Photos of Lily Elsie: My Style Icon

If I had to look and dress exactly like someone else, excluding myself, for the rest of my life, I would probably choose to dress like Lily Elsie. She is probably the most photographed woman of the Edwardian era and she represents the fashion ideal from that time. A quick search on Pinterest for “Edwardian fashion” or “Edwardian women” or “Edwardian actresses” or pretty much any other Edwardian search you can think of- it won’t be long before you discover Lily Elsie and the dozens of photographs we have of her.

Most of the photographs of her are from between 1907 and 1914, when her career as an actress and opera singer was at its peak.

Apparently she was extremely shy, and theater was pretty much the only outlet where she could come out of her shell. I’ve also read that she often underestimated herself in her performance abilities.

One way I can kind of relate to Lily Elsie is the way she had to friendzone a lot of gentlemen. She was reluctant to give her heart away to just anyone, and she had a lot of suitors as you can imagine… Apparently she once said that “I am always rude to men, and the ruder I am the more they like me.”

Unfortunately, she lived a rather unhappy life in her later years. In 1911 she married, but it was an unhappy marriage that only lasted until 1930. If I were to guess I would say the marriage probably was not her idea. She also suffered from several mental health problems in her older age.

Her career as a singer and actress was fairly short, partly because she didn’t have the strength to endure a full performance schedule. It is likely that she had anemia (iron deficiency). Apparently her colleagues were irritated with the way she often backed out of performances. Perhaps they weren’t respecting her sensitive personality, but it’s also very possible that she was high-maintenance and difficult to deal with.

Everyone at this time wanted to look like Lily Elsie. I can’t say I blame them! The “Merry Widow hat” came into style because she wore it in her iconic 1907 performance.

In the above picture you can see that she obviously had more of the Gibson Girl hairstyle and blouse style. It wasn’t long before she adopted the tighter Grecian hairstyles and slim, Empire waist dresses of the 1910s. The 1910s hairstyles are clearly more suited to her face, so it makes me wonder if she was one of the first people to make them popular.

Below is probably my favorite portrait of Lily Elsie.

By today’s standards, Lily Elsie’s round face, strong eyebrows and demure vibe would make her a bit of an “unconventional” beauty. The standard of how people want to look changes all the time. But I also think Lily Elsie had something very timeless and universally appealing. It’s sad that she didn’t live a very happy life, but learning about her and the world she lived in is truly fascinating.


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