1911 and 1912 represent a transitional in-between period in women’s fashion, similar to the late 1830s and the late 1860s (the years on either end of the full-skirted, drop-shouldered, natural-waisted period). The aesthetic of the 1890s and 1900s was one of voluptuous grace, with delicate materials and delicate colors, while the aesthetic during World War I was more modern and more practical, with a shorter, fuller skirt; an unfitted and slightly elevated waistline; and a great popularity for suits and separates. Examining the two aesthetics side by side, the difference is extreme, though they are separated by only four or five years. In between the two lies a transitional period sharing commonalities with styles on either side, but also with unique elements of its own, in particular the slim silhouette known as the “hobble skirt,” which could at its extremes be narrow enough to limit the length of a woman’s steps, essentially “hobbling” her. This trend lasted only between 1911 and 1914; in 1910 skirts were still falling in a softly flaring bell shape, while by 1915 they had shortened and widened, offering wartime women a practical, modernized style.

The rapid progression of fashions between 1909 and 1915 was essentially the midpoint of fashion’s transformation from what is considered “nineteenth century” to what is considered “twentieth century.” The loosened waist of the 1910s became the straight, dropped waist of the 1920s, and the skirts that shortened just two or three inches around 1915 became the short skirts of the 1920s, complete with a shocking display of ankle and calf, occasionally even a glimpse of knee. World War I influenced this massive transition, in terms of women’s habits of living and need for practicality in dress, as well as in terms of necessitating changes in attire due to wartime austerity measure which required, among other things, the steel that would have gone into the manufacture of corsets.

The Look of 1911-1912

The silhouette was slim, with a long, narrow skirt; a sleek or slightly raised waistline; and preferably an enormous hat. Dresses were still popular, but suits and other separates were very common by this point. Many garments advertised in Sears Catalogs and the like were skirts and blouses or shirtwaists; separates could be very fine and high quality, or they could serve the same purpose and be simpler and quite inexpensive. Society ladies wore shirtwaists and skirts; so did shopgirls and farmers’ daughters going to town.

General Resources for Women’s Clothing c 1912

How to Fake 1912 Women’s Clothing on the Cheap

If you need a 1912 woman’s costume in a hurry, without much sewing, and inexpensively, your best bet is going to be a blouse or shirtwaist and a skirt. Look for an ankle-length or full-length, straight, narrow skirt – this silhouette was also popular in the 1970s, which can help with thrift store costuming (but look out for hot, plasticky polyester). 1970s and 1980s blouses can provide the top half of the ensemble, but you want to look for thin, potentially even sheer, cotton or linen (and rayon or blends could do in a pinch). Look for a blouse without puffy sleeves – this is a period where slightly sloping shoulders are ideal, and puffy shoulders were not the look of 1912. Look at period blouses first, to get an idea of the look. Remember that if buttons look too plasticky, you can easily remove and replace them, even with limited sewing skills.

Don’t forget to top off your ensemble with some kind of headwear – respectable women simply didn’t leave the house without hats in 1912. Large hats were popular at the time – the tutorials below can help you turn a $5 party store hat into a passable 1910s shape waiting for some decorations – even a scarf or piece of sheer fabric or wide ribbon wrapped around and pinned or stitch in place with a fluffy shape can help to give the look of the period.  Gloves ought to be worn outdoors, so if you can find a pair that look roughly right, excellent. For shoes, simple black or brown or tan “granny boots” will do, or low-heeled Oxfords – these are conveniently quite trendy in 2012, and are often perfect for 1912.

These basic elements can go a long way for creating the look of 1912, and if you work to create 1912-style hair as well, you can really look the part. Keep in mind that, in 1912, you almost certainly would have been wearing a corset – even most suffragettes wore corsets. The shape of the corset would change your silhouette, how your clothes fit, and how you stand and move. The ideal figure of the period had slim, sleek hips and a low, gently rounded mono-bosom, assisted if need be by ruffles and padding. The high, out-thrust shape of a modern bra looks incongruous with these styles – you might consider a sports bra or a bra-top camisole to get a more period look.

