Bailey Phillips, 1902 Secretary Design Development

This is a simple project.  Basically we are reproducing the suit of the working woman – like the photos.  Easily the very crux of Edwardian fashion, it will consist of skirt, Edwardian blousewaist with tie, silhouette created by the “S Monobosum” corset, sporting hat, authentic or period boots, and accessories typical of a lower middle class daughter living as a single woman.

This means the ensemble would have been easy to put on without help – then as in now – very durable, washable, cheap, mass produced, and could be worn with layers such as a jacket or outer wrap or coat.  There would be minimal fuss in number of petticoats, stockings, gloves, or the sort of thing women of earlier history just had to have.  Function would be key, but fitting in with men in the workplace would be paramount – so fashion would be desired by this character, especially if she was upwardly mobile, or trying to move into politics, which was entirely feasible for women of the day.

The ensemble needs to be age appropriate and correct for an office job.  She needs to be able to move around in snow or rain easily, and get on and off public transportation.  This slims the fashion of the day way down to the very basics – which again is why this is a quick and simple design.

There are many patterns available from extant garments of the Edwardian era.  These all have the stock collar, bloused waist, gathered neckline, slightly full sleeve with cuff, and many variations on fabric and fabric texture.  While the Edwardians had a lot of lace, the working woman and lower classes did not.

This ensemble will be very basic and function, easy to dress, easy to maintain, very strong, and very quick to build using actual patterns (at last!) instead of creating our own – the advantage to 1902 is that there WERE patterns, but they hadn’t become so odd as the 1909 and forward ones were which had a lot of overdraping and boning.

The Edwardian blousewaist and skirt is specific and fashionable, but it is also rather simple.  We will use these patterns plus others in stock to develop our own versions using our design sketches.


Commercial Patterns:

After Research, Selected Materials:

Select Key Photos & Images Consistent with Character

Those extant garments and images which grabbed us that we might want to build, as we begin the design process after understanding the era, high fashion, working fashion, and western fashion as described above. We can use these to build from:

Fabrics & Notions

Based on Key images above, these elements and materials can be used to create any of them, keeping in mind that the 1870-80’s had similar suits, but that the skirts and jackets were light greys, tans, greens.. while the 1902 version had dark brown, gray, black, blue, burgundy, or teal typically. It’s hard to tell that from photos. Fabrics were cotton twill, and largely draping wools. They wore only foundation skirts and not much of a petticoat. The gores changed seasonally through the early 1900’s. The shorter skirt is typical of lower classes, and were a bit towards 1905 when skirts either went long with a train or short.

We are selecting something in between, the sweeper train, as a matter of personal preference, which would mean she would commute to work, and not walk most likely. This means she might ride in a “commuter coach” such as this one shown from New York City. This reinforces our idea that she would live with a family a bit in what would become suburbs, and might ride into work with the man of the house or a son.

New York City commuter coach as this character might take into town
In stock period jewelry includes a lovely cameo locket in gold and a working mechanical pencil
Fabric selections for a dark skirt include shades of gray/blue
Trim for a boater hat can be anything in the world! We choose baby blue or black depending on the skirt and necktie design
And alternate and historically correct color scheme might include burgundy and black ties and skirt fabric. We have a lovely linen in stock
Trim color of the hat might dictate the overall color scheme. These would overlay a plain light gray hat band
Any of these neckties would work – wool, linen, or silk – they were all worn historically. We choose – blue!

Considering contrast, lining, blousewaist, and sash fabrics – cottons in lightweight shirting and velveteen
This cotton shirting stripe on sale is exactly what we’ve seen in the real women photos! We will build around this
We have in stock wonderful buckles from the era. The gray and gold works with jewelry and a gray or burgundy scheme
Sash fabrics in stock will be great with any color scheme. The gold buckles, and particularly the gold and gray buckle will be very nice with a black or gray velveteen sash
These vintage portfolio/messenger bags/briefcases are for sale. They are not from 1902 – it is difficult to find something that old, and not too many women carried anything since they charged everything. Only the working woman, and particularly a character of this type and occupation (writer and secretary/law clerk) would need to carry something like this. This is character specific
We also want the briefcase to coordinate with the ensemble, but not look too contrived – she would have carried the same briefcase not matter what she was wearing, and it would be worn, beat up, and well loved – prized and protected. Therefore an older, beaten leather (because she’s in cattle country of course!) in black or dark brown would work well. Note the term “Brief” case – that was not what was being used, but it certainly does apply to a government secretary’s function
We found a few historical photos – although a bit forward of 1902 showing cases and portfolios. We think we were ahead of the time to carry one of these, as they really only start to show up around 1910 with working women
English working women were depicted carrying these. Since women did not carry cash but charged everything at this time, we can only assume these cases and folders were to carry their work.
More examples as available to purchase for this project. We will not attempt to make one

Design Sketches using material selections and based on extant garments above:

Burgundy scheme with gray striped blousewaist, linen skirt, cotton foundation skirt, and correct undergarments with straw boater hat with coordinating trim which matches the necktie
Blue/gray scheme has more sedate and conservative look with less contrast in detail such as hat band and tie. This seems more consistent with historical models and extant garments

Taking into consideration the history of location, time, place, and the character as developed, we choose from selections above and come up with these concepts.  The blousewaist shown is more 1910-1913, so the final project will be of a somewhat less tailored, and more bloused design although the overall image will be the same.

Post Note

We need to note here the many of the extant samples are actually SPORTS OUTFITS, and not those of working women.  The bowler hat was more typically worn for sports like yachting, golf, tennis, or cycling.  We have made the character assumption that she would be more casual and sporty; younger and jaunty.  The skirt we are building with a train is the variance from the concept, and a nod towards being in an office job, and one that demands adherence to current fashion standards to some degree.  It might be also that she is Mormon, or of a religious order that demands some propriety in skirt length and coverage of appendages.

(Photos of 1902 cycling, golfing, hiking, and bowling are most akin to our design; more so than the working women’s ensembles.  We think it’s the hat and the boots that make all the difference.)

The design therefore catches a “SPIRIT” or a “MOOD” of a young girl going out on her own not only the first time for her – but for women as a whole!  Living, working, and being single – very unique to Wyoming and to this time frame and to the West.  It was very, very daring to do so and to be so, and so you know the family would have built in safeguards such as money control, clothing censor, and checking up on her.  That would be easiest to have her under a family friend or family member’s watch.

The ensemble therefore will be a mix of the new and independent single woman with one who is being watched carefully by employers, coworkers, host family, home family, and pretty much all of society to check up on her.  The more serious and functional the ensemble the better, but we have added fun personality twists (like a baby blue silk tie and a jaunty oceanside hat!), and reference to her work (mechanical pencil) into an otherwise very conservative ensemble.

Continue on to see how all this research leads to final decisions:

Click here to go to Bailey’s Main Page with the Finished Project (next)

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