Follow the Yellow

Archive of ‘style’ category

Behind the Scenes: Edwardian Fashion

Regular readers will know that my Behind the Scenes series explores some of the background to my Sinclair’s Mysteries books. I’ve written about everything from the real-life Edwardian department stores that inspired my fictional Sinclair’s, to 1900s gentlemen’s clubs, to the lives of Edwardian servants.

But one thing I haven’t yet written about is Edwardian fashion – which is rather surprising, given what an important role fashion plays in the series! And it’s also one of my favourite areas to research. So without further ado, let’s plunge into the wonderful world of Edwardian style…

From a contemporary vantage point, the fashions of the Edwardian era were incredibly elaborate. Ladies of fashion decked themselves out in ornate gowns, requiring an array of undergarments beneath. Typically these would include ‘combinations’ (a kind of vest and knee-length bloomers all-in-one), a corset or stays, and in some cases, silk pads on the hips to help create an exaggerated body-shape. Over this would be worn a lace-trimmed camisole, silk stockings and petticoats, and then finally the gown itself – often decorated with lace, embroidery, ruffles, frills and flounces.

edwardianladyThe typical Edwardian lady, with ruffled gown and S-shaped sillhouette

Being an Edwardian lady required constant outfit changes (‘a large fraction of our time was spent in changing our clothes’ said Cynthia Asquith). There were different styles for every possible occasion – day dresses, evening dresses, walking dresses, riding habits, ball gowns, the fashionable new ‘tea gowns’ which were supposed to be worn whilst lounging in the boudoir enjoying afternoon tea, and many more. There were also a huge variety of accessories; as well as enormous wide-brimmed hats decorated with feathers, bows and artificial flowers, these would include gloves, parasols, jewels, fans, handbags and a range of outerwear – mantles, jackets, boleros, pelisses, and furs.


‘Calling or afternoon gowns’

Paris was very much the fashion capital and wearing a Paris gown was considered the height of elegance. Wealthy London ladies might make special trips to Paris to have their fashionable dresses made by a top modiste. Alternatively, they might visit the grand salon of a British couturier (like the fictional Henrietta Beauville, who appears in The Midnight Peacock) to select their made-to-order gowns and have them fitted. However, new ‘ready-to-wear’ clothing was also becoming available, meaning that for the first time, people could buy their clothing off the rack in a shop (as most of us do today) rather than going to a dressmaker, or making it themselves at home. Even the very wealthy, who continued to have their clothes made for them by fashionable dressmakers, would visit grand department stores like Sinclair’s to purchase blouses, hats, stockings, or even the occasional dress. ‘A day’s shopping in Town’ became a very popular entertainment and ladies would enjoy shopping for items like scent-bottles, dressing-jackets trimmed with swansdown, chemises, and boudoir caps.

At first glance, Edwardian fashions may seem as elaborate as their Victorian predecessors – but in fact, from the 1890s onwards, it was beginning to go through a significant change. Silhouettes were shifting away from full skirts and bustles towards a slimmer silhouette – firstly the swan-like S-shape that was so popular in the 1900s, then the narrow ‘hobble skirt’ of the 1910s. What’s more, simple tailored suits (known as ‘tailor-mades’) were becoming popular for women, reflecting the changes to women’s lives. The so-called ‘New Woman’ of the period needed more practical clothing for work, study and an active lifestyle. In particular the vogue for cycling meant that adventurous young women began to experiment with wearing bloomers or knickerbockers. Motoring also required practical clothes such as tailored skirts and leather topcoats which would act as a protection from the weather.


An example of some of the new tailored styles

Styles also began to move away from the pastel, feminine ensembles of the turn-of-the-century. From 1909 onwards, the Ballet Russes had a huge influence on fashion, setting a trend for bolder colours and new less structured, more flowing shapes. Empire lines, draped skirts, kimono sleeves, cloaks and turbans became popular. Some young women even wore pantaloons – though at first these styles were considered very daring and controverisal! The French designer Paul Poiret had a particularly important influence on this style. In The Midnight Peacock, these new styles are very much in evidence at Mr Sinclair’s New Year’s Eve Ball.


