In earlier posts, I wrote the interrelations of epidemics and fashion. COVID-19 and the working from home in leggings and sweaters is just an example. In this post, I feature the impact that the introduction of automobiles had on women’s fashion. Learn about the motor age fashion.
- Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion
- Bertha Benz Tied her Hat with a Scarf
- What Women Wore around that Time
- Further Example Outfits of the Late Victorian Era
- Examples of Edwardian Era Fashion
- Motor Age Fashion Made to Drive a Car
- Conclusions on the Relation between the First Automobiles and Fashion
- Motor Age Fashion You Can See in Alaska
- Top of the World Style Linkup No. 325
Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion
We all know that the weather of the climate region you live in affects how you dress. This dressing for the weather serves to keep us in thermal comfort. Therefore, outfits in the Pacific Northwest differ notably from how to dress in the subtropical humid climate of the American Southeast. Technical development, politics, wars and crisis have influenced dressing as well. Just recall the sumptuary laws of the Mid Evil times or the invention of the trench coat. It served soldiers in the trenches as protection from the rain during the Great War.
The invention of the automobile and availability of individual transportation is an example for a technological evolution affecting fashion. On first view, the interelation between the first cars and womn’s fashion is less obvious than the impact of the sewing machine on fashion.
Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion: Bertha Benz Tied her Hat with a Scarf
When in August 1888, Karl Benz’s wife Bertha Benz drove the 180 km distance from Mannheim to Pforzheim, she already made the first change to the contemporary fashion of that time. On this first long distance ride, she had tied her huge fashionable hat with a scarf to her head so it wouldn’t fly away in the open car invented by her husband.
What Women Wore around that Time
This time was in the Victorian era (~1837-1901) named after Queen Victoria of England. During this era, western women wore the most confining fashion. Despite by 1890 the crinolines and bustiers were gone, corsets served to create the hourglass shape. I recall my granny Hannah saying that when her Mom wanted to go out in the evening, her servant started in the morning tieing the corset tighter every 15 minutes. Doing so allowed my great gandma to wear her fashionable dresses.
These late Victorian dresses had high-necked tightly fitting bodices with frills, lace, tucks, embroidery and epaulettes. Sleeves needed up to 2.5 yards (2.29 m), which means they were quite voluminous. It was a prospertious and extravagant time with luxerious fashion. The style of the so-called Belle Époche (beautiful era). For women of wealthy husbands or fathers, day dresses, afternoon, dinner and evening gowns were Must-haves.
In the Edwardian era, lingerie dresses became fashionable.
At day, boots or button shoes often with extremely high heels were in fashion, while at night, the lower French heel was It.
Granny Hannah told me about the ponytail that was hanging at the kitchen wall. It served to enhance the volume of my great grandma’s updo. Hair pins were more than 7 inches (18 cm) long. They served also to pin the voluminous hats to the head. Hats featured birds, feathers, nests, flowers, lace, and other extravagant pieces (see for example the featured photo).
Further Example Outfits of the Late Victorian Era
The photos below feature dresses from the late Victorian time.
Examples of Edwardian Era Fashion
The photo below features lingerie dresses of the late Edwardian era. The invention of the sewing machine provided the possibility for mass production of clothing. People could order clothing in a catalog. However, wealthy people hired a seamstress twice a year so she produced the same dresses for all females in the family as well as the same suits for all males. Ordering the matching clothing for the entire family was beyond affordable for normal folks. Consequently, the clothing distinguished the wealthy from the not so fortunates. A benefit of the same clothes for all kids was that hand-me downs became invisible. The new clothes were for Sunday’s Best and church. Sunday’s were also great to take a car ride.
The next two photos clearly show a shift to more practical clothing for women in the late Edwardian era.
Motor Age Fashion
At the beginning of the automobile era, cars had no top. Consequently, hats and voluminous hair styles were impractical. Therefore, women who drove themselves turned to bonnets. Women passengers tied their hats with a scarf like Bertha Benz.
At that time, there were only unpaved roads. If you ever drove an unpaved road you know the dust and mud dirt that covers your car all over depending on whether the road is dry or wet, respectively. Another not so fun part of an automobile ride at the time was that the automobiles liked to spit oil or got broken tires. Therefore, to protect their clothing, women wore so-called duster coats. These dusters were very voluminous and typically had a dust-like color (see photo below).
The introduction of individual traffic for privileged people meant a change in women fashion from huge hair styles and hats to smaller updos and hats like bonnets. Under the dusters the hour-glass shilouette became unvisible and hence made no longer sense. However, it took to the late Edwardian era until the hourglass shape and hence corsets made no longer sense.
… and today women ask “Does this car make me look fat?”
The parallel occurring women movements towards more rights, of course, also contributed to getting rid of the corset. Read how fashion changed in the last 80 years.
Automobile Fashion You Can See in Alaska
A while ago, I wrote a post that you don’t come to Fairbanks by accident. Today, Fairbanks is a destination. One reason, besides watching the aurora to visit Fairbanks could be to visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. It has a huge collection of old car and the fashion of that time. The photos in this post show some pieces of their collection.
Top of the World Style Linkup No. 325
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DeWitt, Nancy, 2014. Alaska’s Foutainhead Collection. Vintage treads and threads, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.
DeWitt, Nancy, 2016. Motor Age Fashion, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.
Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.
Rodriguez McRobbie, Linda, 2015. The Classy Rise of the Trench Coat., Smithonian Magazine.
Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.
Taschen (Editor), 2015. Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Bibliotheca Universalis.
Photos of antique clothing and cars: N. Mölders
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