For you lucky ladies attending a 1912 Titanic themed event and wanting to dress the era, you have come to the right place. My local costume society has held an annual Titanic tea for over 10 years in a row. It is a highlight of our year, and one which encourages us to create new costumes to match the time period (roughly 1910-1913). I have worn everything from a fancy evening gowns to a nursemaid/nanny costume, white tea dress, and even a ghost wearing a bathrobe. It is one of my favorite eras to DIY a costume for, or to purchase a new dress that I can accessorize into the correct time period.
This guide will cover a brief history of the late Edwardian fashion era, give options on where to buy Titanic costumes or reproduction dresses, and offer advice for sewing your own Titanic outfit.
1912 Fashion History – Women
1912 fashions were part of the larger Edwardian Era, also called La Belle Époque which began in 1890 and ended at the beginning of WW1 in 1914. It was a time of transitions from the large bustles and corseted dresses of the Victorian era to the boyish, flat-chested Roaring Twenties. 1909-1914 was especially unique. The corset and dress became long and rectangular, giving the silhouette a vertical tube shape. The waistline rose up to the Empire line and minimized the bust. The look was geared toward young women, but ladies of all ages and sizes looked good in it.
Though free from the excessive layers of petticoats of the Victorian era, women were not free from the strict social classes and dictated etiquette. Clothing showed these restrictions. For example, the hobble skirt was a popular long, narrow dress skirt that allowed for only small tiny steps. This kept women looking dainty and doll-like. The giant picture hats perched on women’s heads balanced out the lean silhouettes and gave some stretch to her countenance.
Evening dresses for the upper classes were draped in beautiful fabrics. In 1912, most had upper arm sleeves and a wide scoop neck. Designs from 1909-1911 featured a V-neck or wrap top with a wide sash at the empire waist. Skirts hung down in columns, often with one or two sheer layers on top creating a soft tiered effect. Fabrics were for their light and airy qualities (chiffon, silk, lace) and decorated with fine details (beading, embroidery, crochet, inset lace). Colors ranged from rich jewel tones (black, blue, red, gold) to soft pastels (baby pink, sky blue, lilac, yellow).
Besides being long, narrow, and expensively decorated, women’s clothing was heavily influenced by the Far East. Japan was a newly discovered world by Westerners. Men collected all things “Japanese” such as swords, while the ladies swooned over oriental silk materials and clothing designs. The kimono influenced dress styles (most of Rose’s day dresses in the Titanic movie were kimono style). Even the hobble skirt was influenced by the Japanese Geisha, who walked in very small steps.
The amount of ornamentation on gowns — like the extensive hand beading on dinner dresses — or the ornate jewelry that accompanied a first-class woman’s wardrobe was a sign of very wealthy times. The RMS Titanic herself was a showcase of extravagant spending, and with her sinking ended such opulence. The coming war eventually sent the world into a much more conservative state, at least for a few years.
These extreme fashions were worn primarily by young women. The mature ladies didn’t fully embrace the new fashion. Instead, they wore fashions that resembled early Edwardian times: large puffed out blouses with puffy shoulders and narrow long sleeves, attached to a full-length A-line skirt with ruffles at the bottom.
Tea Dresses, White Dresses
The Edwardian era is well known for the white tea dress. Tea dresses were a type of lounging dress, worn without a corset for women wear in the later afternoon while taking tea. They were often white or pastel-colored, but not all white dresses were tea dresses. White was a popular summer dress color, especially for upper classes who had servants to keep them clean. Middle-class women also wore white or ivory dresses, walking suits, and separates (skirt and blouse – made popular by the Gibson Girl look a few years earlier). Dresses were made of semi-sheer embroidered cotton, lace, crochet panels, and lightly beaded belts. Matching white gloves and shoes unified the color palette. Accessories could be other colors such as a blue belt, fur shawls, a cluster of pink roses, and dyed ribbon and feathers on the picture hat.
Whether a tea dress or simply a pretty white summer dress, these gowns are popular to wear at a daytime Titanic tea or garden party. Many are wearable again for other non-Titanic events. The 1970s throwback to Edwardian white dresses is back in style this summer, giving us many more affordable options this year. In many cases, a white dress only needs a sash or belt at the empire waist (under the bust) to make it look like a Titanic era tea dress. Shop Edwardian tea dresses or white dresses from all decades.
One thing that didn’t change much throughout the Edwardian era was the hats. These huge monstrosities of lace, feathers, ribbon, and stuffed birds required slow movement and a steady walk to keep balanced.
Dressing for the Titanic
- Learn more about the history of Titanic’s First Class Fashions or Second and Third class fashions.
- See Antique Titanic era dresses for sale at www.BustleDress.com. The sold items are still listed, so you can see what original dresses looked like.
- My Pinterest page for Titanic Fashion and clothing has many pictures for inspiration.
- How to Make a Titanic Swim Dress for $20 of Less. Also, look at this guide to DIY Titanic costumes.
- Titanic 1912 Men’s Fashion. Click here for Men’s daywear or evening formalwear and shoes.
