The Vanguard of Fashion 1912
By Azeline Lewis
French lady, during a lecture recently, said that there was a closer connection between the dress and customs of a nation than one generally supposed, and in proof of her statement, instanced the present fashions and craze for “line,” as a sign of the independence of the modern woman.
Now, though one may agree with the first part of the statement, one must be allowed to differ from the charming lady as to the latter part, seeing that where dress is concerned, most women show no independence of thought or individuality whatever.
Women are still fettered by the skirt which hampers movements, and they do not rebel against the absence of pockets, which compels them to carry those bags—fascinating though many of them may be—which deprive them of the free use of their hands, and they submit willingly to the “unwritten law” which decrees that their clothes shall be fastened at the back, or the side, and that they shall not be able to get in or out of them without help!
But, whatever we may say, or think, women will, I expect, still obey more or less unquestioningly the decrees of the Rue de la Paix, and the great “feuseurs” of the city, which is, and always will be, the realm of Madame la Mode.
But let me hasten to give a description of what the aforesaid powers have decreed with regard to the modes for 1912.
The coming season promises much brilliancy of coloring, with a swing back of the pendulum to the period of Louis XV. and Louis XVI. and even earlier to that of the Directoire and the early years of last century, evidenced by the gorgeous brocades, the taffetas coatees, the quaint sprigged fabrics, the pelerines and the capes, the ruchings, the frillings and pipings, and the other decorative adjuncts to feminine attire in former generations.
Each designer, of course, follows his or her special “line.”
But, though details and styles may vary, on one point there is unanimity; there are to be no “Little Girl” frocks this season, and the train of the gown must rest at least fifteen inches on the ground, and for evening wear these trains are usually long and pointed.
Though Fashion still clings to the slim silhouette, which she fell in love with two years ago, there are several features which distinguish the modes of the moment—and the future—from those of yesteryear.
In the first place, mention must be made of the panier movement, which, decry it as we will, is accepted by those who lead the fashion. There is, however, a significant difference between the panier of the present and that of the past.
Then it was accompanied by hoops, whilst today, so enamored are we of the slim and freer outline we have grown accustomed to that the panier now represents a mere draped effect, a bunching-up of the upper skirt, which sometimes falls in pleats like an exhausted balloon over an underskirt of sheath-like tightness.
Indeed, so narrow is this sometimes that it has to be opened up from the hem, either at the side, or the front, or the back, to enable the wearer to walk.
One of the models I have seen, however, had the underskirt arranged in a deep pleat or fold in front, which gave amplitude, without destroying the modish and slender outline.
Another charming panier model of the panier was composed of an underskirt of “chair” pink satin, veiled in ivory silk gauze, with three rows of scallops under Mechlin lace just above the hem.
Over this was a tunic of soft Rose du Barri silk, with the fullness caught back (Louis XV fashion) and held by bunches of tiny pink roses. The bodice had a fichu of silk gauze, edged with the same lace as at the foot part, and a fringe of crystal beads, whilst small revers of pink silk gave a finish to the fichu.
And the mention of this last reminds me that it is another of the features of this season’s modes, exploited by some makers more than others, sometimes, but not always, accompanied by the Empire waist-line. Of the charm of these draped bodices and fichu effects, when carried out in filmy lace, there is no question.
The evening gowns displayed by the great dressmakers in London, and particularly in Paris, are visions of magnificence, in which richly- embroidered nets, costly laces, vividly colored satins and the filmiest of chiffons and nets play a conspicuous part.
Some of these gowns show the draped flowing effects and outline suggestive of the luxurious idle East, whilst others are sheathed closely round the figure in a somewhat snake-like fashion, reminding one of the “divine Sarah” as the Serpent of Old Nile.
Of the latter type was the glittering robe emanating from a noted Parisian firm. The under-dress was of striped ceriife mousseline de soie over Nile blue charmeuse.
Over this was a pointed, sheath-like tunic, extending into a narrow-rounded train at the back, of gold lace, heavily embroidered with spangles.
The lower part was embroidered to match, whilst the bodice was composed of the same net, swathed to just above the bust, where it met the draped upper bodice and sleeves of white tulle.
