Women’s Fashions of the Late Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era, advances in technology and distribution saw fashion change from an exclusive privilege of the wealthy elites to something that could be enjoyed by ordinary people.

The Industrial Revolution inspired a flowering of creativity in architecture, literature, and decorative and visual arts, all playing a part in influencing the latest fashions.

Changing attitudes to traditional gender roles and the rising middle class meant that by the late Victorian Era, a new age of mass consumerism had begun.

Unlike earlier centuries, when it was commonplace for women to help with the family business, Victorians thought a woman’s place was in the home.

1885 Fashion plate
1885 Fashion plate

Victorian fashion wasn’t utilitarian, it was an expression of position in society.

1888 Fashion Plate
1888 Fashion Plate

The upper class wore clothes adorned with embroideries and trims; the middle class, less extravagant; and the working class, whatever they could afford.

Depicted in this painting is a middle-class woman showing off her newly purchased bonnet at her sister’s modest home.

The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876
The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876

Casting off the shackles of crinolines of the 1850s and 1860s, the late Victorian era saw several innovations to bring more practicality and mobility to fashion whilst maintaining the volume of fabric.

Introduced in the late 1860s, the bustle was a framework used to expand and support the fullness of a woman’s dress at the back, leaving the front and sides flatter for ease of movement.

Reaching its greatest extension by the mid-1880s, it was popularly boasted that the cantilevers of bustles could support an entire tea service.

1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum
1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum

With women becoming more involved in activities outside the home, fashion designers made changes to suit.

Skirts were given more ground clearance and trains were made simpler, stronger and dragged less on the ground while keeping the same overall form.

1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum
1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum

Abandoned by the 1890s, the bustle evolved into skirts with a much more subtle flow from the wearer’s thin corsetted waist.

Necklines were high, while sleeve size increased.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

Becoming bell-shaped, dresses were made to fit tighter around the hip area.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

While sleeves and bodices initially peaked at the shoulders, size would increase considerably.

1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen
1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen

Beginning in the mid-1890s, exaggerated “leg o’mutton” sleeves grew in size until disappearing in about 1906.

1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1895 Dress. French. Silk
1895 Dress. French. Silk

Skirts started to take on a graceful, curved, “A-line silhouette”.

1897 Gown. House of Worth
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum

A glittering extravaganza, the neoclassical motifs in the below dress add a texture and lighting effect to stand out at a formal ball.

1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum
1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum

Changing attitudes about acceptable activities for women also made sportswear popular, particularly for bicycling and tennis.

Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
A june Afternoon by A. B. Frost, 1898
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885

Although introduced much earlier, the riding habit became more practical, with a much simpler, more formal appearance.

Void of embellishments, it was made of tough woolen fabric in a single dark colour and worn with matching hat and veil.

1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Crucial to a respectable appearance were hats and gloves—to be seen bareheaded was simply improper.

1899 Millinery Print. France
1899 Millinery Print. France

Dozens of fanciful designs provided women with almost endless choice.

Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier
Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier

Women who wanted a more modest appearance often preferred bonnets but they became associated with a matronly appearance.

The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
Broadway stage performer and singer, Anna Held

Straw hats were essential summer wear for outdoor activities like croquet.

1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890

The widening of hats towards the end of the 19th century hinted at the enormous hats that were to follow during the Edwardian era.

A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895
A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895

The late 1890s returned to the tighter sleeves often with small puffs or ruffles capping the shoulder but fitted to the wrist.

1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation
1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation

Indispensable accessories for the Victorian lady, parasols of the late Victorian era were exuberant and lace-covered with extremely fine handle detail.

Here, the bright colours indicative of the French touch on the left contrast with the black parasol for mourning.

1895 - 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum
1895 – 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum

From the 1870s to the twentieth century, women’s shoes changed to include higher heels and more pointed toes.

Low-cut pumps were worn for the evening.

Ankle-length laced or buttoned boots were also popular.

Woman's Bar Shoes, 1898
Woman’s Bar Shoes, 1898
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1890 Eveing boots. French. Silk, metla. metmuseum
1890 Evening boots. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1892 Pair of Woman’s Bar Shoes (Wedding). Suede, sueded leather, silk gauze, silk satin
1895 Women's Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls
1895 Women’s Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls

Those of the upper class who were invited to attend the royal courts of Europe would wear something altogether more extravagant and reminiscent of the 18th century.

As the wife of Washington Augustus Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, Emily Warren Roebling ran the day-to-day supervision of the project for a period of fourteen years after husband became ill.

She wore this gown for her formal presentation to Queen Victoria in 1896.

