Reliving Titanic Through Fashion History

detail of dress by Paul Poiret, 1910-11 from The Kyoto Costume Institute

The 1910s are one of my favorite decades of dress. With all the attention on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it seems everywhere I look online there’s been a story featuring what people on the ship or their contemporaries wore.

evening dress by the House of Worth, 1910 | evening dress, 1909-11 both from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And I do admit that I watched Titanic, the 1997 Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio version, yesterday. I am pleased that I didn’t stoop to going to see it in 3D though. I was in 8th grade when the movie was released, and it was a huge deal to almost everyone my age back then. Now it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure movie for me, but I do realize how cliche it was to watch on the very day of the anniversary.

But back to the fashion of the period. The beauty of the clothing from the teens rests in the details and the colors. The way clothing was constructed rapidly changes after the teens. The beautiful tucks and pleats, embroidery and lace, sequins, and other elements just aren’t the same a few decades later. There’s something so quietly beautiful in the delicateness of the fabrics and the styling, especially in the early years of the 1910s.

detail of dress, 1913-15 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The teens were part of a transitional period from restrictive dress to clothing that allowed for a wider range of movement. Women’s suffrage and participation in sports played a large part in the shift, and the tastes of American women impacted what styles designers in Europe produced.

female tennis players, 1910-15, photo from logicstock llc

So it’s not a big surprise to me that people are taking an interest in the clothing of the 1910s on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking. Dress studies is gaining importance as people realize it helps tell new stories about history. By looking at the clothing people wore on the ship, we have a new connection to that moment. And the clothing of this period is so lovely, that it’s hard not to be a bit fascinated by it.


  1. Gorgeous pictures! I have to admit that the 1910s clothing is one of my favorite parts of Downton Abbey as well. I would love to hear your thoughts on the accuracy of some of the costume design in Titanic or DA.

    • jacqueline says:

      I feel in general Downton Abbey gets the nuances and the details more accurately than Titanic. The blousey silhouette is correct, hair and makeup are period appropriate, and they pay more attention to small details.

      Titanic isn’t the worst period costume offender, but the silhouette is a little sleeker than it was in real life. The fabrics are a bit more theatrical — less details, more flash.

      The thing that drives me nuts is the dress that Rose wears in the second half of the movie — that lavender and rose chiffon dress. It’s not appropriate for the time of day. There’s no way she would have put on a dress like that so late into the evening. An evening dress would have had a lot more bead work or sequins. But they put her in something so fluttery because it’s pretty when her and Jack race through the bowels of the ship before the ship hits the iceberg, and then it clings to her and makes her look colder when she racing the rising waters.

  2. It’s pretty upsetting to think of the trunks and trunks and trunks of silks and sequins at the bottom of the ocean. Sigh.

  3. Terri says:

    Believe it or not, I’ve never seen the film “Titanic,” although I’m much older than you. I was so excited to find your blog this morning and plan to read back as far as my reader allows. These photos are gorgeous–especially the skirt on the Worth dress.

  4. Another Emma says:

    Firstly, yay! I am so glad to see this blog up and running! As a fellow costumer and fashion fanatic I am super keen to see what you write about.

    Secondly, I SO agree with you about Rose’s 2nd dress. It is totally wrong. I was always a fan of Kathy Bates’ character, Molly “New Money” Brown. Her gowns are perfect for her character.

    • jacqueline says:

      Yes so true about Molly Brown’s costuming. I think they do well with Rose’s mother too — she dresses a few years behind the times which would be appropriate for an older woman of means.

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