The Victoria & Albert Museum in their “Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion” writes of this period:

“Of the early years of the 20th century it is the clothes designed by Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny that reveal the richest evidence of historical and multicultural sources. Paul Poiret was much influenced by the art and design of the Middle East and India. In about 1910 he visited the V&A to study Indian turbans and, just weeks later, his haute couture adaptations were on sale in Paris. For his Thousand and Second Night fancy dress ball of 1911, Poiret dressed his wife in a wired lampshade tunic over harem trousers. This was to provide the inspiration for his more restrained `Sorbet’ ensemble of 1912.”

Of  1900s womenswear specifically they write:

“The S-bend corset was fashionable during the 1900s. It thrust the hips backwards and forced the chest forward into a fashionable pouter-pigeon shape, emphasised with puffed, frilly blouses that were often embellished with decorations like lace collars and broad ribbon ties. Separates were popular, with skirts fitted over the hip and fluted towards the hem. Hair was worn in a centre parting, often looped around pads and false hair to create a wide ‘brim’ of hair around the hairline. This hairstyle was worn under vast, broad-brim hats with low crowns, and adorned all over with flowers, lace, ribbons and feathers.”

Hilma Theodora "Dora" Thompson and Husband

Fig. 1 - Photographer unknown. Hilma Theodora "Dora" Thompson and Husband, 1900. Source: Rootsweb Ancestry

Man and Woman, Outdoors, Paris, France

Fig. 2 - Unknown. Man and Woman, Outdoors, Paris, France, 1900. Source: New York Public Library


Of 1900s menswear the V&A notes:

“Men wore three-piece lounge suits with bowler or cloth caps. Jackets were narrow with small, high lapels. Most collars were starched and upstanding, with the corners pointing downwards. Some men wore their collars turned down, with rounded edges and modern knotted ties. Beards were now reserved for mainly older men, and most young men sported neat moustaches and short hair.”



Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1900-1909
  • 1900 – By the end of the century, high collars, long-line bodices, colored tights, and high heels are fashion must-haves.
  • 1901 – President McKinley assassinated, first Nobel Prizes
    1902 – Rayon spinning developed, J.C. Penney, the American retail magnate, opens his first department store in Wyoming.
  • 1903 – First airplane flight, The straight-fronted corset, also known as the swan bill, popular from the turn of the century until the 1910s. It forces the torso forward and makes the hips protrude, removing pressure from the abdomen and creating an S-shaped silhouette.
  • 1904 – Russo-Japanese War
  • 1905 – First Paris exhibit of the Fauves, Norway and Sweden separation, artificial silk made from viscose (known as “rayon” after 1924) is first sold commercially in the UK. It reaches the US in 1910.
  • 1906 – Madame Paquin introduces the empire-waist dress in imitation of the fashion of the Regency period.
  • 1907 – Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
  • 1908 – First Ford Model- T; Cellophane invented; Mannequin parades are introduced at the House of Lucile in London and become very popular.
  • 1909 – Peary reached the North Pole, First flight over the English Channel, bobbed or short hair for women is introduced to Paris fashion.

Primary/Period Sources

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