1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather
1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather

Presentation at court was a special event for American women of Roebling’s social status and court protocol dictated the attire.

Lavishly embroidered, the sumptuous textiles and long train are characteristics of a formal gown appropriate for the occasion.

Originally intended to be worn at home for afternoon tea with family and friends, by the late 1900s, tea gowns were worn through the evening for dinner and other events.

Although just as elegant as formal wear, tea gowns were worn without corsets or assistance from a maid.

Comfortable and relaxing, they would be harbingers of things to come.

1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum
1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum

By the close of the Victorian era, women were liberated from tight-laced corsets, restrictive layers of crinolined or bustled fabric, and society’s expectation of a woman’s role.

1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum
1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum

There was a new woman in town and she was more confident, self-assured, and ready to meet her true potential than ever before.

No longer were women seen as either “fragile” or “voluptuous” as portrayed in earlier decades, but athletic, emancipated, and ready to enter the workforce.

Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898
Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898

She was the Gibson Girl, and she would fight for the right to vote in the 20th century.

Belle of the Ball: A 5-Minute Guide to Ball Gowns

Delicately and exotically trimmed, and made of luxurious fabrics, ball gowns are the most formal female attire for social occasions.

Trimmed with lace, pearls, sequins, embroidery, ruffles and ruching, the most common fabrics are satin, silk, taffeta and velvet.

Cut off the shoulder with decollete necklines, the ball gown shape hasn’t changed much since the mid-19th century.

Too Early by James Tissot, 1873
Too Early by James Tissot, 1873
Aristocrats gathering around Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause, 1900
Aristocrats gathering around Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause, 1900

The Regency Era

During the Regency era, ball gowns had the Empire silhouette, with a high waistline, short sleeves, and a fairly narrow skirt.

1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum

Widely adopted after the French Revolution, the neoclassic style originated from “chitons”—tubular garments of Ancient Greece that were draped over the shoulder and held in place with a brooch.

Drawing inspiration from the artistic notions of the Renaissance, the puffed sleeves resembled 16th-century “slashing”—a decorative technique of making small cuts on the outer fabric to reveal a brightly colored lining.

1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA
1820 Ball gown. British. Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels. LACMA

Embellished with gold thread or sparkling beads, these lavish gowns glittered in the candlelight of the dance hall.

Creating a soft dreamy look, the thin, gauzy materials were cooler to wear on the crowded dance floor.

1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1820 Ball gown. British. Silk satin and silk embroidered with metal. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victorian Era

In the Victorian era, skirts began to widen.

Layer upon layer of petticoats would provide the desired fullness but were hot and heavy to wear.

Undergarment frameworks called crinolines were developed to provide the flared look without the weight.

1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1842 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

Inspired by the court of Charles II, this next ball gown was the most glamorous of all of Queen Victoria’s surviving clothes.

The rich brocade of the underskirt was woven in Benares, India.

A copy of seventeenth-century Venetian raised-point needle lace, the berthe (fichu) was likely made in Ireland and perhaps acquired at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball 1851. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1856 Ball gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1860 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum

Crinolines remained popular throughout the 1850s and 1860s, reaching a circumference of up to six yards.

1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1864 Ball gown. French. Emile Pingat. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1868 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum
1869 Ball Gown. British. Cotton, silk. metmuseum

Beginning in the 1870s, a narrower silhouette came into vogue, and more attention was focused on the back of the skirt.

Trains would be drawn up behind the dress and fastened into a “bustle”.

1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Ball gown. British. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1876 Ball gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1878 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1880 Ball gown. British. Silk. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum
1887. French. Silk, Glass. metmuseum

By the end of the 19th century, bustles had fallen out of favour and skirts took on a simple bell-like appearance.

1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1898 Ball gown. French. Jacques Doucet. Silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1900 Ball gown. French. House of Worth. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Ball gown. French. House of Worth. Silk. metmuseum

The Edwardian Era

In the Edwardian era, women’s ball gowns followed the distinctive “S-curve” silhouette.

1908 Ball gown. American. Cotton, linen, silk. metmuseum

Standing out from the crowd at a ball was a challenge even for the most well-heeled.

Densely sequined and beaded, this next gown worn by a member of the Astor family would have shimmered beautifully on the dance floor.

1910 Ball Gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1910 Ball Gown. American. Silk. metmuseum
1908 Ball gown. American. Silk, cotton, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1908 Ball gown. American. Silk, cotton, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum

The Roaring Twenties and Beyond

During the 1920s, hemlines rose and decorations became more showy.

