Assessing Edwardian Attire in Fried Green Tomatoes. Part 2: Tea Dresses and Silhouettes

Welcome to part 2! In this part, we will be taking a closer look at the costumes of the wedding crowd to see where in time we can place them. If you recall part 1, the wedding takes place at the end of World War 1, in 1918.

World War 1 brought practicality to women’s wear. Finer details were dashed in favor for larger, easier to sew embellishments. The barrel line silhouette offered roomier skirts and bodices. large pockets were sewn over skirts rather than being carefully stitched into seams. Frilly undergarments filled out the barrel shape of a dress or a skirt so that there was no need for padding or crinolines.

In short, it’s fairly bulky compared to Fried Green Tomatoe’s “1918” costumes.

When we look to the first few scenes of Ninny’s past, we see an abundance of long, slim fitting summer dresses. Light shades of yellow, blue, and apricot stream through translucent fabrics and sleeves are quarter length. The less exciting dresses are made from equally translucent fabrics in plain ivory or cream with few accents of pink or blue at the waist or collar. This is the tea-dress (also called a lingerie dress for it’s sheerness), that was ever-present from 1900-1914.

The popularity of tea-dresses for the warmer seasons are evident in the plethora ads and sewing patterns from Edwardian catalogs. The general design of the tea dress was born out of a cocktail of Grecian dress, Marie Antoinette’s scandalous “Chemise A La Reine”, and the designs of Jacques Doucet. The resulting garment mimicked the lightness of 18th century chemise gowns while adding splashes of Doucet’s subdued color palette, lace, and embroidery.

Some tea dresses were simpler and more practical for wearing within the house. Dressier tea-dresses had no shortage of lace insertions and bright accents of color. Whether intended for public or private spaces, they all had one goal in common: to assist a woman achieve the fashionable silhouette.

This is a crucial factor when it comes to nailing historical fashions. The lack of correct shaping beneath the dresses is what made the Edwardian influences unrecognizable at first, resulting in a lengthy research loop. It took obtaining fashion catalogs from the right years to confirm that they were indeed, Edwardian tea gowns.

To understand the fashionable shape for women in 1910, we must look at their parent shape from the very early 1900s.

The Victorian ideal of a perfect hour-glass figure was replaced with a slightly asymmetrical shape. Named an “S bend”, the newer shape required a differently constructed corset. Advertised as a healthier alternative to the older corsets, the S corset started just below the bust and pushed the chest and ribs outwards to promote easier breathing. The hips were pushed back, creating a pronounced arch in the back. When viewed in profile, the corset shaped the figure into a pronounced “S” shape.

This is the period that truly prized a robust feminine figure with all it’s dimensions. The overall effect was often enhanced with hip and bust padding. Dresses that clothed the S shape were tight around the torso and hips, with a long skirt swirling about the ankles and or huge ruffled hems.

Towards the 1910s, plump curviness was slimmed down in favor of a new fashionable goal: elongation and slenderness. Corsets by 1912 still thrust the bust forward but no longer were the hips pushed back. Instead, the lower half of the corset straightened and extended to help minimize hip and thigh widths.

A revival of Grecian styles brought forth the tunic dress from ancient Greece. Consequently, many a tea-gown were deigned with it in mind. A tunic dress typically had an inner skirt under a shorter outer skirt with a curved hem. Dress embellishments at this time were often vertical rather than horizontal. Fabric gathering was minimal, if at all, and ruffles shrunk considerably. Long pin tucks and vertical lace insertions often stole the show on an Edwardian dress as they helped create an illusion of a slim figure.

The taller, slimmer, shape was often polished nicely with an enormous wide brimmed hat. The wide-brimmed hat contrasted sharply against a slim woman, drawing her slender figure more into the spotlight. As a bonus, it helped outline the contours of the neck. The combination of an exceedingly narrow woman balancing an enormous hat that might topple her over, earned the silhouette the name, “lampshade”.

Speaking of accessorizing, hold onto your hats for part 3! Hats, hairstyles,lingerie and specific dresses from the film will be viewed from a historical lens!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: