On this day: Fashions of 1911

On this day 100 years ago, Pope Pius X "made known his opinion of the present mode of woman's dress, the threatened jupe-culotte style, in the most unequivocal manner through the columns of the Vatican organ, Osservatore Romano".

The story was reported in the American press the next day. The New York Times, in "Pope Condemns New Mode: Says Harem Skirts and Other Styles Cause Confusion of Classes," quoted L'Osservatore Romano: "'The fashions of these women -- women, not ladies -- would have had a most unfavorable judgment from pagan Roman matrons.'"

It was Paul Poiret, the Paris couturier, who was responsible for the jupe-culotte, the sheath robe, the hobble skirt, the Minaret skirt, and other new fashions that the pope disliked. They were the rage in America as well as in Europe.

"Elite American department stores made much of their relationships with designers like Poiret and Paquin. Gimbel Brothers and R. H. Macy & Company in New York and John Wanamaker in Philadelphia imported gowns from the leading couture houses each season. . . . In 1909 the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar noted that at the theater 'as nowhere else' women could 'observe the effect and mark the shortcomings of a new style of gown.'"

-- Producing Fashion: Commerce, Culture, and Consumers, by Regina Lee Blaszczyk, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Pope Pius X, who was not the only religious leader to decry the new fashions, warned that wearing them could cause women of one class, "ladies", to be mistaken for women of another class, "the demimonde". Similarly, "the Reverend W. A. Bartlett of Chicago's First Congregational Church condemned the new styles, drawing comparisons between the fashion-obsessed young woman and the alcoholic."

Click here to see an example of Paul Poiret's jupe-culotte. (Second picture down.)

Click here for a 2007 New Yorker article, "Cut Loose: Paul Poiret's Revolution", by Judith Thurman. Beneath the picture is a link to a Slide Show of Paul Poiret's Modernist Couture.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here