After the horrors of World War One, people wanted to let their hair down.

Women found a new sense of liberation from the traditional expectations of their role in society.

Donning daring knee-length dresses, they flouted social and sexual norms—some becoming known by the pejorative term “flappers”.

Formalities would take a back seat for a decade, but the dresses still glittered with glamour.

1920s Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1920s Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1921 Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
1921 Evening dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

Every party eventually comes to an end.

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to the 1930’s Great Depression, gowns became more conservative.

1930s Evening gowns. metmuseum
1930s Evening gowns. metmuseum

After the end of World War II, Christian Dior spurred a new era of decadence with his “new look” of nipped-in waistlines and full skirts.

1950's Ball Gowns. House of Dior. metmuseum
1950’s Ball Gowns. House of Dior. metmuseum

The 1950s was a golden age for ball gown design in Britain.

Today’s Ballgowns

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The Roaring Twenties Fashions: A 5-Minute Guide

Dubbed the “Roaring Twenties” in Britain and America, the “Années folles” (Crazy Years) in France, and the “Golden Twenties” in Germany, the 1920s was a period of sustained economic growth and cultural exuberance that lasted from the end of World War I to the Wall St Crash of 1929.

Out went the rigid Victorian way of life and in came a break with traditions, a disdain for acceptable behavior, and a flouting of social and sexual norms.

Young, rebellious, middle-class women, labeled ‘flappers’ by older generations, did away with the corset and donned slinky knee-length dresses, which exposed their legs and arms.

Women everywhere spread their wings and flew free as if for the first time.

It was a glorious revolution for women’s fashion.

1920s fashion at the Industriemuseum Textilfabrik Cromford in Ratingen, Germany. Credit Geolina163
1920s fashion at the Industriemuseum Textilfabrik Cromford in Ratingen, Germany. Credit Geolina163

Coco Chanel

One of the first women to wear trousers, cut her hair and reject the corset was Coco Chanel.

The only fashion designer listed on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Coco Chanel emancipated women’s fashion.

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, 1920
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, 1920

One of Chanel’s signature techniques was to take simple designs inspired by service uniforms, riding habits, and even men’s clothing and create exquisitely tailored, expensive interpretations.

In 1926, American Vogue likened Chanel’s “little black dress” to the Ford Model T, alluding to its almost universal popularity as a fashion basic.

1926 Chanel Little Black Dress. metmuseum
1927 Chanel Little Black Dress. Silk, wool, metal. metmuseum

Paul Poiret once called her style “poverty de luxe,” to which Chanel replied, “simplicity does not mean poverty.”

The “little black dress” became one of Chanel’s most popular and enduring contributions to women’s fashion and inspired many simple designs that championed a modern lifestyle and attitude.

1920s Chanel dresses. Left Pink crepe chiffon (1925). Right Blue silk crepe (1926). Credit MFIT
1920s Chanel dresses. Left Pink crepe chiffon (1925). Right Blue silk crepe (1926). Credit MFIT
1920s Chanel Evening dress. Silk, metallic thread, sequins. metmuseum
1920s Chanel Evening dress. Silk, metallic thread, sequins. metmuseum

Carefully cut to follow the floral pattern of the textile, the dress hem and appliqués of chiffon on the jacket below exemplify Chanel’s excellence at soft tailoring.

1929 Chanel Ensemble. Silk, wool. metmuseum
1929 Chanel Ensemble. Silk, wool. metmuseum

A host of fashion designers found fame or peaked during the Roaring Twenties, including Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, Jeanne Lanvin, Jean Patou, and House of Drécoll.

1920 Madeleine Vionnet dress. French. Silk. metmuseum.org
1920 Madeleine Vionnet dress. French. Silk. metmuseum.org
1927 Evening Dress. Paul Poiret. Silk, metal, plastic
1927 Evening Dress. Paul Poiret. Silk, metal, plastic
1920s. Callot Soeurs. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Callot Soeurs. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra
1923 House of Lanvin. French. Silk. metmuseum
1923 House of Lanvin. French. Silk. metmuseum
1926 House of Patou Evening Dress. French. Cotton, plastic, glass, polyester. metmuseum
1926 House of Patou Evening Dress. French. Cotton, plastic, glass, polyester. metmuseum
1924. House of Drécoll. French. Silk, wool. metmuseum
1924. House of Drécoll. French. Silk, wool. metmuseum

Flappers

Said to refer to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly, the slang word “flapper” had emerged in England in the late 19th century to describe lively mid-teenage girls.

But it could just as easily have referred to a dancer, flapping her wings to the Charleston dance moves of the Roaring Twenties.

