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Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898
Over 1000 Illustrations
By Stella Blum
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
BUSTLES AND PUFFS
Sometimes fashions take their direction from practical needs. In the late 1860s, women became more involved in activities outside the home. Because the prevailing fashions, with their long, cumbersome, dirt-collecting trains, presented a hinderance, a "walking costume" emerged in 1866. Although it did not alter the general style, skirts were looped for freer movement, exposing ankle-length petticoats or underskirts. Interestingly enough, the caught-up skirts produced round puffs, giving the former conical silhouette a look reminiscent of that of the late eighteenth century (Walking Dresses, p. 4). The designers drew heavily from the fashions of that period (Promenade and Carriage Toilettes, p. 17). It was no accident that costumes were named after Dolly Varden, a heroine from Barnaby Rudge, a popular book by Charles Dickens set in the eighteenth century (Dolly Varden Walking Suit, p. 51).
The world of fashion was jolted in 1870. The Franco-Prussian War put a sudden end to the glittering Second Empire and the trend-setting court of the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie. During the war many of the French couturiers fled to Brussels, where they continued to work. Emmeline Raymond, Harper's "own correspondent" took to her heels and fled to Germany, but she was soon back at her post, reporting on French styles, and Paris once again dictated fashion.
Lacking a luxurious court to set styles, fashion turned to the theater, with its performers and fantasies, as a source of inspiration. In this process, fashion became increasingly more eclectic. Emulating the past, women dressed in costumes that might have been designed to be worn on the stage. Some appear to have been inspired by the Italian Renaissance (Fig. b, Street and Dinner Dresses, p. 16), others by painters such as Van Dyck (Opera Toilette, p. 47; Walking Dress, p. 61). Pendant sleeves similar to those popular in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were used (Visiting Toilette, p. 22). The shoulder mantle can be seen in Northern European paintings of the early seventeenth century (House Dress, p. 26; Visiting Toilette, p. 53; Spring Suit, p. 67). Chenille balls were used in an imitation of the lavish Elizabethan application of pearls (Evening Toilette, p. 62). Fashions of the period also have counterparts in the Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français, one of the earliest publications devoted primarily to fashion, printed in Paris, 1778—87 (Figs. a and c, Street and Dinner Dresses, p. 16; Walking Suit, p. 24; Sea-side Costume, p. 27; Evening Toilette, p. 63; Watering-place Costume, p. 66; Reception Dress and Carriage Dress, pp. 68—69).
There were also gowns that were pure confection. Looking like mounds of spun sugar candy, they were lavishly trimmed with artificial flowers, ribbons, etc. (Evening Toilettes, pp. 49, 71). By 1872, the trend toward freedom of movement was buried under a morass of drapery and trimmings. Late in 1874, surfeited by this massing and profusion, the silhouette began to compress to reveal the female torso (Walking Suit, p. 73; Worth Basque, p. 75).
The fashions of the 1860s had an aura of daintiness which also permeated accessories. Bonnets and hats were tiny. Little more than decorative headdresses, they seemed designed merely to blunt the point of the period's cone-shaped silhouette (Winter Bonnets, p. 5; Ladies' Wrappings pp. 14—15). Much of the lace that was lavished on costumes and accessories was very beautiful, and of the finest quality found in the nineteenth century (Promenade Toilettes, pp. 10, 19; Evening Toilette, p. 21; Bows, p. 32; Collars and Shoe Rosettes, p. 34).
Separates, which had been in wide use in the early 1860s, continued to be worn until the early 1870s. There were blouses and neckwear as delicate as infants' clothes (Hoop Skirts and Neck Accessories, p. 18), separate bodices to be combined with a variety of skirts, and a multitude of ties and bows for the neck and waist (Bodices, p. 35; Costumes and Lingerie, p. 48; Ornaments, p. 54). Outerwear consisted mainly of dolmans and hip-length jackets (Wraps, pp. 14—15, 42—43, 60). At times they matched the gowns over which they were worn, but they usually contrasted with them.
Like the laces, the jewelry of this period was of a high order. Pieces which have survived have become collector's items (Jewelry, p. 7). Toward the end of this fashion cycle, the gentle, rather delicate aspect of mid-Victoriana began to give way to a heavier, more obvious display of opulence.CHAPTER 2
NATURAL FORM AND CUIRASS BODY
"The ideal at present is the greatest possible flatness and straightness: a woman is a pencil covered with raiment" (October 23, 1875). It was, however, several years before the bustle was completely abandoned. When this ideal was achieved, to maintain flatness and straightness–and to provide variety in the "raiment" –asymmetry was introduced (Street Costumes, pp. 96, 102). Along with asymmetry came a variety of new approaches to both trimming and draping. To add to verticality, outerwear became nearly or entirely full- length, and was weighted down with fur, chenille fringes and braid passementerie applied in the manner of Eastern European and Siberian costumes (Lady's Ulster, p. 105; Ladies' Winter Wrappings, pp. 112-113). The slenderizing of the body continued downward, and by 1881 the knees had become so constricted by inner ties and construction that walking was reduced to small, mincing steps (Ball Toilette, p. 138; Spring Costumes, p. 140). The thighs were outlined and the hips returned to prominence, gradually growing to become the focal point and presaging the return of the bustle in the middle of the 1880s (Autumn and Winter Toilettes, p. 145).
