14 April 2009

Fashion: Victorian 1880-1901

By Isabel Roman

"The Queen of Fashion." New York: McCall Co., 1895. Pam ff#140, v.22 no.7.
This serial contains fiction and fashion tips, as well as social commentary: "The American woman, by her reading, is developing marvelously in a political way and attaining such knowledge as will make her a power in influencing the home circle even if it has no effect on helping her to obtain suffrage."

Haweis, Mary Eliza Joy. The Art of Beauty. London: Chatto & Windus, 1878.

This beauty manual notes that mothers in particular should work to maintain an attractive appearance: "A Mother may often have more influence with her child by being a graceful and pleasing woman, than by the most admirable virtues combined with a dowdy or slovenly dress."


Let's face it, women were supposed to look beautiful, graceful, stylish. We were expected to do the work of three men in a corset and bustle in heat and snow, and not complain. We paragons of virtue and epitomes of fashion were also expected to know things. You know what things I mean...not that we ever talked about these things. But we had to know them anyway.

In 1880s America, we were supposed to stay at home looking very posh in our dresses, or work hard at factories and millineries, and yet still cook, clean, feed everyone, have babies, take care of drunken husbands, and even if we were rich, there were households to run, accounts to see to, servants to oversee, and kids, husbands, etc.

In the Late Victorian Era, mostly 1880-1901, styles rapidly changed with, yes, technology. One couldn't very well ride a bicycle or ice skate in a dress where the bodice reached mid thigh could one?

The cuirasse bodice of 1880 reached the hem actually becoming the princess panel dress. It made an exceptionally form fitting draped sheath dress which was elongated even further by the train.

And then came the bustle. In 1880, it was shown in Paris, but this reappearance proved longer lasting: the hard shape gave women a silhouette "like the hind legs of a horse" as shown in this picture. I'm inclined to agree. Later bustles (1884 and onward) weren't as dramatic but still built a woman up on her derriere. Yes, dearie, it does make your butt look big.

With more fitted gowns, slimmer sleeves, less, ah, drastic designs in dress styles, eventually the tailored suit came into fashion. Power dressing at its height.

By 1893 the bustle was out. Large swaths of fabric draped over the back of the gown made up for the bustle. In my opinion, it looked classier--less 'yup, there's a bustle" and more elegant.

All my information came from here.