Slit skirts and X-ray dresses in 1914

Two female tango dancers, Raphael Kirchner, 1914.
Raphael Kirchner. Two women dancing the tango, 1914.

“Not before it was necessary fashion creators are promising reform in the matter of the slit-up skirt. The topic is the burning one of the hour, and the story is going the round that at a recent Court ball in Brussels the King of the Belgians gave the wearer of a slit skirt the broadest hint that its presence was unwelcome; the Court Marshal conducted the lady to her carriage and expressed the King’s deep concern at the accident which evidently had happened to her ball dress. The grandes dames in France, too. have laid a ban on the slit skirt, and, what is likely to be still more effectual, one of the most famous of the French houses is sewing up the offending aperture, and producing new gowns intended to allow greater freedom of movement on the part of the wearer. We live in hopes, but at the moment the skirts are just as tight round the ankle as ever.

“A PROMISE.

Madame Paquin declares the slit skirt to be doomed. ‘Skirts will no longer be cut up, but they will be wider and give freedom to the limbs. Slit skirts answer to, the needs of modern life, or at least to the needs of the modern dance, but they have their faults. The wearer needs to have a very beautiful figure, and ungraceful walkers spoil the charm of the dress. There are only two sins in the making of a dress — ugliness, that exposes itself; and deshabille, that provokes attention. We have seen the danger, and the new fashions will remedy it.’

ON THE DEFENSIVE.

“M. Worth thinks the fashion of to-day ‘very pretty indeed. It dresses women closely, though not too tightly, and it suits the women with graceful figures. Of course I deplore the extravagances that have followed this fashion of close-fitting, and on that account I approve the manifesto. But these are only exceptional, and I can assure you that the majority of my clients have no such taste for eccentricity. I never advise it, but if I am ordered to lower a bodice or slit a skirt I must execute my orders. Quite recently one of my customers who was trying on a dress for Monte Carlo complained of the thickness of the taffetas lining, which, by the way, was thinner than a cigarette paper, and asked for a kind of aerial pongee. The result would be like an X-ray dress. We have had many crusades against fashions, but they never amount to much, because errors in taste are happily the exception and not the rule.'”

Commentary:

I was very excited to come across this article while working on my book Edwardian Fashion, not least because it quoted one of the biggest names in fashion of his time as using the term “x-ray dress” to describe a transparent gown – a startlingly modern turn of phrase, and one I had suspected might not be contemporary – or at least rather too vulgar a term of parlance for respectable figures to utter. I was delighted to be proven wrong. At this point, M. Worth would have been Jean-Charles Worth, who succeeded his uncle, Jean-Philippe, as house designer in 1910 (although during the First World War, Jean-Philippe came out of retirement to run the house while Jean-Charles served in the Army.)

In fact, having done some further reading/research, it appears that the term “x-ray dress” goes back even further – into the 1890s, even! – as a popular term for transparency in dress. I may need to blog further on this subject.

This is the same (rather lengthy) article from which this post on the appropriation of masculine dress came from.

ILLUSTRATION NOTES:

The two dancing ladies – in split skirts and see-through chiffon! – are by Raphael Kirchner (1876-1917) and come from WikiArt.

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2 thoughts on “Slit skirts and X-ray dresses in 1914

    • Indeed rather daring! I think it’s a pin-up postcard of its day, but a great visual. I remember coming across the phrase and thinking “That can’t possibly be an authentic early term” – but sure enough it is!

      Like

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