This weekend is a big one for Northern Ireland, the highly anticipated, world class visitor attraction, The Titanic Belfast Building is set to open this weekend. The building tells the tale of the birth of the Titanic in Belfast to it’s fateful maiden voyage on 14th April 1912.
Riches and luxury were fashionable during the “gilded age” of the early twentieth century, and first-class passage on the maiden voyage of a great transatlantic liner was among the heights of that fashion amongst the upper classes. The decor of Titanic’s accommodation replicated the high fashion of yesteryears. The famous grand staircase was in William and Mary style , but the balustrade was Louis XIV.
The first-class dining saloon and reception room were Jacobean, the restaurant Louis XVI, the lounge Louis XV (Versailles), the reading and writing room late Georgian, the smoking room early Georgian. The gentlemen, and especially the ladies travelling first class, tried to honour their surroundings through their fashionable dress. In the palm room, for example, full dress was expected. Feminine finery encouraged the chivalry of the men, and that chivalry was to be sorely tested during the hours of the sinking of the ship.
First-class passengers may have been aware that on board was the well-known American fashion correspondent, Edith Russell, who was travelling with trunks full of French couturière for American clients. She later remembered what she was wearing when being evacuated from the sinking ship and what J. Bruce Ismay was wearing when he ordered her into a lifeboat.
For first class passengers on board Titanic, status was everything. Where you sat at dinner, the size of your suite and who you played cards with all marked out your position in society.
But perhaps the most visual way to make your social statement was by what you wore. for the ladies in particular, an ensemble by the latest on trend designer could put you ahead of the game. you certainly could not be seen at dinner in the same dress as the night before.
It was an era when fashion trends were moving quickly and even amongst the older generation there was a need to be seen to embrace modernity. One fashion faux-pas could knock you down the social ladder. It was a complicated game to play.
Of the 2,224 people on board the RMS Titanic on April 12, 1912, 144 were 1st class women who each wore 3-4 dresses a day. On a 7 day journey that would be about 20 dresses per women. In total about 2,880 1st class dresses went down with the ship.