Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition

March 30, 2012

Edwardian made Easier

Even if you don’t think pouter pigeon dresses flatter your figure, you can flatter your budget by using a few tricks to save on your Edwardian costumes. The 100th anniversary of the Titanic is on April 14th-15th and if you are going to an event but haven’t made or bought an outfit yet, there’s still time! I haven’t done a vintage-meet-seamstress article in a while and since I myself have procrastinated on my Edwardian costuming efforts, this article is just a tad self-remedial. :)

If you are costuming for a Titanic event, your costume inspiration will come from the very end of the Belle Epoque era. The Belle Epoque era, from 1895 to 1914, emphasized the rich and privileged life, focusing on the very upper cusp of society. Ornamentation literally dripped from every surface of ball gowns: beads, pearls, glass gems, gold bullion, silk tassels, velvet drapes…the list goes on and on! If it was beautiful and expensive, it could be added to a dress. Compared to late Victorian fashions that focused on flared skirts and structured bodices, fashionable ladies in the early 20th century turned to a languid tube shape, reminiscent of Regency fashions from 100 years earlier, but with a major change. Instead of placing the bust as high as possible on the chest and placing the waist line just below it, Edwardian fashion in the 1910s placed the waistband around the ribs or waist. Bodices and blouses weren’t fitted tightly in front. They often puffed around the waistband or featured swaths of gauze that rounded out the breast. From 1900-1910, this style puffed out larger and larger, making for a rather heavy, matronly silhouette by today’s standards, but it was meant to emphasize the smallness of the waist (sometimes as small as 14 inches around!).

By 1912, the puff had shrunk down to a less structured looseness and was more naturally fitted to the body. Asymmetry was all the rage, with a dash of Oriental influence and Art Nouveau thrown into the mix! While day gowns became much more business like, evening gowns were often made of more beads and sequins than fabric. If you love My Fair Lady, this is the era for you! You could truly wear a neat little shirtwaist and skirt by day:

And be a sparkling princess by night!

Of course, that’s two entirely separate class levels and lifestyles, but the beauty of costuming is that, with the right amount of work, treasure hunting, and styling skills, you can wear anything you desire regardless of assumed social station– you can be who you want to be!


The Simple Edwardian Lady

You will need:

A shirtwaist or blouse in a light color
An undershirt or slip (because you don’t want to show off too much!)
A long, fitted skirt
Boot and stockings
Optional: Belt, tie, scarf, hat, etc.

It really is that simple! Just tuck a frilly white blouse into a fitted skirt, making sure to give it that trendy little poof around the waist. You can still find period shirtwaists in wearable condition on ebay or antique stores, but vintage blouses from the 1970s are your best friends! Most of the blouses are pretty sheer, so a slip or a tank top with a little lace on the edges is invaluable. If you have trouble finding a long, high-waisted skirt, a wide belt is an stylish fix.


Antique Shirtwaist by FancyLuckyVintage


Antique Blouse by MsTips


Vintage Blouse by heightofvintage


Long Skirt

Vintage by GORvintage 

Vintage Skirt by moonandsoda



Antique Boots by ArtifactVintage


New Boots by Funtasma at Sears (also in a classy leather-brown)



Vintage Hat by snapitupvintage


Vintage Necktie by pineapplemint


Vintage Belt by ccdoodle



Of course, if you’re going to an Edwardian dinner or tea as a wealthy heiress, you are going to need a fancier dress. If you aren’t handy with a needle to sew yourself one, there are plenty of seamstresses who can craft an exceptional custom gown exactly as you please!

Custom Gown by MattiOnline


If you aren’t just playing the part of a wealthy heiress and actually are one, you (lucky ducky) can probably find an original dress from the period, like this:

Antique by AntiqueDress


Wearing antique garments is a tricky business, but there are plenty of Edwardian-era patterns available that mimic the look.

I haven’t got oodles of spare cash to spend on an authentic gown (some day!), but I’ve got a trick up my sleeve. Well, maybe not so much a trick– more like a method. Fashion works in circles, so what goes out of fashion eventually comes back into fashion, just slightly modified. Edwardian fashions themselves refashioned Regency style to match a more modern aesthetic which in turn was revived by one of the greatest eras for vintage clothing junkies like me: Hello 1960s and 70s!

