Easy Edwardian: Thrifted Turn of the 20th Century Costume for under $10

July 29, 2014

Practicing What You Preach

Eons and eons ago, I wrote “Costuming on a Budget: Edwardian Edition,” a post about how to put together an Edwardian outfit using existing garments like 1970s maxi dresses and blouses. It’s one of the most popular posts on my blog, so I thought I’d revisit the concept and show an example.

Vintage from the late 1900s is a boon for cash-strapped costumers everywhere looking to costume the early 1900s! I’m a HUGE fan of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s as sources for clothing and costumes. Garments from those eras are usually made of synthetic materials, specifically polyester, which works well from a costumer’s standpoint. It’s not always the best texture or particularly comfortable, but it can mimic nearly every type of fabric weave and finish you can imagine cheaply. Its also fairly colorfast, easy to care for, and best of all, mass-produced, so there’s a wide variety to choose from.

Late 1970s and 1980s clothing is especially wonderful because of the diverse fashion trends (from hippies to disco to power suits) and resurgence of long-ignored historical shapes (ah, balloon sleeves!). It’s usually pretty easy to find 80s stuff among the crowded racks at local thrift stores. I am addicted to thrifting old secretary blouses! They are infinitely useful for 1890 to modern day costuming. You can be anything from a Titanic passenger to a 1930s reporter and beyond with a good secretary blouse!


One of my favorite 1980s blouses done up Edwardian working-class style.

Recently, I discovered another wonderful costuming source in my local charity shop. Finding blouses is simple. Finding suitable skirts, however, can be a challenge, especially for the 1890s-1910. Full, ankle-to-floor length skirts haven’t been in style for over 100 years…except in formal wear. While browsing the dresses rack, I discovered the joy of two-piece prom, bridesmaid, and mother-of-the-bride dresses. Two piece prom dresses were more of a 1990s and 2000s thing and most current formals are gauzy one-pieces. What’s considered old-fashioned, though, shows up in thrift stores in droves.

This is a lovely Watters mother-of-the-bride gown, in case you are curious.

The perfect skirt is a full-length, a-line, with fitted hips and full hem in a satin fabric that isn’t overtly shiny. With that list of must-haves, finding the perfect skirt would seem nigh impossible, but lo and behold I came across a lonely formal skirt that perfectly fit that description!


Now, add in one of my (many) secretary blouses, and voilà, a middle-class Edwardian lady’s outfit!


Marion the Librarian!


I always end up looking so shrewd in all my photos…


The blouse and skirt are both polyester, but they look pretty nice, even close up. I can also wad them up and stash them without them getting too wrinkly!


To get the skirt to fit around my corseted waist, I had to take it in. Not wanting to dismantle the whole thing or disturb the lovely invisible zipper, I just folded under an inch on each side of the closure to create a fat box pleat. Then a tacked it down by hand (it was too thick for the machine). If you find a skirt in your size, this project is completely no-sew!


Easy Edwardian Overview

1980s secretary blouse – $4.19, Goodwill
1990s formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill

Total: $9.68


This photo also reveals the extent of my expansive professional photo studio, complete with  fuzzy cat toy!

Under everything, I wore my underbust corset, a sports bra, a nude stretchy top (the blouse is quite sheer), my multi-tasking t-strap shoes, and a petticoat I made from a sheet for my 1890s dresses. While this look can be achieved easily without a corset and petticoats, wearing both instantly improves the look. I could further enhance my looks with a hat and gloves for outdoor wear. I’d like a nice, long strand of coral beads for a necklace to compliment the skirt. However, how plain or complex you want your look to be is up to you and your means!

8 Responses to “Easy Edwardian: Thrifted Turn of the 20th Century Costume for under $10”

  1. moi sanom Says:

    That is the exact reason why I happen to look turn of the century most times, since it is so easy to get the looks without original clothing. And also because simple turn of the century cotton or wool clothing is actually not that difficult to find and relatively cheap!

  2. cynthia altoriso Says:

    You are Sooo talented.

    Well done !!


  3. Great post! Very useful info; and clever – I never thought of looking at prom skirts! : D

  4. i just love your postings…..sooooooooo creative and inspiring. Your Edwardian working woman’s outfit is perfect. Thanks for sharing

  5. Ysabel Says:

    Clever! You could probably also dye some of the more obnoxiously colored satin skirts.

  6. Adrianne Gentile Says:

    So much fun to experiment, hunt in your closet or Savers, and find the right look. You always look AMAZING!

  7. Anita Says:

    Thus makes so much sense! I had been racking my brain and could only come up with elaborate, costly ideas, thank you so much for this! And you look great!

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