Edwardian Fashion by Daniel Milford-Cottam
non-fiction, reference work published 2014
By the early 1910s, Poiret had reached the height of his influence.. The culmination of his passion for the exotic came in 1911, when Poiret threw an extravagant fancy-dress ball, ‘The 1002nd Night’… the approved costumes featured lavish turbans, metallic fabrics, wired tunic hems, and harem pants.
These same details appeared in Poiret’s own designs, with many going on to feature prominently in fashionable evening wear.
There was even a brief fad for harem pants seen peeping out from beneath the hems of day and evening skirts. The harem pants craze was more enthusiastically taken up by satirists and cartoonists than by fashionable women, and harem pants were unsurprisingly short-lived as a day-to-day garment, though a popular option for fancy-dress balls.
A Deputy Was King by GB Stern
novel, published 1926
[A tenant in a lodging-house has died: the landlady wonders who she was, and asks another resident what she thinks]
She had brought the dead woman’s ‘things’ in for Loraine to see. The foreign old woman had had, apparently a taste for false jewellery…Loraine looked at a brooch:
‘This is all right; it’s Turkish work, I should think, from this hole left in the filigree for the material of your dress to be pulled through and pinned; that’s the way they always do it. Your old lady may easily have been a Turk.’
-- At which the landlady cried out in holy horror, not fancying the idea of having had anyone in her house connected with ‘them nasty harems, which I didn’t even like in skirts, Miss, and very glad to see them go out, what with my daughter Mabel not even able to step on a bus without spraining her ankle.’
observations: And so fashion filtered down in the 1910s and 1920s – a style such as harem pants begins at a costume ball for the richest and best-connected clients of a top designer. Some time later, women called Mabel are climbing on the bus wearing their harem skirt/pants combo. It’s not clear from the landlady’s story exactly when the fashion mistake caught out her daughter’s ankle, but it’s a true fashionista’s story – the original wearers of harem pants probably never travelled by bus…
And of course another recommendation for the book Edwardian Fashion, by blogfriend Daniel Milford-Cottam – an indispensable guide to the clothes and the attitudes of the first years of the 20th century. All fashion fans should read it: there is another entry about it here. The top picture is from his book.
The second extract is from a book we've already featured, part of the Rakonitz Chronicles. This is very much a side-anecdote – and the woman concerned was Greek rather than Turkish – but all the clothes in Stern’s book are carefully chosen and beautifully described. There are embroidered corsets on Anastasia’s bed and there is a brocade and feather evening cloak. There is the Chinese Coat dealt with in another entry. At Toni’s dress shop, the gowns have fancy names, and there is one called ‘Sauve Qui Peut’ which is a challenge to combine sherry and vermilion as feasible colours. It is hard to imagine, but Stern does make it convincing. It is a ‘dress of the cities’ as the people of the Rakonitz family are ‘children of the cities’.
We have mentioned before both Stern and Agatha Christie writing about the dresses with fancy names. Another business in common is the letting and sub-letting of flats – Toni in the book, in the first years of marriage, is shown taking flats, then finding a better one and re-letting the first one – without ever moving into the first one. Agatha Christie describes exactly the same process in her autobiography – these people have three rented flats on the go at one time.
The two lower pictures are from the Library of Congress.
ADDED LATER: I am happy to say that we inspired Daniel, author of the non-fiction fashion book above, to post a piece on women/trousers/harem pants - and it is fascinating. Find it here.