Some of Poiret’s gowns, featuring flowing shapes and vivid, jewel colours

In this way, it’s clear that the styles of the 1900s and 1910s were beginning to pave the way for the bold flapper fashions which would soon follow in the 1920s.

The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click the image for the source) where you can also find lots more pictures of Edwardian fashions. Stay tuned for some more fashion-themed posts to follow soon!

Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries

Christmas Gift Guide

I don’t usually do this kind of post but I thought it might be fun for a change! Stuck for what to buy the contemporary art fan in your life this Christmas? Fear not: the Follow the Yellow Christmas gift guide is here with some handy art-related gift ideas:

1. Take your style inspiration from Salvador Dali with this moustache necklace from ace jewellers Tatty Devine. Don’t worry if you’re not a Dali fan: they also have a Gilbert and George necklace inspired by that classic art gallery essential, the black-framed glasses.

2. Brighten up the home with some loveliness from designer Donna Wilson, who had a solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this year. I particularly like this amazing badger cushion.

3.  I love the Topshop make-up range: there’s something about the scribbly packaging and rainbow colours that makes it feel like a selection of art materials for your face. Give some of their bright nail polishes for a touch of winter brightness.

4. The perfect 2012 diary for illustration fans, the beautiful cloth-bound Frankie Diary features lovely artwork by Amy Borrell. Bonus cool points because you have to order it online, from Australia.

5. These Lazy Oaf badges from the Tate shop make a fun stocking filler.

6. Every gallery-goer needs a beret. As well as making you look all French and insouciant, your head will stay warm! This leopard print one is from Topshop.

7. Sharpies! Buy them in lots of colours and scribble on anything and everything.

8. A colourful satchel is the perfect accessory for toting your art supplies from place to place. This classic version is from the Cambridge Satchel Company: they do them in a brilliant range of colours, but for me it’s always about the RED ONE.

9. Let’s Make Some Great Art, created by illustrator Marion Deuchars, is a fun interactive book packed with drawings and activities to help spark your creative imagination. Complete the Mona Lisa’s smile or design your own Jackson Pollock inspired artwork. Perfect for aspiring artists of all ages.

10. If you’re really stuck for ideas, then membership to a favourite gallery makes a great gift for any art fan. This membership pack from Tate gives the recipient unlimited free entry to all exhibitions, a subscription to Tate Etc magazine, access to special members rooms, and special viewing opportunities – and it all comes in a cool box designed by artist Fiona Rae.

lovely lula

I think I have a new favourite magazine – the beautiful Lula. Just look at some of these glorious page spreads from the latest issue (no. 8) which I have been happily browsing this afternoon:

Whilst I can see that its style may be a bit girly and whimsical for some tastes, I have to say that for me it is an utter treat to read a fashion-led magazine which isn’t entirely focussed on persuading readers they desperately need to buy this week’s “must have” item and should slavishly follow the latest celebrity trends. Even better, Lula includes a minimal number of advertisements, which are placed only at the start and end of the magazine, meaning that as a reader, you aren’t constantly bombarded – or worse, left wondering what is genuine editorial and what is marketing copy.

As the ever-wise Hadley Freeman points out, “contrary to popular belief, fashion magazines aren’t catalogues” and the great thing about Lula is it really doesn’t feel like one. Rather than being primarily about shopping, Lula is really all about inspirations, ideas and aesthetics. OK so I’ll admit there’s a “sleb” or two in there but at least they’re not the usual suspects – this is, after all, a magazine that eschews the apparently inevitable choice of Victoria Beckham as fashion icon du jour in favour of such alternative (and far more interesting) choices as Louise Bourgeois, Gertrude Stein, Diana Vreeland and Peggy Guggenheim amongst others. And there are some thoughtful, interesting articles as well as beautiful fashion shoots – because guess what? The two aren’t mutually exclusive! This issue, for example, brings together a feature on Edie Beale, a life-size dolls house installation by artist Heather Benning, short fictions by Rupert Friend and Louise Cork, and an interview with the incomporable Luella, as well as a whole treasure trove of lovely images to enjoy.

