The Impossibility of Dressing on £1000 a year

Edwardian ladies shopping in Bond Street

“How the poor live” has been the subject of countless articles, but the struggle for existence of the smart society woman–one of our “splendid paupers”–seems fated to take a back seat in the literature of the day. Consider the hard case of one, young and pretty, condemned to dress on a thousand a year. The requirements of her set demand the purse of a Croesus and the powers of a quick-change artiste. On the sum named she needs the juggling abilities of a Chancellor of the Exchequer to make both ends meet. The annual campaign of smart society is arranged as follows. May, June, and July comprise the London season proper–in itself a costly campaign. In an ordinary year several Court functions have to be reckoned with, and there are always private parties of all sorts and conditions, big dinners and smart small ones, balls, concerns, the opera, plays, and so forth. The daylight hours are occupied with race-meetings, garden parties, restaurant luncheons, morning walks, afternoon drivers, teas and bazaars, not to mention frolics at Ranelagh and outings to riverside Clubs.

With August comes yachting and Cowes, succeeded by a trip on the Continent to Aix, Homburg, Marienbad, or St. Moritz. September brings Scotland, with an interlude of Doncaster races, while October is claimed by the Newmarket weeks. Then comes a run over to Paris for winter frocks and hats, and November has its regular round of country house visits, big “shoots,” and smart race meetings. The London again, with its merry winter season bridge parties, theatre parties, and restaurant dinners. After Christmas comes the travel in search of sunshine to Egypt, Sicily, or the South of France. Nowadays we are nothing if not athletic, and most women do Swedish exercises, swim, golf, bicycle, or drive their motors. And for each and all of these pursuits and amusements the smart woman must have her suitable attire.


Ball or dinner gown: £40

“Little gown” (black, intended for restaurant or bridge dinners): £30-35

Velvet gown for November: £50-60

Six evening gowns with a couple of “little” frocks to act as accessories.

Drawing-room gown and train: £100+

Fancy dress: £300+

Tea-gown: £30

Tea-coat: £25+

Crepe de chine gown for summer: £35-40

Two morning frocks for the winter and two for summer

Country and Scotland: plain serges for rough weather, homepsuns for the heather, bicycle suits, driving coats, a “get up” for golf and another for the automobile, costumes for fishing and shooting, yachting gowns (£20+). Two of each frock.

Hats from London or Paris: £8-10

Russian sables (cloaks and wraps): £500+

Evening cloaks: £35-40

Silk petticoats: £4-15

Pocket handkerchiefs: £5 a dozen

Shoes: £2 a pair + 30 shillings for ornamental buckles

Walking boots, rough boots for walking with the guns or mountaineering, and special shoes for golf and cycling are required, and each evening gown demands its shoes to match, with paste diamond buttons (£2-3).

Gloves are given as presents during Christmas and for birthdays, but if not, a year’s supply cost £20-30

Parasols and umbrellas: £7-10 for those with plain handles

Mysteries of the toilet, such as manicure, face, massage and hair-colouring, not to say a general “make-up,” mean the expenditure of quite £100 a year. And to this must be added the purchase of scents, soap, cosmetics, perfumes, and powders for home use. Hair-dressing, with all its attendant expenses of hair-waving, new combs, pins, washes, and the many new arrangements in hair to follow the fleeting fashions, along represents much money.

This sketch of a smart woman’s dress expenses computed on a moderate basis will go far to prove that £1000 a year spells poverty instead of riches.

Excerpted from The Harmsworth Magazine, October 1901


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7 replies on “The Impossibility of Dressing on £1000 a year”
  1. says: Kathy

    No wonder women were worn down with “the rigors of Society Life” ! All that activity and while wearing a rigid corset. I can’t see how it would be worth it, but these women seemed to desire it.

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