Trends & Changing Fashions

Day Dresses

Separates (skirts, blouses, shirtwaists, jackets)

  • 1912 Project: Separates, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links.
  • Arizona Statehood Centennial Outfit (dress diary), by Jordan Newhouse, at her blog Heavenly Princess. Details about creating a reproduction 1912 ensemble, including shirtwaist, skirt, princess slip, and more, comparing research to reproduction pieces.
  • 1912-14 Custom Drafted Skirt in 3, 5 and 7 Gores, from a primary source, at Tudor Links.
  • *A Nineteen Teens Pleated Skirt, by Katherine C-G at Koshka-the-Cat. A straightforward tutorial for creating a skirt of the fuller style that became popular following the trend for slim “hobble” skirts, circa 1911-1913. This style is slightly later than most skirt shapes of 1912, but ladies’ suit styles were sometimes shaped like this. The construction information here is very straightforward and, since the skirt is simply cut in rectangles, it can be made without a pattern, by a relatively inexperienced sewist.
  • Two Edwardian Blouses with Cutting Layouts, c. 1910, from a primary source, at Tudor Links.
  • A Nineteen Teens Middy Blouse, by Katherine C-G at Koshka-the-Cat. Like the skirt at the same site, this design is a couple years too late for 1912, but it is nevertheless a good resource, with many detailed construction photographs informative about creating blouses and shirtwaists for the period.

Formalwear (dinner dresses, evening gowns)

Shoes & Hosiery

  • 1912: Accessories and Jewelry, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, which includes shoes and hosiery as well.
  • Edwardian Shoe Candy, an article by Lauren Reeser at American Duchess, with information and images about 1900s and 1910s shoes.

Hats & Other Millinery

Outerwear

Accessories & Jewelry

  • 1912: Accessories and Jewelry, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, which includes shoes and hosiery as well.
  • Help Bling Me, by Kendra Van Cleave at Demode. An article about selecting jewelry to wear with a reproduction 1912 evening gown.

Corsets & Brassieres

  • 1912 Project: High Bust Corsets, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links of/about corsetry, focusing on corsets cut higher than the nearly underbust shape that was the most common style. This less common style provided more support for the bust than an underbust corset and brassiere or camisole.
  • *1911 – All the Steps in One Place by Jo at Bridges on the Body, a table of contents for her detailed series on constructing a reproduction c1911 corset, including extensive fitting information.
  • *1910s Corset Pattern and Instructions by Jennifer Thompson at Festive Attyre, republished for all to see after having been originally published in two parts by the author at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, a fee-based subscription site.

Undergarments

Hair & Cosmetics

  • 1912 Project: Hair and Millinery, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links.
  • Gibson Tuck by Samantha at Locks of Elegance, a photo tutorial for a simple hairstyle popular just before and during the period in question.

Working Clothes (farming, heavy labor, servants)

  • 1912 Project: Hard at Work, a Pinterest Board of mine, with a collection of images and links, specifically of people in working clothes of some variety.

High Fashion / Haute Couture

  • Les Createurs de la Mode (1910) by L. Roger-Miles, a digitized primary source book in French about the process of buying ladies’ fashions from Parisian couturiers, including many images, available free for download at the Internet Archive.
  • Les Robes de Paul Poiret (1908) by Paul Iribe and Paul Poiret, a digitized primary source book in French filled with couture gown designs by Paul Poiret, the height of fashion.

The Realities of Buying, Making, & Wearing Clothes

Dressmaking Manuals & Guides (see also Sewing in 1912)

Note: if it has an asterisk*, there is a tutorial, how-to, or pattern on the other side of the link.

Back to the site index for Researching 1912 Clothes and Making or Faking Them.

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