Josephine Baker was one of many celebrities who embraced the flapper fashion movement, becoming a symbol of the jazz age of the 1920s.

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the Folies-Bergère, Paris, 1925
Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the Folies-Bergère, Paris, 1925

Going on to star in the major motion picture in 1934—Marc Allégret’s Zouzou—she was the first person of African descent to become a world-famous entertainer.

Orphaned at the age of four and partially raised in foster homes, actress Barbara Stanwyck began her career as a dancer at the Ziegfeld Follies in the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.

Future Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck, c. 1924
Future Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck, c. 1924

One of the most elegant and glamorous film stars of the roaring twenties, Norma Talmadge married a wealthy film executive who nurtured her career and with whom she started the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation.

Flocking to see her extravagant movies, women from around the world wanted to be Norma Talmadge.

Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge

Popularizing the bobbed haircut and noted as an iconic symbol of the flapper, American film actress and dancer Louise Brooks starred in iconic flapper movies of the late 1920s.

Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl were considered shocking portrayals of sexuality and social satire.

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks

Rising to stardom in silent films, Clara Bow rocketed to global fame in the 1927 romantic comedy “It” about an ambitious shop girl who wants to marry her handsome, wealthy boss.

Earning her the nickname “The It Girl”, the magnetic attraction she portrayed in the movie made her a sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties.

Clara Bow, 1928
Clara Bow, 1928

Besides sharing a love for Roaring Twenties fashion, what these women had in common was the flapper attitude captured in Russell Patterson’s famous illustrations—a confidence that helped empower women to defy traditional notions of their role in society and chart their own course.

'Where there's smoke there's fire' by American artist Russell Patterson
‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire’ by American artist Russell Patterson

Bob Cut

The hairstyle of the decade was a chin-length bob, which had several popular variations.

Older generations used to seeing Edwardian-era pompadour styles found the short bob cuts a shocking statement of young women’s independence.

But acceptance of shorter hair had been gaining ground during World War I.

With most men away fighting in Europe, women took over the factory work and soon came to realize just how impractical and dangerous longer hair was.

As early as 1915, dancer and fashion trendsetter Irene Castle had introduced her own version of the bob to a receptive American audience.

The flappers adopted the bob cut and didn’t look back for the entire decade.

Renée Adorée, French actress who appeared in Hollywood silent movies during the 1920s
Renée Adorée, French actress who appeared in Hollywood silent movies during the 1920s

Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore in particular started a trend that many women followed—short straight hair cut about jaw-level with a fringe or “bangs” at the front.

Louise Brooks. Credit Laura Loveday, flickr
Louise Brooks. Credit Laura Loveday, flickr
Photoplay cover for January 1926 featuring Colleen Moore, based on a painting by Livingston Geer
Photoplay cover for January 1926 featuring Colleen Moore, based on a painting by Livingston Geer

Cloche Hats

As its name implies, the bell-shaped cloche is derived from cloche, the French word for “bell”.

Usually made of felt to comfortably conform to the head, cloches were worn low on the forehead.

By the end of the 1920s, it became fashionable to turn the brims on cloche hats upwards.

A symbol of the Roaring Twenties, cloche hats became obsolete in the early 1930s.

1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Silk, metal
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Silk, metal
Cloches from the mid-1920s. metmuseum
Cloches from the mid-1920s. metmuseum
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Cotton, metal
1925 Evening cloche. House of Lanvin. French. Cotton, metal
1920s Actresses. Top Row: Vilma Banky, Evelyn Brent; Middle Row: Joan Crawford; Bottom Row: Greta Garbo
1920s Actresses. Top Row: Vilma Banky, Evelyn Brent; Middle Row: Joan Crawford; Bottom Row: Greta Garbo

Shoes

Rapidly changing fashion meant a cornucopia of shoe designs were available in the 1920s.

High-heels were in vogue, even for dancing, necessitating straps over the instep.

Browns, greys and beiges dominated the first half of the decade, while crocodile, snake and lizard shoes became fashionable in the late 20s.

Pietro Yantorny (1874-1936), the self-proclaimed “most expensive shoemaker in the world”, was a consummate craftsman utterly devoted to the art of shoemaking.

He sought to create the most perfectly crafted shoes possible for a select and exclusive clientele.

