Monday, November 10, 2008
10 Facts about the Edwardian era
All my previous books were set in Regency England, an era that I felt quite knowledgeable about. But now I've switched to the Edwardian era--a little daunting, but I really enjoy the research (though sometimes it seems endless!). Since it's an era we don't read much about in historical romance (most publishing houses used to consider anything post-1900 a no-no in the romantic fiction world), I thought I'd share some fun facts.
Edwardian England -- 1901 - 1910 (though the era generally includes the years up to the Great War in 1914)
10. The speed limit for motorcars in 1902 was 12 mph, though Miss Dorothy Levitt set a world record for women by driving 91 mph that same year. She was forever being fined for breaking the speed limit, so she recommended that ladies join the Automobile Assocation (annual subscription--two guineas), whose 'scouts' would warn drivers of nearby speed traps.
9. The Ladies' Automobile Association was founded in 1903, and the first president was the Baroness Campbell de Laurentz.
8. Shops catered to female motorists, providing flannel-lined leather motoring knickers, three-quarter length leather coats with storm fronts and sleeve wind guards, silk head-veils, tweed coats lined with fur or fleece, goggles, and special driving gloves.
8. Ladies also like to cycle, roller-skate (called 'rinking' then), play tennis and golf. Both Burberry and Harrod's offerred specialty clothing for these activities, such as golf suits, golf knickers, cycling knickers, and even a special cycling skirt that divided at the back to fall 'modestly' on either side of the seat.
7. Speaking of clothing, the Edwardian lady wore *many* layers. The first undergarment layer was the 'combinations' --a sort of vest and pants in one, reaching to the knees (either with short sleeves, or shoulder straps). Over that, a lady wore a corset, its busks fastened with metal clips down the front, and laced up the back. Sometimes they would attach silk pads to the hips and under the arms to heighten the 'hourglass' look, making the waist appear more slender. Then came the camisole (sometimes called a 'petticoat bodice'), sort of an under-blouse that buttoned up the front. Then came the knickers with lace frills at the knee--sometimes they buttoned at the waist, and sometimes they were tied with tapes (knickers and camisoles, by the way, were always white). Then came silk stockings--black, white, or grey--held up by garters. The last of the undergarments was the waist-petticoat made of silk or lawn. The waist-petticoat was tied around the waist. Finally, after all that, the lady would put on either a dress or skirt and blouse. If she wore a blouse and skirt, then she also wore a stiffened belt that fastened in the front and was pinned to the undergarments in the back so that there could never be a gap. Add to that hat, shoes, and gloves, and, well....just imagine how long it took to get dressed and undressed!
6. Electricity was widespread at this point, though some country houses were slower to convert than town houses and might, perhaps, still have gas lighting in the servants' quarters.
5. Edwardian ladies loved cosmetics--and the fashionable look was unnaturally pale. The cosmetics of the era were chemical-based, rather than the herbal ones of earlier centuries, and were often very damaging to the skin. The first layer a lady might apply was a white face paint, made of white lead in a cream base, called 'enamel.' After that came rice powder or pearl powder, followed by rouge and lip-rouge. Some women had their lips and cheeks tattooed to stay permanently colored. Eye makeup generally wasn't common except for eyebrow pencil, though the ladies sometimes brightened their eyes with the terribly dangerous drops of belladonna. Before 1909, women quietly shopped for cosmetics, heavily veiled, coming through back doors of salons. But in 1909, Gordon Selfridge opened a new store in Oxford Street where he placed cosmetics on open display and encouraged ladies to select and experiment. After that, other stores followed his lead and women began to purchase cosmetics out in the open.
4. As for scents, the most popular of the era was violet. Other popular scents included Jordan Water, Atkinson's lavender, or heliotrope, orris root, or roses. The faint smell of sweat was referred to elegantly as "bouquet de corsage" and was claimed to be attractive to gentlemen (good thing, with all those layers of clothing!).
3. Brown hair was considered the height of fashion--particularly 'nut brown' hair or chestnut. It was considered very unfortunate during the Edwardian era to be blond.
2. There was a short-lived trend in the opening of the Edwardian era of breast piercing. The nipples were pierced and fitted with tiny gold rings said to improve the bust line and make it curvier, and to produce a pleasant sensation as the rings moved against the clothing.
1. Edwardian women were still mostly educated at home, taking lessons with their governesses. Some young ladies were sent to finishing school abroad--mostly France, Germany, and Switzerland--where, for two years they might learn French or German and social poise.
There you have it....ten useless facts about the Edwardian era! Isn't it interesting that, with all the modern conveniences (cars, electricity, vacuum cleaners!) and newfound freedoms (motoring, cycling, etc.), upper-class ladies were *still* much more like their predecessors from two centuries before than like modern women? Despite all the advances, they were still vastly uneducated (far less so than their other European counterparts), with very little rights (voting, property rights, marriage rights, etc.), and very little to do or hope to do, except marry and have children. Pretty similar to the Georgian lady.
I must say, however, that I'm glad that publishers have finally opened the doors to eras outside the usual in historical romance. So many 'romantic classics' have been set during the Edwardian era (Somewhere in Time, Titanic, The Forsyte Saga, A Room With a View--all of the Merchant-Ivory films, really) that I'm amazed it's only now beginning to garner some interest in the world of romantic fiction.
And that leads me to my question of the day: What largely untapped historical period would you like to see gain ground in historical romance?
I think for me, besides Edwardian, I'd have to say World War II era, or perhaps the time between the two great wars.