The only thing I would say is that the typography can get a bit annoying: the distinctive Lula font designed by Becky Smith and Pedro Cid Proenca looks cute for titles but becomes a bit unreadable when used for larger blocks of body text. But that aside – what better way than to spend a lazy Saturday reading Lula, drinking tea and eating ginger biscuits?

I’m now feeling inspired by… boater hats; grossgrain ribbons; birds and butterflies; tea parties; hats with veils; paper cut-outs; 1940s hair; anti-minimalism; giant Alice in Wonderland bows; doodles; latter-day Victoriana; cup cakes and cocktails; plaits; ephemera; Dalmatians; seamed stockings; misty old photographs; layering; eye-popping rainbow brights; and wearing socks with peep-toe shoes. Lovely!

monday inspirations: nick knight for uk vogue

I love Nick Knight’s amazing editorials for UK Vogue, especially this quirky 1940s-inspired shoot from the March edition: “Chocks Away.” The lighting, colours and compositions are beautiful, and Lily Donaldson makes the perfect contemporary re-imagining of a classic 40s pin-up/wartime heroine.

Knight has also been responsible for some of Vogue’s most adventurous and innovative editorials in the past, including the “Unbelievable Fashion” feature in the December 2008 issue. The photographer has developed a reputation for pushing boundaries – whether technical, artistic, or in terms of posing a challenge to the fashion industry by questioning conventional ideals of beauty. As well as working on stories for Vogue, Knight has worked for everyone from Yohji Yamamoto to Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood to Christian Dior, as well as shooting record covers for David Bowie, Paul Weller and Massive Attack.

These beautiful images have certainly brightened up my Monday – maybe tomorrow I’ll look out a red lipstick! I have to admit though that it’s not been an entirely “bright and shiny” “happy clappy” sort of a Monday. I’m feeling very tired today and a bit grumpy; I have spent more time than seemed strictly necessary on a train; one of my blog ‘followers’ seems to have absconded (was it something I said?); and yet again my house has failed to self-clean and tidy itself when I haven’t been in it. However I have been (semi-)cheered by: most unusually, being able to go back to bed with a cup of tea, albeit briefly, on a Monday morning; the smell of fresh white paint; lovely images on the LOLITA blog; dark chocolate ginger biscuits from M&S; finishing the crossword; and my brand new Converse shoes


Phew. A few good things anyway. And maybe Tuesday will be better. How have your Mondays been?

put on your red shoes to dance the blues

I’m feeling a little bit jaded today. A little bit monosyllabic. Still, I think half the point of posting something every day is to write even on the jaded, monosyllabic days. I’m probably just feeling grumpy because the 8 inches of snow somehow turned into 8 inches (or more) of rain overnight.

Anyway, time for something lovely. Here we go.

Yep, it’s a picture of a particularly pleasing shoe. Yes, it is red. Yes, it is glittery. Yes, it has peep toes. Yes, it looks like a dancing shoe, possibly a shoe that might be worn on Strictly Come Dancing by someone dancing the samba or the cha-cha in a sequinned ‘number’. These are all good things. This shoe is from Topshop. You can see more pictures of it here. I also like it in grey. That’s about all there is to say about it, really.

I wish I had had enough energy to have gone along to the launch of the Diary of a Bluestocking retrospective/end-of-residency exhibition at Apartment tonight. In actual fact, I’m on my sofa under two blankets (my house is freezing) but I’m there sipping sherry in spirit.