1925. Pierre Yantorny. French. Leather. metmuseum
1925. Pierre Yantorny. French. Leather. metmuseum
1925 British. Leather, lined with kid leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1925 British. Leather, lined with kid leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1927. French. Calf leather, stamped design, lined with leather and canvas.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1927. French. Calf leather, stamped design, lined with leather and canvas.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1920s ladies shoes. metmuseum.
1920s ladies shoes. metmuseum.
1928. British. Snake skin, metal buckle, lined with leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1928. British. Snake skin, metal buckle, lined with leather and canvas. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Wall St Crash of 1929

The exuberance of the Roaring Twenties came crashing down with the Wall St collapse of Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.

But the profound changes to western culture, especially women’s liberation and equal rights, continue to reverberate to this day.

A 5-Minute Guide to Callot Soeurs Couture

When a young painting conservator from New York University happened upon some Louis Vuitton trunks in a 15th-century Florentine villa, she could not believe what was inside.

Undisturbed for almost 90 years were the most beautiful dresses she had ever seen, each with the label “Callot Soeurs”.

This was no ordinary find. Not many Callot Soeurs dresses have survived in such pristine condition.

They belonged to Hortense Mitchell Acton, an heiress from Chicago, married to Arthur Acton, a successful Anglo-Italian art collector and dealer.

Chicago heiress Hortense Mitchell Acton. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
Chicago heiress Hortense Mitchell Acton. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Mrs Acton had been a valued client of Callot Soeurs from the moment they opened their couture house in 1895.

The Callot sisters—Marie Gerber, Marthe Bertrand, Régine Tennyson-Chantrelle, and Joséphine Crimont—rose to become the premier dressmaking house of the Belle Époque.

After losing Joséphine to suicide in 1897, Marie, Marthe and Régine continued to run the business.

Vogue magazine called them the Three Fates, and declared they were “foremost among the powers that rule the destinies of a woman’s life and increase the income of France.”

1920s. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Green and Pink Silk. Passementerie tassels composed of rhinestones, pearls and beads that hang from either shoulder. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Among the first of the design houses to reject the corset, Callot Soeurs knew what women wanted—more freedom of movement, fluid lines, and exquisite detail.

In a male dominated business, the sisters stood out by including the word “Soeurs” (French for sisters) in their label.

For Hortense Acton, Callot Soeurs’ gowns were perfect for throwing parties at La Pietra—the Acton’s Florentine villa. She entertained everyone from Gertrude Stein to Winston Churchill.

La Villa Pietra. Credit sailko
La Villa Pietra. Credit sailko

Just how the dresses survived is somewhat of a miracle.

When the Fascists took over Italy, most of Mrs. Acton’s expatriate friends upped and left.

But not her husband. He was determined to stay, ride out the storm and look after the house and art collection.

1920s. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Poor Hortense Acton stayed with him, only to be arrested and imprisoned. The villa and art collection were confiscated.

As if from a scene out of the Sound of Music, both Actons eventually managed to escape through Switzerland.

Perhaps overlooked … perhaps fate .. these incredible gowns somehow survived.

Today, they form part of a collection at La Pietra which was bequeathed to New York University in 1994.

1920s. Acton Art Collection - Villa La Pietra
1920s. Acton Art Collection – Villa La Pietra

Several other Museums house a collection of Callot Soeurs gowns, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris.

1915 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, pearl, metmuseum
1915 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, pearl, metmuseum

In each case, the collections show the signature elements of the house of Callot Soeurs: antique lace trimming, Orientalist textiles, lavish embroidery, and bead- or ribbonwork.

1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal. metmuseum

Exemplifying the fashion aesthetic of the time, this 1914 gown uses multiple layers and textures to give the appearance of an unstructured and spontaneous design.

1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, rhinestones
1914 Callot Soeurs. Silk, metal, rhinestones

One of Callot Soeurs’s greatest supporters was American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig, regarded as “the most picturesque woman in America.”

Ordering dozens of dresses at a time, she would design them herself and have them handmade by Callot Soeurs.

So exacting were her tastes that when she discovered her husband was having an affair with a poorly dressed woman, she sent the mistress to Callot Soeurs for new clothing.

She wore a silver Callot Soeurs dress for this 1911 Giovanni Boldini portrait.

Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911
Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911
1910. Robe du soir, Callot Sœurs, Paris. Satin, tulle, dentelle métallique, broderie de filé, lame or et perles. Coll. UFAC, don Debray
1910. Robe du soir, Callot Sœurs, Paris. Satin, tulle, dentelle métallique, broderie de filé, lame or et perles. Coll. UFAC, don Debray

In Marcel Proust’s second volume of “Remembrance of Things Past”, he asks his girlfriend, “Is there a vast difference between a Callot dress and one from any other shop?” To which she replied, “Why, an enormous difference. Only, alas! What you get for 300 francs in an ordinary shop will cost you two thousand there. But there can be no comparison; they look the same only to people who know nothing about it.”

1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1925. Callot Soeurs. Cotton, silk, plastic, glass. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1913. Woman's Lounging Pajamas. Callot Soeurs. Silk net (tulle) and silk satin (charmeuse) with metallic-thread passementerie and silk tassels. Credit LACMA.
1913. Woman’s Lounging Pajamas. Callot Soeurs. Silk net (tulle) and silk satin (charmeuse) with metallic-thread passementerie and silk tassels. Credit LACMA.
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1911. Callot Soeurs. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, metal beads. metmuseum
1908 Callot Soeurs. Silk, bead, linen, metal. metmuseum
1908 Callot Soeurs. Silk, bead, linen, metal. metmuseum
1915 Woman's Dress. Callot Soeurs. Linen lace and silk satin with silk-knotted fringe. LACMA
1915 Woman’s Dress. Callot Soeurs. Linen lace and silk satin with silk-knotted fringe. LACMA
Callot Soeurs, evening dress, 1909-1913. Silk satin metallic tulle and silk tulle. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris photo Jean Tholance
Callot Soeurs, evening dress, 1909-1913. Silk satin metallic tulle and silk tulle. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris photo Jean Tholance

Callot Soeurs often used delicate materials in their very feminine creations.

Renowned for their exquisite lacework, such as this black, imbricated leaf pattern overlaid on pale taffeta. Finely embellished with black and silver sequins and rhinestones, this dress was exemplary of fashions in La Belle Époque.

1909. Evening Dress. Callot Soeurs. Black lace, white taffeta, sequins and rhinestones. Museum at FIT
1909. Evening Dress. Callot Soeurs. Black lace, white taffeta, sequins and rhinestones. Museum at FIT

By the Roaring Twenties, Callot Soeurs had branches in Nice, Biarritz, Buenos Aires, and London.

Ladies’ Home Journal of 1922 wrote,

Callot probably has more rich clients than any other establishment in the world. They come from South America, from South Africa, and as far east as Japan.
1926. Women's dresses. Callot Soeurs. LACMA
1926. Women’s dresses. Callot Soeurs. LACMA
1910 Callot Soeurs. Cotton, Silk, metal. metmuseum
1910 Callot Soeurs. Cotton, Silk, metal. metmuseum

One of the twentieth century’s greatest designers—Madeleine Vionnet—was Callot’s head of the workroom, or première, before venturing out on her own.

She considered her time at Callot invaluable later in her career.

Without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls RoycesMadeleine Vionnet

And she expressed great respect for the house’s head designer, Madame Gerber.

A true dressmaker and a great lady totally occupied with a profession that consists of adorning women . . . not constructing a costume.Madeleine Vionnet
Madeleine Vionnet, evening dress, Haute couture winter 1935. Silk crêpe. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo Jean Tholance
Madeleine Vionnet, evening dress, Haute couture winter 1935. Silk crêpe. Collection UFAC © Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Photo Jean Tholance

References

Transatlantic Modernities
Twenty One Dresses by the New Yorker
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The “Beau Monde” High Fashion of the 18th Century

On August 1, 1714, Queen Anne of Great Britain drew her last breath, and the first of a series of Georges ascended to the throne, marking the dawn of an extraordinary new era of exploration, invention, industry, and art—the Georgian Era.

As the rural economy shifted to an urban industrial one, huge advances in science, design and engineering brought wealth to a new class of merchants, businessmen, and financiers.

This nouveau riche “middling sort”, or middle class, imitated the lifestyle of the aristocracy. Looking fashionable was a full-time occupation, and a tall order—since the Georgian aristocracy didn’t do things by halves.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.

Unlike the 17th century, it was parliament, not the monarchy, that held sway over governing the country.

Plush new town homes were built to house the politicians and their servants for the London season—corresponding to the sitting of parliament.

Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67
Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67

Fashion established the social pecking order. Aristocratic elites aped each other’s tastes, the middle class watched and learned, and the press fanned the public’s fascination with the glitterati.

This was the age of the Beau Monde.

Pleasure gardens, exhibitions and assemblies were open to all who could afford tickets.

Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785
Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785

At Vauxhall Gardens, London, a shopkeeper’s wife and daughters could rub shoulders with the landed gentry.

Men looked resplendent in their finery …

1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum
1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum

… a declaration of fashion on both sides of the Big Pond.

John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765
John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765

Men’s attire remained fairly static throughout the 18th century—predominantly coats, waistcoats and breeches—with stylistic changes to the fabric and cut.

