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Last updated:3 mar 2012/csb

Ladies’ Titanic Era Fashions
a Guide, compiled by Katy Bishop
The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers


1912 voyage

The period of 1910-1912, sometimes called the Titanic Era or Pre War Era (World War I), saw the end of the Edwardian Age, a decade of very soft, feminine fashions of the Gibson Girl with flowing trained skirts, ruffles and lace and S bend corseted silhouette. By 1910 the silhouette of ladies dresses had started to simplify and became columnar, with a new fashionable corset shape which gave the body an upright posture. The overall silhouette of 1910 is somewhat reminiscent of that of 1810 with columnar skirts, hair piled on the head in wavy curls, small fans and neoclassical details. For day wear the narrowness of the skirt is balanced 1912 group out by the often enormous width of the hats.
This guide introduces evening dress styles of the early 20th Century to aid in the design and construction of a period ensemble to wear to a ball, tea or promenade. Included are descriptions of the components of an outfit, including undergarments, accessories, hairstyles, jewelry and headdresses. There is also some sewing advice and a list of patterns that might be useful, as well as some books and websites with useful information, and finally, places to shop in the New England area.
Please remember that period outfits are not required at most of our events; this page is a guide for those who wish to further immerse themselves in the period by either putting together a modern outfit evocative of the period or reproducing and outfit from the underwear out.
visit our Gentlemen’s Titanic-era Dress page.
For more detailed descriptions please visit Katy Bishop’s Fashions of the Titanic-era page.


The setting for the Weekend the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912, during the Ragtime Era. Formal dress is requested, period dress, and costumes appropriate to the theme are encouraged! The following descriptions are given to help those who wish to indulge in the period flavor of the evening.


The Basic Silhouette
1912 evening dresses Ladies’ evening dress for this era consisted of a high waisted gown, usually in soft fabric such as chiffon or lightweight satin, often ornamented with elaborate lace or beadwork. The full length skirt, which fit smoothly over the hips, should have enough fullness for dancing. Full length white gloves would complete the outfit splendidly. Shoes in a color to compliment the gown, with a medium height heel of 1½-2 inches, such as Capezio character shoes are comfortable for Ragtime dancing. Hair should be worn up and was usually dressed with decorative headbands, ornaments or feathers. Resale, thrift or vintage clothing shops might be a good source of a suitable outfit, such as an old bridesmaid gown.
How to get a quick period look from modern clothes
For those who are not interested in making a complete reproduction outfit but want an easy solution to what to wear to a ball that looks period here are some suggestions.
A period look can be achieved with modern clothes and thrift store finds with a few alterations and some creativity. The basic silhouette for this era is a long, columnar, dress with a slightly high waistline and short sleeves with no fullness at the shoulder. The outfit is completed with long gloves, shoes with medium height heels (spike heels can be dangerous to others on the dance floor) and hair piled on the head, usually with curls and waves.
A modern evening or bridesmaid dress, in lightweight, flowy, fabric with high waistline and a skirt that is smooth over the hips but full enough to dance in is a quick way to get the feel of the period. If the dress is strapless an over bodice in the form of a short sleeved jacket or shrug can be added. A lightweight over dress can also be added to a fairly plain modern dress to achieve the layered diaphanous look of the period.


The following informtion is intended for those who are interested in making a complete reproduction outfit from the underwear out.


To achieve the silhouette and support your dress properly the correct undergarments are very helpful. The most common undergarments are (in the order they are put on): chemise, corset, corset cover, drawers, and petticoat. There are also many combination undergarments that take the place of their single counterparts. For example: you might wear a combination chemise and drawers, then the corset, then put on the petticoat and corset cover. The most common laces used in undergarments were Valenciennes, Cluny, and Torchon lace.

