Archives For Edwardian

Branson: “Why do the rituals, the clothes, and the customs matter so much?” 

The Dowager Countess:Because without them we would be like the wild men of Borneo.”

Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, had a brief reign from 1901 to 1910, but it was a decade marked by peace and prosperity at the height of the British Empire. The Edwardian period was indeed a “Gilded Age,” both in England and America. Yet social relationships were strictly defined, and interactions among and between the classes were governed by a series of complex and rigid rules—what we would call “manners”. The etiquette of the Edwardian era was second nature to the people who lived during this period, but to us it’s the fascinating behavior of a unique cultural moment.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

Edwardians never, for example, shook hands. Women never removed their gloves in public. Men removed their hats in the presence of a superior, but not for a member of the lower classes. An Edwardian hostess carefully predetermined every aspect of a dinner party—not only the menu and seating arrangements, but even topics of conversation during the meal.

Alastair Bruce with actor Hugh Bonneville on the set of Downton Abbey.

Alastair Bruce with actor Hugh Bonneville on the set of Downton Abbey.

These are just a few of the kinds of details Alastair Bruce, historical advisor to Downton Abbey® (as well as films such as The King’s Speech and The Young Victoria), has to remember as he works with actors. It’s his job to ensure they mind their Edwardian manners perfectly, from ramrod-straight posture to perfectly starched collars.

Through the lens of Bruce’s work on Downton Abbey, as seen in the PBS documentary The Manners of Downton Abbey, let’s take a look at Edwardian etiquette and how it reigned in every corner of daily life.

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Servants & Masters

The servants of Downton. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

The servants of Downton. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

“You are a footman, and a footman wears gloves,” says Mr. Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey, in a tone that brooks no argument. The footmen were like the peacocks of an Edwardian country house, impressive to look at and always on display, whether greeting guests at the doorstep or serving them in the dining room. Nearly always well-dressed young men, the footmen represented crisp formality and quiet grandeur on behalf of the entire estate. A tall or particularly good-looking footman would even earn a higher salary than the other members of the household staff.

However necessary the footmen and other servants may have been, they were never, however, thanked. Notice how the Crawleys and their aristocratic peers never say, “Oh, thank you!” to the servants when they bring a cup of tea, lace up a corset, or open a door? This isn’t ungratefulness, however, but simply a matter of practicality, explains Alastair Bruce in The Manners of Downton Abbey. The servants did everything for their masters, and if thanks were given, it would be necessary to say them at least sixty times a day. That would be, as the English say, tiresome.

Etiquette wasn’t just reserved for the relationship between servant and master. A unique set of rules also governed a hierarchy within the servant class itself. The butler and housekeeper were at the head of this group in terms of dignity, authority and earnings. Then came the cook, valets, ladies’ maids, and footmen; last of all were the parlor maids, laundry maids, kitchen maids, dishwashers, and stable grooms. Even among one group of servants you would have minor differences. The first footman served the meat, for example, the choicest course; while the second footman served a minor sauce or side. The under cook was considered an apprentice to the chef, while the kitchen maids were only assistants. The order in which servants sat at their own downstairs dining room table reflected this microcosm of the class system.

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Socializing

An afternoon tea outdoors, image via Code of the Gentleman.

An afternoon tea outdoors, image via Code of the Gentleman.

All social interactions, formal or informal, were occasions that required a complex set of rules to govern behavior. Take a look at this list taken from instructions for giving a formal afternoon tea in 1904—it just scratches the surface of expectations and norms for this period.

 

  • Cards must be issued as invitations three weeks in advance.
  • Men should wear a long frock coat with single or double-breasted waistcoat to match; gray trousers; white linen; light tie; silk hat; gray gloves; patent leather shoes.
  • Awnings and carpet should be provided from curb to house.
  • A footman must meet guests as they arrive at the curb to open their carriage doors, and another should open the front door “the moment a guest appears at the top step.”
  • Guests should leave their cards in the tray in the hall before entering the drawing room. The butler then announces them as they enter. Those who cannot attend should send their cards by mail or messenger to the hostess, timed to arrive during the afternoon tea.
  • On entering, women precede the men.
  • The hostess should be just within the drawing room door to receive the guests. If she has daughters who have come out in society, they should receive the guests, then mingle with them “to help to make the function a success.”
  • The hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. Guests should not come at the opening hour, nor stay until the last moment.

 

Even in casual or unplanned moments, including with friends and family, it was important to keep oneself under control. The British are famously described as having a “stiff upper lip,” showing no inappropriate bursts of affection or anger. Alastair Bruce coaches the actors of Downton Abbey, especially those who play characters who most want to uphold the traditional way of life (including Lady Mary, her grandmother the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and the butler Mr. Carson), never to slip on this point. They can’t pat someone’s shoulder, offer a hug, clink glasses, or even say “I love you,” no matter how natural it would seem. Controlled politeness must govern their every word and expression. As William Ernest Henley put it in his classic Victorian poem, “Invictus,” “I am the captain of my soul.”

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Courtship and Chaperons

Lady Edith dines alone with a married man. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith dines alone with a married man. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith commits a bold indiscretion when she dines unchaperoned with (married!) magazine editor Michael Gregson in Season 4 of Downton Abbey. She’s defying some of the most stringent rules of all, those which governed the interactions between men and women. The American queen of etiquette, Emily Post, declared in 1922, “Absolutely no lady (unless middle-aged—and even then she would be defying convention) can go to dinner or supper in a restaurant alone with a gentleman.”

“As a matter of fact,” Post writes, “the only young girl who is really ‘free,’ is she whose chaperon is never very far away…but a young girl who is unprotected by a chaperon is in the position precisely of an unarmed traveler walking alone among wolves—his only defense is in his not attracting their notice.” Young single women could also not receive male guests in her own home, dine out, go to the theatre, go motoring for a significant distance, or go to a party without a chaperon present.

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Debutantes

Lady Rose performs a curtsey for her presentation at the Royal Court. Downton Abbey®, 2013. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Rose performs a curtsey for her presentation at the Royal Court. Downton Abbey®, 2013. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Debutantes being presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Debutantes being presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

 

Young women were introduced to society in their mid- to late-teens, after completing their education and being deemed ready for marriage. The aristocratic debutantes would apply to appear in a royal court presentation as her official entrance into society. Wearing a white dress with a three-yard train and adorned with the required three feathers, the young woman carried a bouquet and curtsied before Alexandria, Edward VII’s queen. (Just as Lady Rose was presented to Queen Mary and King George V, Edward’s son and successor, in the 2013 Christmas special of Downton Abbey.)

After her debutante event, the young lady would attend “the season,” a round of London mansion parties beginning after Christmas and ending in mid-summer. These affairs, with their abundance of married chaperons, provided appropriate places for men and women to meet one another without causing scandal. After the Edwardian period, the significance of the debutante season waned, and austerity forced many wealthy families to relinquish their ‘town’ homes in the big city.

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Love & Marriage

Lady Mary between two suitors, one newly wealthy in business, the other inheritor of the Downton land and estate. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary between two suitors, one newly wealthy in business, the other inheritor of the Downton land and estate. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary marries Matthew, inheritor to the Downton fortunes. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary marries Matthew, inheritor to the Downton fortunes. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

 

Formal hairstyle inspiration from the Edwardian era.

Formal hairstyle inspiration from the Edwardian era.

 

A wedding reception in 1905.

A wedding reception in 1905.

 

For well-heeled Edwardians, marriage was a practical arrangement. Rather than love, the reason for marriage often had to do with the acquisition or preservation of land. Land was the lifeblood of aristocratic wealth and secured one’s high station in society. For the same reasons, marriage may also be a pairing of two important families. The character Richard Carlisle in the first season of Downton Abbey was wealthy, but he had made his money as a newspaperman. While the penniless Lord Gillingham—who comes from a well-established bloodline—would be viewed as a more appropriate match for Lady Mary Crawley in Season 5. Whether for practicalities or love, marriage was eagerly awaited by young women; it represented their only chance for independence and a home of their own.

Courtship was not, however, permitted among the servants. Even the architecture made sure of it, as there were no rooms for a couple to live in and work in the same house together. To marry, a woman had to leave domestic service, a kind of forced independence that set her to work on her own household.

 

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When the First World War broke out, marks of the lavish Edwardian period began to fade. With shocking speed, the old traditions—and traditional manners with them—became things of the past. Although interactions in England had been governed by these rules for centuries, the total social upheavals caused by war and industrialization wiped them away. As country houses in England fell into financial straits and were demolished or abandoned, the old, formal ways of life they represented were replaced by modern norms determined by a new and daring generation.

 

 

 

Resources
Edwardian Promenade, “The Court Presentation,” by Evangeline Holland, December 7, 2007. http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/etiquette/the-court-presentation/
Green, Walter Cox. A Dictionary of Polite Etiquette: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions. Brentano’s, New York: 1904.
PBS, The Manners of Downton Abbey documentary
PBS, “Manor House” www.pbs.org/manorhouse/
Emily Post, Etiquette, 1922. Chapter XIX. “The Chaperon and Other Conventions.” http://www.bartleby.com/95/19.html
Treble, Patricia. “Downton Abbey’s Master of Edwardian Manners,” Maclean’s, December 31, 2014. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/television/downton-abbeys-master-of-edwardian-manners/
Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale: The hierarchy of British domestic servants in a large manor in 1890 and their wages. http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm

When you see the fashions on display in Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, you step into a broader cultural tale about the vast changes sweeping the world in the first decades of the 20th century.

Everything that once seemed permanent began to change. Corsets started disappearing from women’s wardrobes. The indomitable aristocratic elite began struggling to make ends meet. A younger generation redefined everything from good manners to falling in love. This tension between the traditional and the new forms the crux of the drama of Downton Abbey®, as seen through the lives of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their daughters, and their domestic servants. And the greatest share of the changes took place in the lives of women. From going out with men unchaperoned to trying out cigarettes, women took for themselves a greater share in the public sphere.

Let’s go back to that tumultuous time and explore a few of the cultural phenomena of the 1910s and 20s. Here’s what everyone was talking about, both in England, the world of Downton Abbey, and here at home in Chicago.

 

Loosen That Corset!

In the early 20th century, women’s fashion was perhaps the biggest sign that things were changing. Bodices relaxed, waists dropped, and hems rose. Clothes became looser, freer, and less restrained with every passing year, and paralleled the increasing freedom women had in society. In the exhibition, you’ll see how the dresses of Downton Abbey’s younger generation (especially Lady Sibyl, Lady Edith and Lady Rose) reflected these changing times, while women like the Dowager Countess adhered firmly to tradition.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the 'old guard' in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the ‘old guard’ in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey‘s Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey’s Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

For more on the latest fashions, take a look at a blog post from our last exhibition about the harmony of artistic clothing and jewelry in the early 20th century.  

Working Women

It was Lady Edith who dared to begin work outside the home in Season 3 of Downton Abbey. It’s 1920, and she takes a job as a newspaper columnist. It scandalizes her elders, who expected her to marry a well-heeled man and make her home her domain. In their eyes, her role should have been as a high society hostess, with entertaining and domestic servants her most important callings.

While women of the lower classes worked in factories or in large country houses like Downton during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a new phenomenon was the necessity or desire of a woman of the middle and upper classes to work.

Firstly, the war years demanded practicality. In America, England, and the Continent, women went to work because they were needed there while men fought on the front lines. And when the war was over, recession meant that many of them wanted to stay and continue earning with newfound technical skills.

Work was also then, as today, one of the central battlegrounds for another type of war—one for women’s equal rights. Lady Edith represents a new wave of women who wanted to work beyond the domestic spheres previously reserved for them, whether to exercise creativity, earn better money independently of their husbands or fathers, or contribute to the public good of society.

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Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire.

Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Meet Me at the Movies

English photographer Edward Muybridge's studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

English photographer Edward Muybridge’s studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

The first famous moving image was captured by British-American scientist Edward Muybridge in the 1870s. He set up cameras along a racetrack and put together second-by-second snapshots of a galloping horse. But a movie would need many more pictures than Muybridge took, and a handful of ingenious inventors around the world made real “cinématographe” possible in the late 19th century.

At first England and France led the world in early filmmaking. The French magician Georges Méliès famously made the leap from early documentary-style shorts to narrative filmmaking, and enjoyed enormous popularity with the film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902.

Back in the US, Edwin Porter’s twelve-minute film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), was the industry’s first big blockbuster. It ushered in the silent film era, as investors began confidently building movie theaters for this new American pastime. Silent film showings often featured live music just as theatrical plays would have, while the narrative was expressed through mime or notecards.

As the European countries were strained by impending war, America took first place in the film industry. Chicago was filled with avid moviegoers from the start. The first issue of Chicago-based magazine The Show in 1907 proclaimed this city as a world leader in moving picture rental and patronage, and Chicago possibly had more movie theaters per capita than any other US city. The 1910s and 20s saw the construction of gorgeous “movie palaces,” such as The Chicago Theatre, the Oriental, and the Uptown, some of which are still preserved today.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ's Curious City.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago, which opened in 1925 advertising “An Acre of Seats in a Magic City.” Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ Curious City.

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Some of the most famous films from the era are Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Birth of a Nation, and The General. The era’s stars, from Charlie Chaplin to Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, and Buster Keaton, are still remembered.

“Lucky” Girls

While smoking cigars or cigarettes was acceptable for men before the early 20th century, a woman smoking was a severe faux pas. A 1901 article in The New York Times warned that the habit among women was “a menace in this country.” It was a social rule so powerful it even leaked into law. One New York policeman, spying a woman smoking in a car in 1904, pulled the automobile over and ordered her to put the cigarette out. The gender division was even built into Victorian architecture, with a separate smoking room for men to enjoy their recreational activity together while women retreated to the drawing room or parlor.

But in the early 20th century, along with increased educational opportunities and the suffrage movement, modern women started crossing that divide. Some embraced smoking as a symbol of freedom—a freedom to enjoy men’s freedoms. A march in New York in 1929, an event in which the American Tobacco Company participated through the early public relations genius Edward Bernays, saw women marching for equality with cigarettes in hand. “Group of Girls Puff Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’,” the headline read.

Advertisers started targeting this untapped market. Lucky Strikes featured glamorous illustrations of Miss America, or encouraged women to keep slim by reaching “for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.”

Advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

A 1929 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, declaring it is now socially acceptable for women to smoke.

All That Jazz

In Season Four of Downton Abbey, rebellious Lady Rose falls for the jazz entertainer Jack Ross. His character is based on a number of jazz stars whose careers took them on a tour of Europe, such as Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson or Will Marion Cook. With its emphasis on spontaneous forms, jazz was the perfect antidote for the stuffy, formal life so many young people were trying to shed.

Jack Ross, a jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey.

Jack Ross, a debonair jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Resources
Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece. 
Elliot, Rosemary Elizabeth. “‘Destructive but sweet’: cigarette smoking among women 1890­-1990,” University of Glasgow, October 2001. 
Film,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago.
History of the Motion Picture,” Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Hudson, Pat. “Women’s Work,” BBC, March 29, 2011. 
Lee, Jennifer. “Big Tobacco’s Spin on Women’s Liberation,” October 10, 2008. 
Myers, Marc. Why Jazz Happened, University of California Press, 2013.
Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, “Tobacco Advertising Themes: Targeting Women” 
Striking Women, “Women and Work: The Interwar Years, 1918-1939.”