Suits ranged from the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets of formal “full dress” to hard-wearing woolen garments more suitable for outdoor sport and country pursuits.

The 18th-century Beau Monde male wanted to look as fashionable as possible with seemingly little effort—exuding an air of “nonchalance.”

c. 1800. Man's ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1800. Man’s ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1755 Man's ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA
c. 1755 Man’s ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA

But it was women who really stole the show.

1750. British. Woman's Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l'anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
1750. British. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l’anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI

Between 1720 and 1780, ladies wore imposing Robes à la Française (French Dress) and Robes à l’Anglaise (English Dress).

Derived from the loose negligée sacque dress of the early part of the century, Robes à la Française had an open funnel-shaped front—often with stomacher panel—and wide rectangular skirts of expansive fabric decorated with delicate Rococo designs.

c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Woman's Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1765. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
c1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org
c. 1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org

Obtaining such a silhouette took some hidden magic—an undergarment structure of panniers.

Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA

But, oh, what power the dress held over the male of the species …

Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier
Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier

The robe à la française compelled men everywhere to declare their love on bended knee.

The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731
The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731

Court etiquette demanded an altogether higher level of commitment to fashion. Size mattered. And one name stood out across Europe as synonymous with court fashion—Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA

You may be wondering, what’s the point? Well, the whole idea behind such width was to provide a panel where woven patterns, elaborate decorations and rich embroidery could be displayed and fully appreciated.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

For the wearer of this little number, the only way to pass through doorways was literally sideways.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A variation on the Robe à la Française was the Robe à l’Anglaise, having a tight, fitted back, rather than the draped pleats of the Française.

1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk

Another popular style of gown in the 18th-century was the Robe à la Polonaise (Polish Dress).

Characterized by a close-fitting bodice and skirt gathered up into three separate puffed sections at the back, the polonaise was suspended by rows of little rings sewn inside the skirt, or sometimes ribbon ties forming decorative bows.

1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum

In the latter part of the 18th century, fashion became simpler and less elaborate. Spurred by modern Enlightenment thinking, the fashionability of Rococo went into decline.

1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
French cartoon showing contrats between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right
French cartoon showing contrast between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right

Following the French Revolution, people began dressing for individual expression rather that social status.

In trendsetting France, out went the aristocracy and in came Napoleon’s first Empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais sporting the “Empire Silhouette”. High-waisted, with a long, flowing skirt, it was a look that would take Europe by storm.

Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA

The 18th-century Beau Monde was over … but the 19th century would see its own excesses.

Edwardian Dreams by Charles Courtney Curran

Charles Courtney Curran, 1909
Charles Courtney Curran

Charles Courtney Curran was an American artist best known for paintings of Victorian and Edwardian women in graceful flowing dresses set against expansive romantic landscapes.

Many American artists spent time in Paris in the 19th century, and Curran was no exception. Paris was the center of the art world. To experience Paris was considered essential to American artists with a dream—a dream to excel at what they loved to do.

It’s not difficult to see the influence of French Impressionists like Monet

The Promenade, Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet , 1875
The Promenade, Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet , 1875

His paintings are compared with fellow American Impressionists who also spent time in Paris—Mary Cassatt, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and Frank Weston Benson. And it’s not difficult to see the influence of French Impressionists like Monet—especially works like The Promenade, Woman with a Parasol (1875).

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Key Facts about Charles Courtney Curran

  • 1500 works in his career, mostly oil paintings, some watercolors and illustrations for magazines.
  • Born in Hartford, Kentucky in 1861 but grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, Ohio.
  • Trained at the Fine Arts Academy of Cincinnati, the National Academy in New York City, and Académie Julian in Paris.
  • Traveled extensively—living in Paris, frequently visiting Europe and even China.
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Imagine you are there gazing at the magnificent views from the heights of the Shawangunk Mountains in New York state.