The chemise is a sleeveless closely-fitted garment with open, round, neckline with drawstring, made in lightweight linen, cotton or silk. White is the usual color for easy laundering. The chemise is worn under the corset to help keep the corset clean, and to protect the body from the corset. Knee or mid-calf length, flounce (not very full) or lace trim at the hem armholes, and neckline. A combination undergarment worn under the corset is a chemise and drawers in one, with split drawers; the legs are not as full as drawers worn over the corset. The Chemise or combination would be fairly simple as it is worn under many other layers of undergarments. There were also knitted fleecy cotton union suit style winter combination undergarments.
The petticoat was worn over the corset to fill out the skirt and add a layer of warmth or, if the dress was very sheer, a level of opaqueness. They would be fairly smooth over the hips, so as to not add extra bulk at the waist and hips. The hem can have wide, fairly flat, flounces edged with fine lace or embroidery. Petticoats were made of cotton, linen, silk or fine wool flannel. Some petticoats had removable lace flounces for more versatility. 1801 The corset cover and petticoat can also be combined into a Princess slip, with plain fitted body and trim at the neckline and wide flounce with lace trim at the hem.
Corset Cover
The corset cover is worn over the corset to hide the corset if the blouse is sheer, protect the dress from the corset hardware, and add a little extra fullness to the figure if desired. The shape is scoop-necked, usually 1801 sleeveless, with drawstring at the neck and waist, and a fitted peplum below the waist. The corset cover could also have attached drawers or short petticoat.
Drawers are worn over the corset (unless they are part of a combination chemise and drawers). The waist is fitted smoothly over the hips, with a drawstring or button at the waist. Legs are mid-calf length and flared, with fine lace trim and flat flounces at the hem.
Bust Improver or Bust Ruffles
A bust improver or bust ruffles can be worn to enhance a small bust-line. It is a semi-circular garment, with full, lace trimmed, ruffles worn over the corset to fill out the front of the blouse.
1801 Corset
The fashionable corset shape was smooth and columnar with small waist and hips. The corset changed from the previous style which pushed the figure into an s bend, pushing the bust forward and the derriere back while compressing the stomach and waist. The new long corset design was less extreme. The stomach and hips are reduced and smoothed, and bust support is minimized, sometimes necessitating the need for a brassiere. The corset usually hooks with a busk in the front and laces in the back or side front. Some of the longer models have elastic panel below the waist to allow the wearer to sit comfortably.
The brassiere was made of sturdy cotton and fitted closely to the figure, it was often boned and had shoulder straps. It was could have some lace trim but was usually a fairly simple garment.


The Fashionable Silhouette
The basic silhouette was columnar, with a slightly raised waistline, smooth fit over the hips and full length skirt with not a great deal of fullness. Sleeves were fairly fitted with no gathers at the top. Skirts could have peplums or shaped overskirts and skirts might be split or shaped to reveal pleated or decorated gathered underskirts.
1912 evening dresses Evening Dress
Evening dresses were usually made of fine silks, with open necklines and short sleeves, which could be cut in one with the body of the dress of have a shoulder seam. Fabrics were silk satin, brocade, lace, chiffon and embroidered silks. Many fabrics could be layered to create a rich effect without a lot of bulk. Closures were usually hidden under the various layers. The bodice lining was structured, closely fitted to the figure and boned.
Day Dress
1912 evening dresses Dresses could be one or two piece silk dresses in a single color are common, with button detailing, braid and lace trim, or elaborate collars and asymmetrical skirt trim. Lingerie dresses were also popular, covered with lace insertion trim or white on white embroidery. Nautical tailored or elaborate lacey blouse and skirt ensembles are popular, with a light colored blouse with darker skirt. Tailored suits are worn for outdoor activities.

Accessories and Outerwear

Gloves, Shoes & Stockings
Long white kid leather gloves are de rigueur for evening wear. Shoes for evening are pumps in leather or silk, with medium heels, with bow or rosette decorations or narrow straps. Day time shoes can be boots with buttons or laces or pumps with multiple straps. Stockings are opaque, usually white, black or a color to match the gown in cotton or silk. They could be embroidered. For outdoor day wear gloves would be dark or tan colored kid leather.
Belts, Collars & Guimpes
Belts can be of leather or cloth, with fancy buckles or rhinestone or cut steel ornaments. Collars can be of lace or pleated silk in elaborate styles. Guimpes are under-bodices, with or without sleeves, to fill in open-necked dresses; they are easily washable—very practical when dresses cannot be washed easily.
Fans & Purses
Fans are small to medium sized folding fans. Styles vary from revivals of early 19th century styles with neo-classical motifs, ostrich feathers in a variety of colors, silk leaf decorated with metal spangles. Purses are small in German silver mesh or solid silver, can be suspended from the waist. Day purses can be leather with metal frames.
1912 wrap Cloaks, Coats & Shawls
For evening wear fine silk shawls, long and rectangular, decorated with beading or embroidery. Also cocoon coats and capes in rich velvet, silk or brocades and fur trim. For day wear tailored long coats with rows of buttons or large frog closures. A lightweight sheer silk veil or scarf can be wrapped around the hat/head for out-door wear.
1912 parasolsParasols & Muffs
Parasols are long handled, with a large curved canopy. The canopy can be in cotton, linen or silk, in white, colors to match the gown, stripes, woven or printed patterns, or embroidered. Handles can be in wood, gold, silver, bone, or semi-precious stones. Muffs can be large, fairly flat, rectangles, made of velvet, silk or fur.
The following is a short list of fashionable jewelry pieces: bead necklaces (keep them short for dancing, long for non-dancing activities to avoid breakage); rhinestone brooches and buckles in art nouveau styles; teardrop earrings or pearls or colored stones; art nouveau style brooches and pendants with floral swirl motifs with enamel, colored stones and pearls; gold bar pins; lavaliere necklaces; gold bangle bracelets.

