Friday, April 10, 2009

The Edwardian Lady

'An Edwardian lady in full dress was a wonder to behold, and her preparations for viewing were awesome. Silk stockings, carefully smoothed, went on first. Then she would rise in her chemise while her lady's maid fitted the long stays of pink coutil, heavily boned, around her hips, fastening the busk down the front, anchoring the garters to the stockings and tightening the silk lacings. Pads of pink satin would be affixed on the hips and under the arms, to stress the narrow waist. Drawers came next, after which the maid would spread the petticoat in a ring on the floor, and the lady, now wearing high-heeled shoes, would step into it. Buttons would be buttoned, tapes tied; then she would dive into a massive gown of taffeta and tulle and stand rigid while the maid laced up the bodice. Jewels went on last: rubies at the waist, dog collars of rubies and diamonds around the neck, and a tiara on top. As she sailed forth from her boudoir, you'd never have guessed how quickly she could strip for action.'

Assignations depended on circumstances. Vita Sackville West explains in The Edwardians: "The code was rigid. Within the closed circle of their own set, anybody might do as they pleased, but no scandal must leak out to the uninitiated. Appearances must be respected, though morals might be neglected." The King's mistresses had an easy time of it. No one would question a royal command, and few husbands, even in the aristocracy, were prepared to challenge His Majesty's droit di seigneur. Indeed, some women wore, pinned to their blouses, the little watches he gave them, bearing a true lover's knot of mauve enamel ribbon, and, on the back, the crown and the interlaced E.R.VII. 'Of course I don't like it', they would say,' but its a good little timekeeper, and so I wear it.' Actually, HM's watches gained, on the average, about an hour a day."

-William Manchester-


  1. in "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874-1932.

    Churchill was an inept suitor- 'he knew none of the delicate moves that could lead to intimacy ; for example, 'peering down Pennsyvlvania Avenue', as it was called- discreetly glancing down a girl's decolletage to admire her breasts. Outside his immediate family he was never really comfortable with women. One explanation may lie in his mother's affairs. He knew of her relationship with the King, which appears to have resumed after his coronation.

    'He became the kind of chauvinist feminists loved to hate.'

    All of which is included here by special request.

  2. "My predicament was intensified by the necessity of making a show of dressing up for the occasion and dressing up inevitably meant taking off the comfortable bundles I had piled on at random; tearing on invisibly sheer stockings over purple bulging legs, with all the maddening suspender harness deliberately catching into the cavorting frills; tugging frenetically at too tight waitbands that stubbornly refused to meet; jerking at jammed zips, shuddering unto icicle silk blouses and the final trapeze act of balancing
    this 'squozen', semi-naked erection of finery on those perilous, top heavy, crazily cramping, clicking pin heels...'

    Caitlin Thomas "Leftover Life To Kill, 1957.

    Wife of Dylan Thomas who was apparently caught between the edwardian expectations of her mother and naughty, semi-bohemian father. The poet's father was a case as well, she related:

    'no blue-blooded gentleman could have been as gentlemanly.. having to keep the most trussed-in, belted, camouflaged and gloved system of appearances and imparting to his son a very strong puritanical streak his friends never suspected but of which I got the disapproving benefit.'

    The serious student of culture will want to make a more careful distinction between "puritan" (working class & American) and "edwardian" ( aristocratic) streaks. Caitlin Thomas's life perhaps being a good example of the condundrums that arise.

    I don't know where 'squozen' comes from. Perghaps a mere error in transcription but it might be a neologism based on "squeezed".