The sinking of the legendary ‘Titanic’ is probably one of the most iconic tragedies of the 20th and 21st Centuries particularly with the marking of it’s 100th year anniversary. All of us know the heart wrenching story of the sinking of the most glamorous ship in the world, with it’s staggering loss of life. But how many of us know what actually living in that period was all about? What were the fashions, styles, attitudes known as the ‘Edwardian Period’ of the 20th Century? A time when fun, and frivolity flourished.
In the Western world, the Edwardian period was both one of great social change and of a solidifying the power and luxury of the ruling elite. With their elegant and perceptive turns of phrase, the French characterized the years between 1880 and 1914 as ‘La Belle Epoque’ (the beautiful era) and ‘Fin de siècle’ (a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning). Certainly no other time has witnessed such decadence and pessimism, and optimism and hope.
Nevertheless, the appeal of the Edwardian era is expected: wealth was abundant and income almost tax-free; society was no longer a small, exclusive circle confined to those of aristocratic birth; the arts (theater, opera, ballet, painting, literature, music, etc) produced genius and modern movements; travel was cheap and easy, since one needed no passport or visa until the Russian or Ottoman borders; and the technological advances were thrilling and amazing. A heavy emphasis was placed on sport and fitness during this era as evident in the photo of the women’s hockey team below. Electric lights, horseless carriage, telephone, and cinema were invented during this time period.
The Edwardian Era in its strictest form, lasted from 1901 to 1910, during which Edward VII (1841-1910) reigned as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions and Emperor of India. However, in its broader interpretation, the spirit of the Edwardians—-which was indelibly inspired by Edward VII during his tenure as Prince of Wales—-stretched from 1880 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.
Edward VII ruled England at this time. He was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and known to his family as ‘Bertie’. As Prince of Wales he did not meet his parent’s expectations of duty and during his mother’s long reign devoted himself to being self-indulgent. He was likeable, sociable and outgoing but became known as a playboy interested in horse racing, shooting, eating, drinking and other men’s wives.
Styles and Fashion
The style and fashions of this time were a blend of many styles. Furniture and fashion was a departure from the heavy sombre look of the Victorian Era. Due probably to the lifestyle of King Edward VII whose frivolous lifestyle set the trends and tone for the style of the time. Fashion in the period between 1900–1909 in European and European-influenced countries continued the long elegant lines of the 1890s. Tall, stiff collars characterize the period, as do women’s broad hats and full “Gibson Girl” hairstyles. A new, columnar silhouette introduced by the couturiers of Paris late in the decade signaled the approaching abandonment of the corset as an indispensable garment of fashionable women.
The woman in the photograph to the left is the notorious first class passenger and famous actress of the time,’Dorothy Gibson’. Actresses in the early 20th Century were never admired like they are in our society today. In fact, Edwardian actresses were considered women of low morals as they usually had many lovers. The famous Dorothy Gibson, is seen photographed here in the same nightclothes that she wore when she disembarked from the sinking Titanic. She made a short 10 minute film in 1912 starring herself.
Edwardian furniture was light, airy and often whimsical. Identifying Edwardian furniture is more about fixing a time when a piece was made, rather than its characteristics. Edwardian furniture comes in many guises, borrowed from times past and ideas new to furniture design. The art nouveau influence is evident in the design of Edwardian furniture. Edwardian furniture was also influenced by Neoclassical and Art Deco designs. The Edwardian period is also one of revivalism, what may be termed in contemporary times as eclectic. An Edwardian desk, for example, may have slender legs with squared feet, but its drawers will have inlaid veneers and intricate hardware. The overall shape of the desk will be linear, square. But the aesthetic of the desk will be light, delicate.
The photo of this period Georgian Sideboard was a style that was revived during the Edwardian Period. Many subtle changed were made, for example an Edwardian Sideboard of the early 20th Century may have had more detail and slender curves to the feet and legs.
The photo below is an example of the fantastic dreamlike quality of architectural Art Nouveau. Buildings in Spain and Paris still have fine examples of this wonderful artistic movement. The Art Nouveau movement technically started in 1880 and was a complete departure, a rejection of the heavy sombre mood of the Victorian Era. Wonderous etheral creations were popping up in progressive centres like Paris and Madrid with wonderful furniture and building still in existence today. Below is a photograph of a staircase from this period.
Shown below is a photograph of an Art Nouveau Server we bought in Paris. The server was purchased along with an entire dining room suite produced in Paris and dated ( with a makers mark ) of 1915. Sadly Art Nouveau in Vancouver is not as appreciated as it is in the U.S. or the rest of the world. We sold the complete suite to a client ( sight unseen except for a vast collection of emailed photos ) to a collector who stated ” I had been searching for a suite of this caliber for over a year now… i am thrilled to have finally found one ”
Rooms aboard the Titanic were a mix of both Art Nouveau and the more forward look of the classic Edwardian style of the day. As 1910 was already the technical end of the Edwardian Period, the styles abounded right into the 1920’s.
This first class stateroom aboard the Titanic was typical of the Edwardian Era. Note the use of the decorative swags and medallions on the walls over the door to the room. A French Empire style chair, paired with a typical English Edwardian table is also illustrated to the right of this photograph.
This Edwardian Sideboard at The Antique Warehouse is full of elegant Edwardian details characteristic of the time. Note some of the exact details of this sideboard are repeated above the door of the above photo of the 1st class stateroom aboard the Titanic. The quality of this sideboard would have insured it’s place aboard the luxurious Titanic.
While the even Even though the Edwardian Era was an exciting age of new discoveries, emancipation of women and a fun loving society it was also marred by the oppression of the working classes, the Titanic disaster, the advent of the first WW (which started in 1914) the murders of the Russian Tsar and his family etc. However, many historians mark the end of the Edwardian Period with the sinking of the great Titanic. It was actually the stock market crash of 1929 sealed the fate of the gilded age of the elegant Edwardian Era.