Elaborate hairstyles were festooned with ornaments and false hairpieces (Ladies' Coiffures, pp. 81, 84;, Hair Ornaments, p. 121). Complementing the diminishing roundness of the silhouette, hats grew impressive in shape and decoration. The Paris correspondent observed, "If dresses are simple, bonnets in revenge appertain more than ever to the domain of the fancy" (May 17, 1879).
The influence of the eighteenth century remained strong (Watering-place Toilette, p. 91; Dinner Toilette, p. 93; Promenade Costume, p. 98; Spring Costumes, p. 139; Watteau Wrapper, p. 141). In 1876, when America celebrated its Centennial, special gowns designed for various balls could do little more to reflect the spirit of 1776 (Toilettes at the Centennial, p. 100). Daytime apparel, however, by drawing from men's fashions of the eighteenth century, managed to convey some historic feeling ("Seventy-six" Walking Suit, p. 86; Glove-fitting Basque, p. 99). Since this was only a commemoration with little real significance, the effects were minor and relegated chiefly to details.
Fashion history is dotted with occasional fads. They flare up suddenly, shine for a short time, and then disappear completely. In 1875 dresses developed elaborate pockets (Visiting Costume, p. 78). They became so popular that to be consistent with the new asymmetrical design of the costumes, they survived as a single pocket placed so low and so far back that they were rendered impractical and were reduced to pure decoration (Reception Toilette, p. 88; Walking Suits, pp. 90, 110). Although many dresses were made with these pockets for two years, there is no sign of their use afterwards. The tennis apron was also short-lived (Lawn Tennis Aprons, p. 128).
There was great concern with the "natural form" during this cycle. While the fashionable version remolded the soft natural curves of the body into hard, rigid arcs (Full-dress Toilette, p. 103; Midwinter Toilettes, pp. 114–115), there was, at the same time, an Aesthetic movement in dress, similar to the one in decorative arts, that favored the flowing lines of antiquity and the middle ages. Fashion columns extolled the virtues of this revolution in dress for its simplicity, comparative inexpensiveness and lasting quality. "Another plea in favor of this style is the privilege it gives–nay almost extorts–of omitting corsets from the list of necessities" (July 16, 1881). Yet for all the discussion, Harper's Bazar had few illustrations of this kind of dress. Those which appear seem to be misinterpretations of the Aesthetic movement (Aesthetic Dress, p. 129).
Largely ignoring the petition for sanity in dress, the fashion plates continued to show ladies encased in stoutly-boned, long-waisted "cuirasses" (Cuirass Basque, p. 80), and slender, princesse lined gowns ending in heavy trains laden with trimming (Sea-side Toilette, p. 106). Added to the new preference for heavier fabrics and darker colors, this gave the ladies the appearance of slowly gliding tree trunks (Winter Costumes, pp. 130–131; Outdoor Costumes for Women and Children, pp. 142–143).CHAPTER 3
RETURN OF THE BUSTLE
One of the prime forces of change is ennui. In fashion it often manifests itself as a dissatisfaction with the original shape of the body and seeks expression in a wide variety of anatomical constrictions and distensions. Corsets have changed the shape of the torso by deforming the rib cage and displacing flesh. Devices such as farthingales, hoops and bustles have artificially expanded lower portions of the body so that a whole new form was created, bearing little resemblance to the hips and legs concealed by them.
Of these deviations from the natural, none is so difficult for the modern eye to justify in terms of esthetics, comfort or practicality as the form considered fashionable in the mid-1880s (Autumn Toilettes, p. 159; Street and In-door Toilettes, p. 162; Spring Suits, p. 175; Ladies' Dresses, p. 178; Visiting Toilettes, p. 190). The knees had been freed by this time, and the trains for day disappeared for easier walking, but the weight of these costumes and the structures needed to support the huge rear extension added little to increase mobility. Many of the fabrics were upholstery-like in quality, made even heavier by the profuse use of beading, fringes, braids and furs (Dinner and Evening Toilettes, pp. 164—165; Spring Wrappings, p. 181; Visiting Toilettes, p. 199). Some dresses alone weighed over ten pounds. Summer costumes were made of lighter material, but they were no less layered.
Yet it was during this period that women pushed further into the area of sports, invading some that had been wholly the domain of men, such as yachting and fencing (Fig. b, Gowns, p. 176; Ladies' Class, p. 211). For sportswear few concessions were made in design. Details and trimmings were simplified or eliminated, but to remain fashionable on the tennis court or on a yacht, a lady still had to wear her corset and bustle, no matter how strenuous her activity (Yachting and Tennis Gowns, pp. 196—197). Only bathing costumes escaped them (Beach and Bathing Dresses, p. 179).