This photo was taken in 1971. Pretty darn similar to the Edwardian dresses, right? Not exact, but amazingly similar (there was even a brand called “Young Edwardian” that competed with Gunne Sax). The only thing missing is some fuss and fluff around the shoulders, like some lace or netting. If you learn to spot the Edwardian sillohuette and characteristics, you can find a plethora of vintage pieces that will blend fairly well with your friends’ costumes. For example, here’s an original Edwardian gown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

And here’s a vintage 1970s/1980s dress that bears a surprising resemblence:

Vintage Dress by KarlaBVintage

It’s not a perfect match, but if you’re in a bind time and budget-wise, these kind of match-ups are a godsend! Vintage pieces are still easier to find than period pieces, can stand more wear, and are available in more realistic sizes for those of us who have not benefited from years of corset training.

The Original:

The Vintage:

Vintage Dress by bohemiennes


The Original:


The Vintage:

 Vintage by myliltreasureboxx


The Original:


The Vintage:

Vintage by LoveCharles


And you can’t forget shoes!

The Original:


The New

Astoria Shoes by American Duchess 

Tips and Tricks:

One of the keys to the basic 1912 gown is a squared neckline with lacy sleeves. If you find a strapless gown with the right waist height and fit, you can take two swathes of lace (curtains and old scarves work wonderfully) and attach them over the shoulders.

Find a dress with a great top, but it’s too short? Underskirts to the rescue!

Late Edwardian ball gowns were all about vertical beading, texture, and drapes. To glam up a dress with a plain skirt, tie a shimmery shawl around your waist and let the wide ends trail to the floor. You can also fold a light shawl, scarf, or fabric yardage in half over a piece of satin rope and tie the rope around your waist in a long bow so the fabric trails gracefully off to your side.

Hats! Think big, feathery, and flowery! Sometimes all a gown needs to go from 1970 to 1907 is a Gibson girl pouf and an outrageously fancy hat.



See this tutorial in action:


Easy Edwardian: Thrifted Turn of the 20th Century Outfit for Under $10
Using Vintage Blouses and Formal Skirts


A Brief Trip to 1914: More Easy {Late} Edwardian Costuming on a Budget
Using Vintage Elastic-waist Dresses

10 Responses to “Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition”

  1. Great ideas. I love scouring thrift and vintage stores for dresses that could look the part. Here is my take on a thrifty Titanic dress

    Thanks for the post. My mind is spinning with new ideas.

    • Liz Says:

      Your tutorial is excellent! Isn’t it amazing how you can take second-hand pieces that most people would ignore and turn them into a super-comfy, inexpensive dress everyone loves?

  2. ddsllgirls Says:

    Reblogged this on DDSLL Girls.

  3. Great post! Thanks for including my bow tie.

  4. Lily Says:

    This is such a fantastic tutorial! I’m excited to try some 20’s looks for spring.

    Thanks for including my dress! I love seeing what other people can envision for clothing.

  5. I need help finding a dress to wear, one Alice inspired.. opposed to the costume.
    Budget anywhere under $150, preferably lower.
    Like light blue or dark blue?

    We’re going all out.. building a platform tunnel entrance with a huge 12 foot door, that as you walk in the ceiling starts getting lower until you have to be crouching down.

    *DJ, dance floor
    *Food= finger sandwiches, “eat me” cookies, hanging teacups, “drink me” soda cans/water
    *Card house decorations, inflatable mushrooms
    *Fog machine, strobe lights, black lights
    *Throne room for presents

    Still looking for costumes for my parents.. maybe king/queen or my dad could be the mad hatter?

    Any ideas, throw them at me! Thanks so much (:
    Oh and looking for a design of a cake! Like a fondant cake, maybe 3 layers…? BRIIIIIGGGHT COLORS!

    • Liz Says:

      Is your party for a child, teen, or an adult? For a more traditional Alice Costume, pinfores (those frilly aprons) are iconic. From the sound of it, you will be wanting something more flashy than that. The key to an Alice costume has become the blue dress paired with blond hair. The Tim Burton version shows how you can take any light blue dress and turn it into an Alice dress. Full skirts, short skirts, anything goes! For a more Victorian-inspired look, there are light blue corset tops you can wear with a petticoat and skirt, short or long. Check out Google images or DeviantArt for inspiration. It’s not a party without the Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter. Wacky hats and wicked, glittery hearts are super fun! For favors, you could pick up some plastic toy teacups and fill them with treats.

  6. […] Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition at the Pragmatic Costumer. A quick overview of ladies’ fashions of the time with tips for faking it on the cheap. […]

  7. Dianne Says:

    Yes, this was very helpful! Thank you!

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