Hair, Headdresses and Hats

Hair was worn piled on the head in waves and puffs, volume is wide, increasing the visual width of the head, with not a lot of vertical emphasis, the ears are usually covered. Lots of false hair: braids, ringlets, entire hairstyles, and rats (padded hair forms) were used.
You can purchase cigar or donut shaped hair forms or save the hair from your hairbrush and shape your own rat that will match your hair exactly.
1801 Headdresses, Combs & Tiaras
Evening headdresses can take the form of: bandeaus and wreathlets in ribbon, rhinestones or silk flowers worn across the front of the hair, forehead, or back of the head; tiaras in silver, gold and rhinestone with pearls; feather aigrettes in ostrich, bird of paradise, or egret feathers; rhinestone ornaments or hairpins; hair combs, in tortoise, aluminum, silver or plastic, with rhinestone, colored gem, or gold inlay decoration.
Hats are often very large with lots of ostrich feathers, large ribbon bows and flowers. Materials can be in straw, silk covered buckram or wool. Smaller styles, in tricorn, round crown, or flower pot shapes are also worn.

Costume Suggestions for the Titanic Vintage Dance Weekend

None of the events during the weekend require period costumes but they will be greatly admired. For the dinner and ball modern evening dress or costume from the Titanic Era is requested. The following are suggestions of what types of costumes might be appropriate for each event.
Steerage Dance
For this dance day or evening wear of the Titanic Era is recommended. You might dress as a steerage passenger, in simple day dress of the era, or as a 1st class passenger who has sneaked down from the upper decks for the evening. Festive yet comfortable modern clothes are also appropriate. No shorts, t-shirts or sneakers please.
Dance Workshop
Modern dance wear or comfortable casual clothing is appropriate for the dance class. Low heeled shoes (such as Capezio character shoes) for ladies and soft soled dance shoes for the gentlemen are suggested.
1912 tea Tea Luncheon
Afternoon dress of the Era is suggested; modern, dressy, afternoon dress is also suitable.
Dinner and Grand Ball
This is the most formal event of the weekend. Formal evening dress of the Titanic Era or modern formal dress is recommended.
Museum Promenade & Afternoon Concert
There is no dress code for this event. Afternoon dress of the period or modern dress. Period dress, of course, will be admired.

Sewing your own outfit: Hints, tips and Recommendations

Choosing Patterns:
Highly Recommended Patterns
Past Patterns: Their patterns are taken from actual period garments or antique patterns, with complete, tested, professional sewing instructions, and often the patterns come with exhaustive historical notes. Some patterns are available in a wide range of sizes, others just in the size of the original.
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion: The Patterns Of Fashion books contain reduced scale drawings, on grid paper, of patterns taken from actual garments. Guaranteed to be historically accurate.
Past Patterns, used in combination with Janet Arnold (if Past Patterns doesn't have the exact garment you need) and Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail (see below) will give you a good historical recreation.
Recommended Patterns
Folkwear: Folkwear has some good dress patterns, especially for undergarments and a cocoon coat. The dresses are a bit later than Titanic and not quite accurate.
Sense & Sensibility and Laughing Moon: They offer some dress patterns from the Titanic-era. Slightly less accurate than Past Patterns or Janet Arnold but still good patterns. When using these look at period illustrations and garments to tweak the dresses, like adjusting seams, closures or skirts for the look you want. There are also other smaller pattern companies that we have no experience with so we cannot review them.
Costume Patterns
Then we come to the large commercial pattern companies, mainly Simplicity and Butterick. Neither of them is particularly accurate as they have to appeal to the mass market, though Simplicity is better than Butterick, they are, in the end, costumes. The skirts are not usually cut full enough for dancing. At this time we don’t know of any Butterick Titanic-era patterns.

Summary of Web Addresses

  • The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers (
    Links to many dance and historical sites, calendar of dance events.
  • Past Patterns (
    Patterns for men, women & children from the late 18th century to WWII
  • Reconstructing History (
    Patterns, clothing, notions
  • Vintage Victorian (
    Katy Bishop’s website, primarily focuses on 19th and early 20th Century fashion, specializing in evening dress. Publishes the Vintage Dress Series books. On-line free fashion history library. Links to other vintage fashion sites.
  • OMG that dress (
    A blog that posts photos of dresses from on-line collections. A good resource for visual images of extant garments. The site can be searched by date and theme.
    OMG That Dress (
    A blog that posts pictures of beautiful dresses and links to their original source.
  • Reproducing 1912 Fashions (Sensibility) (
  • Reproducing 1912 Fashions (pdf, Sensibility) (
  • Burnley and Trowbridge (
    Buckles, books, clothing accessories, fabric, patterns, notions &tools, shoes, tapes & trims. Has button moulds good for covered buttons that are so popular in the Titanic-era.
  • Online Fashion Engravings Database at the Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs (
    The massive online fashion engravings database at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris is a wealth of inspiration for men's and women's fashions spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The sheer volume of information, and the fact that it is all free, makes this one of our favorite online resources. Be prepared to spend hours!
    It is only in French, so if you are not a French speaker, here is a simple set of navigation instructions:
    • 1. Click on this link to the database.
    • 2. Click the "Recherche Simple" link.
    • 3. In the "Termes de Recherche" box, enter the word Mode.
    • 4. In the "Documents numerises" section, select "Album Maciet".
    • 5. Click "Rechercher" at the bottom of the page.
    • 6. Select a collection to view by ticking the box,
      then click on "Voir les Notices" at the bottom of the page.
      The collections are organized chronologically.
    • 7. This will pull up the information for the book you selected in a box to the right.
      In that box, click on "Voir les vignettes Maciet".
    • 8. Click on any thumbnail image to view the larger image.
    • 9. Click on "Impressions" to save or print the image.


Books with Patterns

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1I: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction 1860-1940.
Drama Publishers (1977); ISBN: 0896760278
Patterns taken directly from ladies garments, 1/8 scale patterns. An excellent resource with several dresses from the period: 1908 Day Dress, 1909-10 Evening Dress, 1911-12 Day Dress, 1913-14 Afternoon Dress.
Doyle, Robert. Waisted Efforts.
Sartorial Press Publications (1997); ISBN: 0968303900
Corset patterns, history, and fitting.
Hunnisett, Jean. Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909.
Players Press, Inc. (1991), ISBN: 088734609X
Theater related patterns, tips and hints. A little earlier period but has some good advice.
Waugh, Nora. Corsets & Crinolines.
Routledge (1990); ISBN: 0878305262
Undergarments with reduced scale patterns and historical notes.
Waugh, Nora. The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930.
Theater Arts Books (1987); ISBN: 0-87830-026-0
Reduced scale patterns and costume history by era.

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Other Publications
Exhibition Catalogues, Fashion History Books, Fashion Plate Albums, Reprints

Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail: Women’s Dress 1730-1930.
Costume & Fashion Press (1997); ISBN: 0896762173
Detailed sketches of clothing construction. Details many of the dresses in Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold.
Sadako Takeda, Sharon; Durland Spilker, Kaye; Galliano, John.
Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 - 1915. Museum exhibition catalogue 2010.
Prestel USA (2010), ISBN-10: 3791350625
Exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Exhibition Website.
Dover Publications:
Everyday fashions 1909-1920 (Olian, Joanne)
Women's Fashions of the Early 1900s: An Unabridged Republication of "New York Fashions, 1909"
Parisian Fashions of the Teens: 352 Elegant Costumes from "L'Art et la Mode" (Dover Pictorial Archives)

New England Area Stores for Fabric and Trims

Zimmans (Lynn, MA) luxurious home decorating silks to-die-for, trims.
Fabric Corner (783 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA) shot (changeable) cottons, silks.
Play Time (283 Broadway, Arlington, MA) ribbons, trim, beads, findings, feathers, tiaras.
Things We Love (1339 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA) high quality beads and findings.
Sewfisticate (Somerville, Framingham Dorchester, MA) discount fabrics.
Vintage and Antique Textiles (538 Main St, Sturbridge, MA) vintage lace, costume, trims.
Boston Bead Co. (10 Front St, Salem, MA) high quality beads and findings.
Thoreauly Antiques (25 Walden St., Concord ma) vintage lace trims buttons.
Osgood’s Fabrics (333 Park St., W. Springfield, MA) Discount fabrics, large selection.
Delectible Mountain Fabrics (125 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont)
A Beautiful Corset (10 Derby Square, Salem, MA)

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P.O. Box 9, Nahant, Massachusetts 01908
phone: (617)  819-4283