Besides watching the various Titanic movies and documentaries for costume examples, be sure to watch season one of Downton Abbey, Somewhere in Time, The Grand Hotel, and My Fair Lady. My Fair Lady is set during 1912, the same year the Titanic sank, and features many gorgeous costumes with large hats, hobble skirts, and Asian inspired finery. The color of the gowns is historically inaccurate but the shape, style, and accessories are very much in line with the 1912-1913 designs.
Shopping for Titanic Clothing
Since the Belle Époque years of fashion were so few compared to the many decades of Victorian dress, the sources and options for buying ready made clothing is small. What is available in the Edwardian era tends to focus on the early Edwardian times and the Gibson Girl look. That look has long A-line dark skirts with a light-colored blouse and wide belt, or long white lacey ruffled garden dresses. These are OK to wear for the Titanic event. These styles still would have been worn by 2nd and 3rd class women. First-class women would not have worn these, so I would decide what class you want to represent and buy accordingly.
I love to browse online for historical clothing. I especially like to find new clothing with elements of historical style. My finds are usually for accessories such as shawls, shoes, and jewelry. Start with the Edwardian Titanic shopping page where you can view everything at once and then click on the image to be taken directly to the retailer to buy the item. The quality of these items vary from inexpensive “costume / fancy dress” items to more authentic reproduction items. You should be able to find what you need within your budget. If you have trouble finding something, please leave a comment or contact me so I can help you.
Edwardian Titanic Reproduction Clothes
- Wardrobe Shop – My favorites online site that carries Nataya dresses. Romantic tea dresses and wedding gowns. See these and more options of Edwardian day and evening gowns here.
- Recollections – They also have some new lace and chiffon dresses which are perfect for the Titanic era. You may need to have your dress altered locally to create the perfect fit.
- Premier Clothing – Beautiful blouses and skirts for early Edwardian or a middle-class Titanic costume
- Etsy – There are a handful of sellers who specialize in making Titanic era dresses. Allow plenty of time for a custom made dress.
Titanic Costume Accessories
- Read the History of Titanic Era Hats
- Edwardian style new hats – Some are decorated, but most are plain — perfect for adding your own flowers, feathers, and bows.
- Recollections – Has several nice Edwardian hats, gloves, lace shawls and parasols. Even the ones labeled Victorian will do well for this event.
- www.eastangelharbor.com – Edwardian Hats- Big and Beautiful.
- Madame Hatsy on Etsy – Makes and sells a wide variety of historical hats.
It was a sign of wealth and status for a lady to have fair skin. It meant she wasn’t like a laborer, who toiled in the sun for work. Therefore, it was important that a lady carry a parasol with her while traveling outdoors. Solid fabric or lace parasols were an everyday accessory for women.
- My Victorian parasols page – Links to shop some great Victorian-style parasols and handfans online.
- www.lace-parasols.com – Gorgeous lace parasols. Also, a few lace gloves and satchels.
For day or evening, a woman always wore gloves. Day wear required dark or light kid leather gloves to match the outfit. In the summer, lace gloves could be worn as well (and they are much more breathable than leather). For evening wear, long white or cream kid leather gloves were preferred with most dresses. Black gloves could also be worn. Some fancy gloves were made of suede or silk and embroidered with lavish designs. Shop gloves here.
TIP: The only time gloves could be taken off were when a lady was putting food in or eliminating food from her body. 🙂 Learn more about the history of gloves here.
A silk embroidered shawl was a common accessory for both day and evening. Cool weather aboard the Titanic required a layer of warmth with style. Silk shawls or wraps were solid or had patterned prints with either tassels or beaded fringe along the bottom. They could be standard sized shawls, like today’s wraps, or larger cocoon shaped velvet capes. Kimono jackets were also common. There has been a resurgence of fancy silk shawls over the last few years. They are still easy to find in a variety of colors to match your outfit. These new shawls and wraps work well for Titanic costumes.
Titanic era shoes include tall lace-up or button-up boots with a French heel (think granny boots or witches’ boots). These came in black, brown, ivory white, or were dyed to match a dress. Silk pumps with a low heel were called “slippers” and were a formal dinner shoe. Low heel Mary Jane shoes with one to four straps were also common for evening shoes. The working class often wore lace up Oxfords or canvas Mary Jane shoes. Learn more about Edwardian era shoes or shop Edwardian style shoes here.
Make Your Own Titanic Dress
www.gbacg.org Excellent article on sewing a dress for the 1900 “teens.” A good history read even if you are buying a dress.
The above article talks about fabrics to use with your patterns. I want to add that since Eastern fabrics were in vogue, you should consider using Chinese, Japanese, or even Indian silk fabric. Sari fabric is a favorite with Titanic costumers.
Edwardian Titanic Clothes Patterns
Edwardian fabrics and colors – A useful read before you buy fabric.
Past patterns – Look for dress patterns from the 1910-1912 years.
www.longago.com – Large collection of Edwardian era patterns.
Hintofhistory – Basic pattern for 3 kimono style Dresses that you can download today.
vintagefashionlibrary – Has a small but unique selection of reproduction patterns out of print.
More Titanic Era Patterns
Need more Help?
Leave a comment below or contact me via email if you have any questions about Titanic era clothing.