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.
The 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
I’m so excited to be able to share the news that I’ve written a book for Barrington Stoke, which will be illustrated by Kate Pankhurst!
Rose’s Dress of Dreams is based on the real-life story of Rose Bertin – a remarkable pioneer of fashion at the court of Marie Antoinette. Here’s how the Barrington Stoke team described the book:
Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris. But when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all. Inspired by the life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with inventing haute-couture, this is a story to inspire bold girls and boys everywhere.
As soon as I discovered Rose’s story, I was captivated by the idea of this determined young girl, forging a new path for herself – and going on to change the course of fashion history. I had a lot of fun writing about her and researching the fabulous fashions of 18th century France.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be part of Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems list, which they describe as ‘chapter books designed for little readers who still have their ‘L-plates’ on. Each captivating story from a well-known author is fully illustrated to help picture book fans make the jump into reading fiction. There’s fun and games hidden in the jacket flaps, and it is all wrapped up in a package that’s perfect for little hands.’
I’ve long been an admirer of Barrington Stoke – an award-winning publisher of super readable books accessible to young people with dyslexia or reading reluctance – so I’m really excited about this project. I’m also thrilled to be working with Kate Pankhurst, creator of the Mariella Mystery Investigates series and the truly fantastic Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World. I can’t wait to see how she’s going to bring the story – and Rose’s stunning Paris fashions – to life with her artwork.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be published in April 2018 – preorder links to follow shortly. More information about the book can be found here.
Illustration by Karl James Mountford, from The Midnight Peacock
One of the first things most of us think of when we think of the Edwardians is the grand country house. It appears everywhere from Downton Abbey to The Go-Between, not to mention in dozens of mysteries, romances and ghost stories. The period from 1861 – 1914 is generally considered to have been the ‘golden age’ of the English country house – and the country house party in particular was a mainstay of upper-class Edwardian social life.
Entertaining was a mark of status for well-off Edwardians. For the Edwardian gentry, their country estate was a place to display their wealth, power and refined taste via their art collections and elegant furniture, their sumptuous grounds, their army of servants, and the lavish food and drink at their table. Hosting a country house party would allow them to showcase all this to their peers.
Sometimes lasting weeks at a time, but more often from Saturday until Monday (literally referred to as ‘Saturday-to-Monday’ – as we’ve learned from the Countess of Grantham, the word ‘weekend’ was considered rather vulgar) country house parties most often took place during August and September.
Up to 20 or 30 people would typically be invited, each of whom might bring their own servants with them (perhaps a maid or a valet, and possibly a chauffeur) as well as a large quantity of luggage. An Edwardian lady would not want to wear the same outfit twice during her stay, and with different clothes typically expected at breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, a three-day visit could require as many as fifteen different ensembles!
Gentlemen of the party would spend their days shooting, while the ladies wrote letters, read, strolled in the gardens or perhaps took part in outdoor activities like riding, croquet or lawn tennis.
Food was of course a most important aspect of any Edwardian house party! The day would begin with a vast breakfast spread, featuring fruit, eggs, toast, muffins, rolls, bacon, ham, kidneys, pies, haddock, kedgeree, tea, coffee, cocoa and more – though the ladies of the party might well take their breakfast in bed. As well as a generous luncheon, there would be afternoon tea in the drawing room, and in the evening the party would gather for a sumptuous dinner.
After dinner the ladies would typically retire to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen to enjoy their port and cigars before rejoining the ladies for an evening of music, dancing or card games like bridge or baccarat (the latter was actually illegal at the time, but like Leo’s brother Vincent in The Midnight Peacock, many people in Edwardian high society enjoyed scandalous gambling!)
As well as being an opportunity for socialising, country house parties could offer a chance for matches to be made. Young ladies who had not found a husband during the Season might have the opportunity to meet and get to know a suitable young man, often of their parents’ choosing. (That’s exactly what Veronica Whitley’s parents have in mind in The Midnight Peacock – but things don’t quite go to plan…)
In the world of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, we’ve already had a peep inside a grand Edwardian country house in The Painted Dragon – Leo’s family home, Winter Hall. In the final book, The Midnight Peacock, I wanted to take us back to Winter Hall, and allow Sophie and Lil to experience the world of a high society Edwardian house party, with all its complex rules and traditions. Here, it’s a Christmas house party, complete with ice-skating, snowy walks, and a Christmas party for the children of the estate. But amongst all the festivities, there’s a mystery afoot – and Sophie and Lil soon discover that Winter Hall is hiding a sinister and spooky secret…
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
There’s been a LOT happening over the last few weeks. No sooner did The Midnight Peacock (the fourth and final book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series) hit bookshop shelves, than Winter Magic was out in a gorgeous new paperback edition, new suffragette-inspired anthology Make More Noise was announced … and then it was time to head to Aarhus, Denmark, for the first ever Hay Festival Aarhus.
To celebrate the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, Hay Festival organised an International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, held at the city’s DOKK1 Library. I was so delighted to be there as one of the Aarhus 39 – a selection of the best children’s and YA writers from all over Europe, aged 40 and under – see photo above. We’d been asked to contribute original stories to two special anthologies edited by Daniel Hahn, and were also invited to take part in the festival itself alongside amazing authors and illustrators like Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer.
The Quest anthology in its Danish edition
The amazing DOKK1 Library, Aarhus
Inside the library, transformed for the Hay Aarhus Festival
Aarhus is a wonderful city, and I had a fantastic few days exploring, getting to know the rest of the Aarhus 39, and admiring the amazing DOKK1 Library. Highlights included taking part in a panel event alongside fellow Aarhus 39 authors Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson, and seeing my story illustrated live by Søren Jessen. Here’s a little video of me talking at the festival:
It was a real privilege to be part of such an incredible celebration of writing for children and young people – here’s a blog post I wrote for the Hay Festival international writers blog about exactly why it was so special. Thanks so much to all at Hay Festival for a brilliant time!
Find out more about Quest: Stories of Journeys From Around Europe from the Aarhus 39
Illustration of my story ‘Between the Trees’ by Søren Jessen
Beautiful views from outside the library – which even has its own boat!
With my lovely friend and fellow Aarhus 39 author Katherine Rundell
Thank you Hay Festival and Aarhus 2017 for a wonderful time!
Winter Magic – the anthology of frosty magical tales curated by Abi Elphinstone – is out in paperback today, with a gorgeous new cover by illustrator Melissa Castrillon
It’s lovely to see the book out in paperback just in time for enjoying on wintery afternoons – and of course, to go in lots of Christmas stockings!
The new cover is beautiful and it’s fun spotting all the details from the various stories in Melissa’s gorgeous illustration – including the little Nutcracker from my story Casse-Noisette set in 1890s St Petersburg told from the point of view of a young dancer in the very first production of ‘The Nutcracker’.
Find out more about Winter Magic
Buy your copy of the new paperback edition from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon