There’s no doubt that fashion is big business and that every era has had its superstar fashion designers who made their mark with some iconic creations which eventually filtered down to high street shops. Twentieth century designers are often credited with creating their own distinctive style; Mary Quant, Norman Hartnell and Vivienne Westwood to name but a few.
The first real fashion revolution took place after the death of Queen Victoria and Edwardian ladies were all too keen to embrace the revolutionary new styles. Victoria’s son, Edward, paid much attention to developing his lavish lifestyle including romantic relations with famous actresses of the day such as Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt. The British Royal Family became fashion trendsetters, promoting an elite culture which was very much looked up to by the wealthy middle-class women of the day.
Heaton Moor of course, had its fair share of ladies from this stratum of society as, with the coming of the railway, it developed into a highly popular residential suburb for wealthy businessmen and their families. Between the 1890’s and 1914, women’s fashion took on a new opulence and extravagance, inspired by the King’s hedonistic lifestyle, and was termed La Belle Époque (the Beautiful Era). It was not only a great period of fashion innovation but also of writing, inspiring people like J M Barrie, Kenneth Graham, Beatrix Potter and H G Wells, and music too, with the emergence of Edward Elgar, Henry Wood and Gustav Holst.
The innovative fashion designs at this time revolved around the ‘S’ curve, when corsets created an S-shaped female silhouette, with the hips forced back and the bust forward; a significant change from the classic Victorian hourglass figure.
Pictures from the time certainly contain their fair share of local ladies stepping out along Heaton Moor Road in their new elegance. Their wealth is indicated by the style and quality of their garments and their accessories; Heaton Moor was a wealthy place and trendsetting a very important part of the Edwardian Lady’s fashion statement.
They would undoubtedly have aspired to the characteristics of The Gibson Girl, a popular fictitious fashion icon of the time, portrayed in the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson, (the American graphic artist), and based on drawings of his beautiful wife Irene Langhorne, and her four, equally beautiful sisters.
The Gibson Girl was shown as youthful, strong, fun-loving, yet sophisticated. She was tall and slender with a long neck, ample bust and hips, and a small waist. Her upswept, bouffant hairdo became all the rage and inspired middle class women everywhere. She was smart, independent, charming, intelligent but never political or interested in social causes. The Gibson Girl became a merchandising sensation with her face and form appearing on trays, prints, pillow cases, souvenirs and ashtrays.
The look was a revelation and made a serious statement to the world about one’s wealth, place in society and social aspirations. Of course it can be argued that what we wear today makes similar statements about our own persona and how we want to be viewed by the World. However, next time you’re promenading down Heaton Moor Road showing off your finest new outfits from Moo Boutique, Eternal Envy or even ‘charity shop chic’, remember you are walking in the footsteps of our own fashion pioneers; those elegant Heatons’ ladies from over 100 years ago.