In 1900, a ‘health’ corset intended to remove pressure on the waist and diaphragm was introduced.  It gave the figure a pronounced S-shape, forcing the hips back and the bosom forward, giving women a swan-like shape during the early 1900s. Around 1908 the ‘natural’ figure, upright and much less tight-waisted was popularised by Paul Poiret (1879-1944), first of the modern couturiers.  Corsetry became lower in the bust, allowing the bust bodice and brassiere to develop, with corsets giving a straight line down to the hips.  By the 1920s a ‘boyish’ cylindrical figure was the fashionable ideal, mainly for the young.

19a  Mother & daughter, 1900-10
Reproduced from a cabinet portrait by W.A. Sawyer of Westfield, Walmer.  Mother wears an evening gown in a soft, light coloured flimsy material embroidered in a floral pattern.  It has a slightly bloused front, and would be worn over an ‘S-bend’ corset, which threw the bosom forward and the hips back.  Daughter is dressed in a muslin long sleeved dress with flounces at the hem, and a low waistline, which was the newest thing for the young as the First War approached.

Main Garment
19b Dance dress, ivory satin/black chiffon, 1915-17
Ivory satin, with a black net and chiffon overtunic, it has a sequin encrusted belt and three-quarter length sleeves of transparent black gauze.  Tunic dresses became popular when Poiret’s exotic, oriental fashions were inspired by the Ballets Russes in 1909.  Probably made a few years after the Titanic tragedy, it is a dress styled to look dramatic whilst dancing.  The floating effect of the open overtunic, with its glitter, would be maximised under the chandeliers, especially during an energetic tango.

Provenance unknown.

Main Garment
19c Child’s smock dress, red satin, c.1905
The smock frock, with its practical, easy to wear shape and decorative stitchery from the English countryman’s working dress, arrived for children in the late 1870’s, and has remained popular to present times.  Everyday linen and cotton dresses were smocked, also silk and fine wool ‘best’ dresses for parties.  This red satin example was worn by the mother of a former Mayoress of Maidstone when she was nine years old.

Given by Mrs Gibbons of Maidstone, in 1955

Main Garment
19d Child’s Sunday dress, white muslin, c.1911-14
There was a great vogue for elaborate, heavily starched white cottons, often embroidered and lace trimmed.  For party, best and Sunday wear, these were worn by small girls of all but the poorest classes, a symbol of self-respect, family pride and social aspirations.  Such outfits required much toil over the wash tub and ironing board, to bring matching coats, bonnets and hats, knickers and petticoats up to standard.

Given by Dorothy Hore of Eastbourne, in 1960

19e Combinations, white cotton, c.1916
Combinations were chemise and drawers in one garment, first introduced around 1877.  ‘Combs’ reduced the bulk of underwear, giving a slim line under close-fitting long bodices.  They were most popular in the early 20th Century, as slim, tubular styles in dress took over.

Provenance unknown

19f Doll’s combinations, white cotton, c.1910
Doll’s frequently had elaborate trousseaux and wardrobes of clothes that replicated children’s or adults closely, varying only in the proportion of frills and decorative edgings.

Given by Miss Haynes of Maidstone, in 1956

19g Girl’s corset, beige cotton jean, early 1900s
One of the functions of a fashionable corset had always been to support the body, internal organs and skeleton in the ‘correct’ position. By the late 19th Century ‘health corsets’ (more natural-shaped and comfortable) were increasingly chosen.  This young girl’s corset (chest 29ins, waist 26.5ins, hips 32ins) is made of stout cotton twill (jean), with quilted gussets to accommodate the hips and developing breasts.  It is boned at its stiffened front.  It must have restricted movement, but ensured an upright posture for the growing girl.  It was one of three left as ‘old stock’ at Cranbrook village store.

Given by Miss C. Piper of Cranbrook, Kent, in 1956

19h Evening stockings, beaded blue silk, early 1900s
Silk stockings, once only for the rich, were affordable by the working woman of the 1914-1918 War, a sign of prosperity and emancipation.  Extravagantly embroidered with glass beads and designed to be seen whilst dancing the turkey-trot, Boston glide or other fashionable dance, they probably matched the colour of the dress.

Provenance unknown

1900s – 1910s – What’s New?

Brassiére, early 1900s
A design for a brassiére made from two handkerchiefs and narrow ribbon was patented in the USA in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacob (Caresse Crosby). During the 1920s it was a form of flattener for the breasts, but since 1930 it has become a supportive structure to emphasise them.

Radio, 1904
The first radio transmission of music from Graz, Austria.

Permanent wave, 1904
A German hairdresser, Karl Nestle working in London, pioneered the use of an electric heating machine to permanently wave women’s hair using a borax solution and steam.  They did not become popular until the 1920s.

Rayon ‘silk’ stockings, 1912
The first rayon ‘silk’ stockings were produced.

Coco Chanel, 1913
She opened her first dress shop in this year in Deauville, freeing women from the formality of Edwardian dress.

Zip/Zipper, 1913
Gideon Sundback, a Swede working in the USA, developed Hudson’s idea and produced a hookless fastener with interlocking metal teeth.  It was B.G. Worth of B.F. Goodrich Co. who gave the name ‘Zipper’ to a fastener that was used at the time for closing shoes.  In the early 1930s Schiaparelli was one of the first designers to use zips on fashion garments.

Voting for women, 1918
Women over the age of thirty get the vote in Britain.

Suzanne Lenglen, 1919 – 1926
Lenglen was a French tennis player who won the Wimbledon championship during this period and had a major impact on the fashion world by discarding the traditional tennis outfit.  Instead of a blouse, tie and long skirt, she wore a thin one piece loose-fitting dress, or a sweater and skirt.  She replaced her suspender belt with knee garters and discarded her corset and petticoat!