Compared with the bustle of the early 1870s, which had soft curves, the silhouette of the mid-1880s seems to have a hard edge. When viewed in profile, it appears to be a small triangle set forward on a very large square (Fig. b, Winter Wrappings, p. 174; Dinner and Reception Toilettes, p. 192). As the skirt increased in volume, for day use the bodice became plainer, and was even tailored on occasions (Spring Styles, p. 153; Autumn Costumes pp. 160—161; Autumn Walking Toilettes, pp. 172—173). For evening, the tops—sleeveless and low in back and front—became little more than corselets (Evening Gowns, pp. 154—155; Dinner Toilettes, pp. 164—165; 188—189). Hairstyles and hats and bonnets were peaked as though to complete the apex of the triangle (Hair-dressing, p. 180; Hats and Bonnets, p. 186; Accessories, p. 193; Winter Bonnets, p. 208). Headgear during this period was as ornate as the costumes. Along with flowers, ribbons and feathers, there was a strange taste for real birds as trimmings.
Growing out of the esthetic preferences of an era, stylistic elements found in costume also appear in decorative arts, particularly in interior furnishings. For example, in Dinner Dresses, pp. 150—151, the design of the curving wooden frame of the rocking chair, the pattern of the upholstery and the application of fringes are closely analogous in spirit to that of the costumes and accessories on the same page. In Dresses, Table and Jewel Case, pp. 182—183, the type of lace and system of draping on the dressing table are reflected on the gowns in the room. In Ladies' Walking and Evening Dresses, p. 163, the curves of the table legs parallel the shape of the skirts of the gowns next to it.
By 1889 the rear extension began to recede (Spring Toilettes, pp. 212—213; Spring Wrappings, pp. 214—215). Once again there was some talk of totally abolishing the bustle and adopting the loose classical Empire style of the early nineteenth century. The bustle, however, remained to fade on its own, giving way to a new interest in another part of the anatomy—the shoulders (Out-door Toilettes, p. 216; The Surprise Dress, p. 217). "Sleeves have grown in size and importance of late, until now they are a prominent feature of dress" (May 4, 1889).CHAPTER 4
The bustled book lingered, if only vestigially, into the 1890s (Evening Toilettes, pp. 228—229, 236—237). By 1893 a form often referred to as the "hourglass" figure had taken shape. Ballooning sleeve and widening skirts helped to make an already tightly corseted waist seem even smaller, giving the silhouette the appearance of two separate round masses joined in the middle (Autumn and Winter Costumes, pp. 260—261; Paris Spring Toilette, p. 270; French Promenade Costume, p. 281).
Costumes by French designers, particularly those by Worth, dominated the pages of Harper's Bazar. Made of velvets, satins and lush silks, richly embroidered and lavishly trimmed in fanciful combinations, these costumes held a great appeal to moneyed Americans (Worth Cloak, p. 248; Evening Gowns, pp. 249, 264; Calling Costume, p. 282; Reception Gown, p. 286). Their undisputed opulence provided a great showcase for wealth. But at the same time interest developed in simpler and even quite masculine- looking tailored suits (Outing Gowns, p. 253). The American girl, as depicted by Charles Dana Gibson, elevated the combination of skirt and shirtwaist into the realm of fashion. Now even women who were forced to work for a living had an opportunity to enter the elite world of chic (Waists, pp. 267; Summer Costumes, p. 287). The designs for commencement dresses indicate that higher education for women had increased to a point that warranted a special costume (Graduates' Commencement Gowns, p. 252). "Suggestions for making Commencement dresses are asked of the BAZAR from all over the country by young girls who are soon to graduate from high-school, seminary, or college" (April 15, 1893).
Women continued to make their greatest strides by becoming active–yet fashionable–in many previously barred sports such as hunting, golfing, driving and mountain climbing (Mountain Dresses, p. 230; Game of Golf, p. 273; Sporting Costumes, p. 280; Hunting Costume, p. 258). During this decade cycling, which had been gaining popular interest and support since the 1860s, became the rage. Coupled with the still existing Victorian sense of modesty, bicycling finally made pants a socially and fashionably acceptable garment for public wear by women. Beginning with Amelia Bloomer in the 1850s, there had been a number of attempts to introduce trousers as fitting and proper apparel for women. In 1869 some skating costumes with pants were shown (Difference Skating Costumes, p. 13), but this was proposition rather than fact; until the middle of the 1890s costumes with trousers were only accepted for bathing at the beach. Although pants had been designed for riding, they were meant to be concealed under the skirts of the habit (Riding Costume, p. 202).
The French gave their stamp of approval to the new bloomer cycling costume but, unlike the Americans who portrayed women as able participants in sports, they continued to show fashions which focused on the allure of feminine frailty, even in a sporting setting (Bicycle Dress, p. 266; Seaside Toilette, p. 232; Yachting Costume, p. 269).
Excerpted from Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898 by Stella Blum. Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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