Evening cloaks are very sumptuous and show a happy impartiality between the tight and clinging and the full and flowing modes. Mousseline de soie, supple velvet, brocade, and shot-silk fashion some of the loveliest of these and form the foundation material, with the addition of lace, thick embroideries, and a touch of fur.
A fancy for black has seized Madame la Mode this season, black taffeta, to which black satin makes a good second, being the most popular choice of fabrics for outdoor costumes and indoor frocks.
The skirts of the former are of the severely sheath order, in some cases necessitating an opening at the foot part, whilst in the case of the latter, frills and rueling, and a general air of subdued fussiness, characterize most of the models, some of which suggest the dear old ladies of Cranford, and are charming in an old-world way.
Summer and sunshine suggest "lingerie" frocks, which, like the blouse and the poor, are still with us, but more beautiful than ever in their costly simplicity.
This season the eyelet embroidery, of which the smartest gowns are composed, are effectively allied with lace and Irish crochet, which is more popular than ever, and is perhaps the most effective decorative adjunct to a "lingerie” gown.
Heavy filet and Cluny laces and embroidered muslin are also utilized with great success in washing frocks, for which éponge as the foundation is very largely used.
Simplicity of outline characterizes the indoor gown for summer wear, the "soutane” style possessing this charm in a conspicuous degree and being eminently becoming to slim and youthful wearers.
One such gown which struck me was realized in pale grey cachemire de soie, the front being cut in tabs from neck to hem and closing with fancy buttons over a plain panel front.
The only relief to the simple severity of outline of this gown was given by the lace collar and flat velvet bow at the neck, reproducing the color of the velvet rose at the left side of waist.
And now I must turn to the consideration of the practical and discuss the various aspects of the tailor-made.
For the “costume tailleur” the newest material is Céte de Cheval, a fabric almost like a thin “ratine” of velvety appearance, in light and dark browns, which makes up charmingly, and will doubtless be very popular this season, and I have seen cloth and taffeta very happily combined.
Vicuna and face cloth are also popular for tailor-mades, as well as silk serge, our old friend navy serge having been given a rest for a time. For the summer tailor-made the heavy Shantungs are as popular as ever, whilst eolienne, though not quite so well adapted to the tailoring process, has been utilized for the purpose with a fair measure of success.
The models, as I have said, are all simple in outline, and the jackets which reach just to the hips are usually of the "cut away” type, the front Crossing over and fastening low down at the left side, with one or two fancy buttons, whilst the edges are outlined, masculine fashion, with silk braid.
This, of course, is only suited to cloth and tweed costumes, in which I might note a tendency to return to the fancy of a few years ago, for coats and skirts of contrasting material, such as a skirt with narrow stripes worn with a coat matching the darker color.
The very perfection of simple elegance was the following model carried out in fine pastel-faced-cloth. The skirt, which was of the slim but not sheath-like tightness, was crossed over from the left side of waist to within a few inches of the hem of the wide panel back, the hem being of the wide variety which marks some of the newer fashions and was buttoned down with loops and cords arranged in the width of the hem.
The jacket, which was almost tight-fitting, crossed over from right to left with wide revers in line with the skirt, and was finished off in the same way.
The panel back was trimmed with buttons to correspond with the skirt, whilst a velvet facing finished off the back of the collar. A tricorne hat of fine black straw, trimmed with black faille and a huge upstanding brush aigrette, and a soft lace jabot completed an outfit of smart simplicity.
Where millinery is concerned, large hats are as popular as ever, the crowns somewhat lower than of yore, though in the smaller shapes these sometimes turn up quite sharply.
Many of the smartest have the brim covered with taffetas, which fabric is asserting itself as first favorite in millinery as in sartorial matters.
Plumage and flowers are the chief decorations, the latter being first favorite, and un- curled ostrich feathers are making fairly successful bids to favor. But the large hat is generally very simply and flatly trimmed, whilst in case of the smaller hats the decoration is more or less upstanding.
Jabot and Pierrot frills of tulle are the neck finishes of the moment, and where the side frill is worn this usually consists of one or more revers of finest lawn and lace, over a flat knife-pleated frill.
Lewis, Azeline, "Vanguard of Fashion" in the Cunard Daily Bulletin: The Leading and Most Influential Atlantic Ocean Daily Newspaper, Liverpool: The Cunard Steam Ship Co. Ltd., Summer Number, 1912, p. 71-75.
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