When the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton in 1912, it was one of the most luxurious and decadent ships that the world had ever seen. Despite its tragic end, there is something about the ship’s decadence and elegance - even in the face of disaster - that will forever enthrall modern audiences and capture the imagination. One reason is the extraordinary fashion that was worn by the women who set sail on the famous ocean liner. It was the peak of the Edwardian Era, and the glamorous ladies who strolled the upper decks and enjoyed first class accommodations always looked impeccable. The costumes from the 1997 movie are nothing short of inspirational and provide us with a bit of insight into how to re-create the refined and romantic ensembles that were popular in this era. Whether you are attending a Titanic-inspired costume party or just want to emulate the designs from the era, this blog post will provide you with plenty of insight into how to incorporate Titanic Era fashion into your wardrobe.
Fashion in 1912Edwardian fashion was all about decadence. Heavily embellished clothing was the norm for many women during this era. Blouses featured layers of opulent lace ruffles, while gowns featured embellished overlays that were often painstakingly handcrafted. During this time, the “S-shaped” silhouette was also in vogue, which encouraged women to enhance both their bustline while also wearing a dramatic bustle in the rear. The European movement of “La Belle Époque” was also popular in some circles during the Edwardian Era. It was a celebration of life, love, and optimism, and influenced all aspects of life - including fashion. These gowns often featured the same “pigeon breast” silhouettes that were popular during the Edwardian era. This design movement, however, encouraged lower necklines and garments that were just slightly more effortless in design. 1912 was a unique time when it came to women’s fashion. While Edwardian fashion was decidedly on-trend, women were also transitioning into the more comfortable and effortless styles that would eventually take center stage in the 1920s. A woman named Lady Duff Gordon - who was the first popular fashion designer to hail from England - was at the forefront of these relaxed, ethereal designs. She designed draped tea gowns and eveningwear that featured lightweight fabrics, empire waistlines, and low-cut, feminine necklines. Ironically, Lady Duff Gordon was also a passenger on the Titanic. Luckily, she survived its tragic sinking.
Shopping for Titanic ClothingWhen shopping for items that are inspired by Titanic Era fashion, it’s important that every piece is carefully chosen. Finding an impeccably designed dress that maintains an authentic, vintage-inspired sense of style is the perfect place to start. To truly emulate the look of the elegant women who sailed ocean liners in the early 1900s, however, you’ll also want to pay attention to accessories and other careful details. Here are all of the elements you need to create an authentic evening look inspired by the Titanic Era Fashion.
For wealthy women, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t just a means of transportation. It was a way to get dressed up, show off the latest fashions, and flaunt her wealth to her peers. For this reason, women on the Titanic would never dream of wearing one dress all day. Instead, they changed their outfit several times a day, depending on their intended activities. Often, a suited gown featuring a floor-length hobble skirt was worn during the day. Tea time called for breezy, feminine gowns made of lightweight fabrics and straighter, more comfortable skirts. It was at dinner, however, that these refined women truly went all-out.
Dinner called for a luxurious, lavish gown that were sure to impress. Eveningwear during the time often featured expensive fabrics, an empire waistline, and an unstructured fit. Gowns that were popular at the time drew inspiration from ancient Greece, and were often ethereal in appearance. They also featured heavily embellished or intricately embroidered overlays, and featured lace or floral accents throughout. Colors like burgundy, peacock, navy blue, hunter green, and other jewel tones were decidedly in style.
Black dresses still indicated that a woman was mourning in some upscale circles. The navy dress seen here is a perfect example of evening gowns worn during dinners on the Titanic. It features a relaxed fit that is lightweight and lacks inherent structure. A heavily embellished sheer overlay is highlighted thanks to the gown’s gorgeous nude-colored lining. Here, we also see the decadent sheer fabric extend to the sleeve. A feminine neckline - like this gown’s square neckline - was also a must-have. Rich in color and incredibly opulent in design, this dress exudes the qualities that were popular among wealthy, on-trend women in 1912.
When creating your Titanic-inspired ensemble, accessories are key. High-class women who walked the ship’s upper decks were often outfitted in accessories that were luxurious and elegant, but also served a practical purpose. It’s easy to only focus on the opulence of historical outfits when looking back from the modern era. Remember, however, that the early 1900s were not filled with the same modern comforts, conveniences, and traditions that we take for granted today. That’s why many of the accoutrements that Edwardian women considered essential also had an important function.
While modern women still adore their accessories, the ones carried by women on the Titanic were a slight departure from what we are used to today. With that said, these elegant items have a timeless quality. Incorporating one - or more - into your overall look will make you feel just like the genteel ladies that enjoyed some of the ship’s most lavish areas.
ParasolsA parasol is a must-have accessory when creating a fashionable outfit that references the Titanic Era Fashion. These delicate, ladylike accessories weren’t just for show. They also shielded women from the sun while they strolled the ship’s sunny upper decks. After all, fashion-conscious women who boarded the Titanic couldn’t rely on SPF face creams to maintain a porcelain complexion. Instead, they relied on pretty parasols to block the sun’s harmful rays. Parasols often matched the outfit of the woman carrying it. While solid-colored fabrics and designs were available, upscale women often opted for ones made of luxurious lace. Because we are less concerned with their function today, don’t hesitate to opt for a frilly, sheer parasol when accenting your outfit. Just make sure its overall look complements your gown.
GlovesThere is perhaps no accessory that exudes old-world elegance quite like a ladylike pair of gloves. 1912 was a time when fashion was hinting at becoming more progressive, but there were still some old-fashioned cultural “rules” that women were expected to follow. In high society, it was considered improper for a woman to make physical contact with anyone in public. For this reason, women were required to wear gloves at nearly all times. Only during mealtimes and in special situations could a woman appear in public without something covering her hands. Gloves were typically white or ivory in color and extended past the elbow. If a woman was wearing a long sleeved gown, however, short gloves that only extended to the wrist were appropriate. Like almost all pieces of apparel during this era, gloves were incredibly detailed and featured rows of intricate buttons. To put them on, women required an assistant, maid, or other servant. As you can imagine, gloves frequently got dirty and needed to be changed multiple times throughout the day.
ShawlsThe Titanic sailed through icy waters in early April, meaning that it was often quite cold on the ship’s decks. For this reason, many women on the Titanic relied on outerwear to keep them warm. During sunny afternoons, a shawl was plenty appropriate. Brisk nights, however, called for a heavier jacket or overcoat. The shawls that were popular in 1912 were heavily embellished and intricate. Often, they were made of a light to mid-weight fabric that was covered in beading or embroidery. The edges often included tassels or fringe. In the evening, a fur stole or shawl could also be added for elegance and warmth. If you want to add a period-appropriate accessory to your Titanic Era fashion inspired outfit, a beautiful shawl or vintage fur is an excellent option.
The shoes popular in 1912 were very similar in style to shoes that were popular during the Victorian era. Women often wore brown or black leather boots that extended to the middle of the calf. These boots then featured either a lace-up or button-up details to keep them secured to the foot. They also typically had a pointed or gradually rounded toe and a with a low, French heel for added elegance.
The shoes women wore to dinner were a bit more refined than the boots they wore to tea or while strolling the ship’s upper decks. When women changed into their evening gowns, they also changed their shoes. Evening shoes worn on the Titanic featured the same low heel and tapered toe. It was jewels, buckles, or other embellishments that made them a bit fancier in appearance. When it comes to re-creating an outfit inspired Titanic Era Fashion, a simple pair of heeled boots should be sufficient. If your dress is heavily embellished, consider looking for footwear with details that match the ones present on your dress.