When reading A Room With a View , I got the most interesting peek into what my Edwardian beauty routine (and sartorial one) would have looked like had I lived in the early 1900s, according to the book's author E.M. Forster. Just as it would be expected when rustling skirts and itchy high necks are involved, it seems equal parts romantic and tiresome. Set in 1908, right on the cusp of Edwardian culture and the first youth rebellion of flappers and gin joints, the book captures a set of characters that are on either side of the battleground: The conservative thinkers that are the stuffy Edwardians and the radical ones that are the younger generation.
Our heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, is accompanied by her overbearing and proper older cousin Charlotte Bartlett to Italy. While there, they mingle with high society inside their hotel parlors, explore the countryside, and — Lucy in particular — discover what it means to choose your own path for the sake of happiness. But along their many misadventures and period drama rife, there's a parade of clothes and beauty routines that makes you wonder just how you'd fare if you were thrown a century back in time.
Here are seven examples of what our beauty and fashion routines would have looked like in the early 1900s, according to E.M. Forster.
1. An Outfit Wouldn't Ever Be Complete Without A Hat
This is something I wish was still a thing in our day and age — and I don't mean something akin to a beanie. Back in 1908, almost every woman stepped outside with some sort of wonderfully frivolous piece on her head, completing her outfit and making her look appropriate for polite society. To go without would be like forgetting to put on shoes — you'd look crazy.
Throughout the book, women are either holding on to them while running, fixing them when uncomfortable, or losing them as they're fainting. If that seems like a lot of work, it's because being a proper lady is hard.
2. Girls Would Wear Bows To Highlight Their Youthful Innocence
Wearing a bow would've been a sign of youth and sweetness, kind of like the equivalent of putting on Dr. Pepper LipSmackers. In the novel, older women are never said to be wearing silk or velvet bows, but Lucy ties her braids with bows when getting ready in the morning, hinting that it's strictly a rosy-cheeked-girl thing.
3. Women Would Adorn Themselves With Flowers
A woman just can't resist a handful of flowers, can she? At least not back in the buggy carriage days. Women concern themselves with everything "delicate and pretty," so I guess it makes sense that we would've wanted to bury our faces into a bouquet every chance we got... And then feel tempted to adorn ourselves with a few spare sprigs.
To be fair, I definitely begged my mom to make me flower crowns and bracelets out of dandelions when I was five, so maybe Forster wasn't terribly off. In the beginning of the novel, he shows one of the Alen sisters (aged at least 70) with blue cornflowers in her hair while in the Italian hotel. If I'm being honest, that sounds totally charming.
4. If You Had Money, You'd Have Gloves
In polite Edwardian society, the ladies wore gloves as a sign of affluence. Only a woman who didn't have to use her hands except to play Beethoven and sip tea could have the luxury of silk covering her fingers. For example, when Charlotte and Lucy were visiting the Italian countryside on their holiday, none of the peasant women were said to be wearing any gloves, for obvious reasons. You can't really milk a cow and expect gloves to stay clean for very long.
5. When Getting Ready, You Would've Been Far From Windows
Even if you were completely dressed and corseted-up, it just wouldn't have been dignified for a girl to stand in front of her bedroom window. Maybe people were still a little ruffled over that whole scandalous Juliet scene and didn't want to give the Edwardian girls any ideas...
At one point in their hotel room in Italy, Charlotte is helping young Lucy change, and when she wanders over to the window afterwards, she says in a brisk and hurried tone, "Don't stand there, dear. You mustn't be seen from the outside." Because men could be lurking out in the courtyard, didn't ya know?
So I guess me changing my bra in front of the window because I'm too lazy to close the blinds is out.
6. Your Hair Would've Resembled Elaine Benes'
Think the "Gibson Girl," style, for which your hair is gathered up into one giant poof at the front of your head, á la Elaine from Seinfeld. The women in the book always had their locks arranged into coifs and chignons, never free-flowing or undone unless they were going to bed. The only time it seemed Lucy had her hair down in messy waves was when Charlotte was helping her brush it out before going to sleep.
For a girl who can barely summon the will to throw her hair into a messy topknot, this seems like my breaking point. Can you imagine sticking all those pins in? How would you fight gravity?
7. Your Outfits Would've Been Heavy & Completely Modest
The flappers haven't taken over yet my friends, which means we're still into long, heavy skirts and arms and legs that are completely covered from the lurking views of the opposite sex. You could expect to choose between poofy sleeves and high, frilly necklines in the morning, and step into heavy, thousand-layered dresses that could probably stand up on their own if they wanted to.
Throughout the book, you can hear skirts rustling or the characters picking up their hems if they need to move fast, signaling that the outfits weren't exactly loose and nonrestrictive.
Just give it a few more years and those boxy, flapper shifts will be on their way, ladies.
Images: Goldcrest Films International (7)