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Explore the Fashions of Titanic’s Passengers

If the fashions and culture of the late Edwardian period and the tragic sinking of the luxury oceanliner Titanic in 1912 fascinate you, a lecture by Los Angeles’s FIDM Museum & Galleries may be right up your alley.

“AdDRESSING Titanic: Appearance and Identity in 1912” will be held on the 100-year anniversary of Titanic’s sinking-April 14-at the FIDM Orange County campus in Irvine, California, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. FIDM Museum curator Kevin Jones will give an illustrated lecture comparing and contrasting the sartorial identities of Titanic’s four passenger categories: First Class, Second Class, Steerage, and Crew. Highlights of circa 1912 fashions from the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection (which FIDM Museum is currently raising funds to acquire) will provide visual accompaniment. The lecture will be preceded by a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres. Event tickets are $100 and must be purchased by April 1 via the FIDM Museum Shop.

2012 is the centennial of Titanic’s sinking, which happened on April 14-15, 1912, and special events in remembrance of it will be held throughout the year.

Fashion tells us so much about how people live, from the broader aspects of their lives, such as economic status, nationality, and social class, to the more minute details of their personalities, professions, character, and aesthetic preferences. The fashions of an era also tell us about the culture itself; its society, politics, technological advancements, concepts of beauty, and expectations for the future. It’s no wonder that many of us look back at the early 1900s and the time of the Titanic (or any other era) and become entranced by the glorious fashions, or fascinated by the minutiae of the social structures in place and how they dictated the directions and possibilities of people’s lives. Many people involved in historical costuming, interpretation, or re-enactment aren’t only captivated by the garments worn during a particular era-they’re just as interested in the culture and history of the period.

Titanic, carrying people from a broad spectrum of society (cultural as well as economic), became a time capsule of sorts. Exploring the clothing worn by contemporaries of its passengers and crew offers more than a superficial glimpse at social class. It gives us the chance to explore the lives of the people who might have worn the clothes.

Do you view fashion as a key element of history and culture? What do you learn from sewing or examining garments from other eras? Will you be attending commemorative events for Titanic’s centennial?


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  1. jacigh | | #1

    What an opportunity to see this style of clothing! but $100 per ticket? How I wish there were some discounts :-(

  2. User avater
    shocreations | | #2

    Awww...I love this period too. Such beautiful and opulent era. I know, as in every society and age, that there are differences in classes. However, I feel there was a fashion in both classes and like them both.

  3. JoFray | | #3

    It wold be fun to see a discussion of the fashions (including an examination of the differences among the classes) shown in the PBS drama Downton Abby.
    They are magnificent.

    Since Downton Abby begins with a telegram announcing the sinking of the
    Titanic, the timing is very apt.

    The costumes in the show are magnificent. There is even some discussion about the evolution of men's clothing during the period.

  4. User avater
    decorchick | | #4

    I clearly remember during my high school years in the early seventies noticing the social attitudes associated with radically changing fashions. Bell bottom pants, nehru collars, mini skirts and bikinis were all considered outrageous by the conservative adult generation. I observed how social attitudes were influenced by changing fashions and thought it was so interesting that the flare of a pant leg or the shape of a neckline could evoke intense anger and resistance or for my generation, a feeling of freedom and liberation. At 15 I got the psychological connection between fashion and societal direction. Now I'm just glad that I don't have to choose between high waisted jeans or hip huggers. I'm totally digging the low rise! Peace...

  5. User avater
    Mrs4Him | | #5

    I strongly believe that fashion is a key ingredient in knowing and learning about our past. It reflects the morals of its time, trends, fads, etc. The more I learn about the history by looking at the fashions of yesterday, the more I can identify the era via a movie or publication just by looking at the clothes--let alone the hair styles which are also key points of evidence. Now, when my family watches a period movie, I can tell them more about it and why women, especially wore what they wore. Fashion is definitely a key component into the history of the whole world.

  6. Cherlyn | | #6

    What does fashion say today? The kids want everything to hang out. They don't seem to care. I loved the Edwardian period and often felt I was born too late. For a brief period in the 1990's I was able to purchase Ralph Lauren patterns through Vogue and make clothes that satisfied my love for the lace and the pintucks. Longer skirts still appeal to me today. Fashion tends to go in cycles though; but the reflection of a period such as the 1990's twist on Edwardian clothing had the slimmer sleeves instead of the leg of lamb sleeve.

    When my youngest daughter was a toddler, I purchased some patterns from Past Patterns for children. I learn that the sleeves were set in differently and the skirts on the dresses were very full. The patterns came with very little instructions so you had to be an experienced seamstress to know how to construct the garments. It was fun to have her pictures made in these period clothes.

    In college, I studied the Titanic sinking in one of my science classes. After the wreckage was discovered and museums were having special displays set up with the relecs found, I made several trips to see these relecs. I was amazed to learn so much more from the items found and the people that lost their life that horrific night. Every display was different, but the names and their stories never changed.

  7. FranGrimble | | #7

    If only I lived in Los Angeles instead of San Francisco!

  8. FranGrimble | | #8

    Cherlyn, I remember the 1980s with great fondness. I wore Ralph Lauren styles with original Edwardian blouses, petticoats, and drawers. I wore reproduction button shoes and big Edwardian hats. I got to wear all this to work every day (as a senior editor for a book publisher) and it was high style, not offbeat. Now I have to be content with being "boho."

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