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Last updated:29 dec 2010/csb

Ladies' and Gentlmen's Evening Dress
for the Ragtime Era: 1910-1920

by Katy Bishop and Patri & Barbara Pugliese



Dressing a Lady for a Ragtime Ball
Fashionable gown styles varied from year to year during the 1910's. For consistency's sake, the styles chosen by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers for their performing gowns are those typical for the years 1913 to 1914. When designing a gown to be worn at any of our social balls please don't feel obligated to follow this narrow range; styles from the entire decade are equally appropriate, as are modern gowns which are evocative of the period rather than strict reproductions. We want our ball patrons to come and enjoy the evening, and partake in elaborate costuming if they wish but it is certainly not required.

Evening Gowns of the 1910's
Ladies' evening dress of this era often consist of a high- waisted gown (though the waist placement varys somewhat from high to natural to low waisted styles throughout the decade), usually in soft fabric such as chiffon or lightweight satin, often ornamented with elaborate lace, silk brocades or beadwork and draped asymmetrically. The long skirt should have enough fullness for dancing.

Skirts often would be made in many layers with elaborately draped overskirts in lightweight materials in various types of silk or lace. Skirts are usually draped in such a way that the rather full skirt falls in a fairly narrow silhouette but because of the nature of the draping great freedom of movement is possible. Colors can be pastels or jewel tones, with contrasting, striking color combinations as well as subtle tone on tone combinations.

The illustrations here are arranged chronologically, and show the evolution of styles throughout the decade. from 1912 to 1919.

1912 1912 1914 1914
1915 1916 1916
1919 1919 1919

Full length white gloves would complete the outfit splendidly. Shoes in a color to match or compliment the gown, with a medium height heel of 1-2 inches, such as Capezio character shoes are comfortable for Ragtime dancing. Hair should be worn up and was usually dressed with decorative headbands, ornaments, or feathers.

While travelling to the Ball one might wish to wear a cocoon coat or fanciful evening wrap. A few examples are shown here. One from 1914 in red drapey silk, another, from 1919, in pink patterned brocade has white fur or velvet trim, behind it are a red satin cloak with black fur trim and a royal blue cape with brown fur trim. Capes in rich satins, brocade or velvet are also an easy and luxurious alternative.

An old evening dress from your closet or local thrift store may well capture the spirit of the dresses of this period - if not as they stand, then perhaps with a small amount of modification such as adding a draped outer skirt.

Past Patterns has several reproduction patterns (for the experienced seamstress) in their Vintage Revivals pattern line, some are day dress patterns but with shortened sleeves or more open necklines they can easily be converted to evening styles. Some of the most useful include: skirt patterns #7035, #5328, #7947, #8390 (with the addition of a long underskirt) and #5462, tea gown #8109, dresses #8211, #9115 and #6053, and overskirts #9122. Combination #4574 or princess slip #9206 are great to wear under your corset. For a wrap there is pattern #7244.

Laughing Moon mercantile has a ca. 1910 evening dress pattern, #104. Sense and Sensibility has 1910s Tea Gown pattern. Folkwear Pattern has an Afternoon Tea Dress Pattern (though the skirt is not draped to allow ease of movement and is too narrow for dancing) Simplicity, Butterick and Vogue Patterns also often have period style patterns, though we cannot vouch for their accuracy. Most of these would benefit from theuse of natural fibers and the elimination of zippers and the addition of hooks and eyes. (we cannot guarantee that all patterns are still available)

Please feel free to contact for further information or advice. One can also visit Vintage Victorian's Costume links page for more resources


Men's Evening Wear of the Ragtime Era
Gentlemen's evening dress of this era is fairly similar to modern formal wear consisting of a black tail coat or tuxedo jacket. White formal shirts can have wing tip collars; vests and bow ties should be either white or black (cummerbunds are not appropriate). White gloves add the final touch of formality for ballroom wear. Flexible soled shoes such as Capezio black jazz oxfords are quite suitable for dancing.

We have illustrated here a tailcoat suit from 1920 with white waistcoat and white tie, with top hat, white gloves and cane. Also a tuxedo suit, also from 1920, with black waistcoat and tie. The Tuxedo is a more informal alternative to the tailcoat. Below is a scene from 1919 with a new style of double breasted dinner jacket (described as being a new style fashionable for young men in 1919), a more traditional single breasted tuxedo jacket and a formal tailcoat (swallowtail) suit. White waistcoast would generally be worn with tailcoats and black with tuxedo jackets in this period. The seated lady is wearing a very simple lightweight silk dancing dress.

As in the nineteenth century, the function of men's dress is to provide a setting that will allow the ladies to show off their own gowns all the more brilliantly. A gentleman wearing a plain dark suit can be confident that the details of his dress will pretty much escape notice and that he therefore need not be overly concerned with the matter.

P.O. Box 9, Nahant, Massachusetts 01908
phone: (617)  819-4283