The Gallery

Summer by Charles Courtney Curran - 1906
Summer – 1906
The West Wind by Charles Courtney Curran - 1918
The West Wind – 1918
Sunshine and Haze by Charles Courtney Curran - Date unknown
Sunshine and Haze – Date unknown
Sunny Morning by Charles Courtney Curran - 1916
Sunny Morning – 1916
September Afternoon by Charles Courtney Curran - 1913
September Afternoon – 1913
Lotus Lilies by Charles Courtney Curran - 1888
Lotus Lilies – 1888
Ladies on a Hill by Charles Courtney Curran - 1914
Ladies on a Hill – 1914
Among the Laurel Blossoms by Charles Courtney Curran - 1914
Among the Laurel Blossoms – 1914
The Edge of the Woods by Charles Courtney Curran - 1912
The Edge of the Woods – 1912
Ragged Clouds by Charles Courtney Curran - 1922
Ragged Clouds – 1922
Path of Flowers by Charles Courtney Curran - 1919
Path of Flowers – 1919
The Cabbage Field by Charles Courtney Curran - 1914
The Cabbage Field – 1914
Woman on the Top of a Mountain by Charles Courtney Curran - 1912
Woman on the Top of a Mountain – 1912
The Boulder by Charles Courtney Curran - 1919
The Boulder – 1919
The Hilltop Walk by Charles Courtney Curran - 1927
The Hilltop Walk – 1927
On the Cliff by Charles Courtney Curran - 1910
On the Cliff – 1910
On the Heights by Charles Courtney Curran - 1909
On the Heights – 1909
A Spray of Goldenrod by Charles Courtney Curran - 1916
A Spray of Goldenrod – 1916
Blue Delphiniums by Charles Courtney Curran - Date unknown
Blue Delphiniums – Date unknown
Peach Blossoms by Charles Courtney Curran - 1891
Peach Blossoms – 1891
May Breeze by Charles Courtney Curran - Date unknown
May Breeze – Date unknown
Summer Clouds by Charles Courtney Curran - 1917
Summer Clouds – 1917
Three Women by Charles Courtney Curran - 1894
Three Women – 1894
A Breezy Day by Charles Courtney Curran - 1887
A Breezy Day – 1887
In the Luxembourg Garden by Charles Courtney Curran - 1889
In the Luxembourg Garden – 1889
Lady with a Bouquet by Charles Courtney Curran - 1890
Lady with a Bouquet – 1890

Crinolinemania – 10 Fascinating Facts About the Crinoline

Just as we chuckle today at the absurd dimensions reached by Victorian crinolines, so too did Victorians themselves.

Shown here is an early inflatable (air tube) version of the crinoline by George Cruikshank, from The Comic Almanack, 1850. Crinolines wouldn’t actually come into wide use until a few years later.

In this humorous example, the exaggerated size of the crinoline meant that the gentlemen had to use long-handled trays (“baker’s peels”) to offer food and drink to their ladies.

A Splendid Spread, satire on an early inflatable (air tube) version of the crinoline by George Cruikshank
A Splendid Spread, satire on an early inflatable (air tube) version of the crinoline by George Cruikshank

If there was one thing such broad crinoline skirts guaranteed the wearer, it was plenty of personal space.

Don’t try to whisper in my ear, or your crinoline will tip up, my dear.
1862 Vienna fashions
1862 Vienna fashions

The fashion became so popular that Punch nicknamed the crinoline craze “Crinolinemania”.

And it’s not difficult to see why—even today, the bell-shaped profile of a crinoline-supported dress lends a fairytale quality to a wedding.

No doubt the impression left by a beautiful Princess and Empress had a bearing on the success of the crinoline.

Princess Dagmar of Denmark and Empress Elisabeth "Sisi" of Austria
Princess Dagmar of Denmark and Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria

Here are 10 facts about the crinoline—some of which you may find surprising.

1. The 16th-century Spanish farthingale was the grandmother of the crinoline

Wide and full skirts were popular as far back as the 15th century.

Queen Consort Joan of Portugal made the hoop skirt popular when she wore one to court.

Originally called the Spanish verdugado and later corrupted to “farthingale” in English, it was alleged that Joan wore it to help hide an illegitimate pregnancy.

There’s nothing like a bit of court gossip to help a fashion’s popularity.

Probably the earliest depiction of the Spanish verdugada (farthingale), Catalonia, 1470-80
Probably the earliest depiction of the Spanish verdugada (farthingale), Catalonia, 1470-80

Introduced to England by Catherine of Aragon when she married the ill-fated 15-year-old Arthur, Prince of Wales, the Spanish farthingale was a petticoat of linen with bands of cane, or whalebone inserted horizontally at intervals.

Gradually widening from the waist to the hem, the cone-shape of the Spanish farthingale became popular with European sovereigns for the remainder of the 16th century.

Spanish farthingale. Clockwise from top left: Catherin de Medici, c. 1555; Queen Elizabeth I of England, c. 1563; Elizabeth of Valois, Queen of Spain, 1565; Isabella of the Spanish Netherlands, 1599
Spanish farthingale. Clockwise from top left: Catherin de Medici, c. 1555; Queen Elizabeth I of England, c. 1563; Elizabeth of Valois, Queen of Spain, 1565; Isabella of the Spanish Netherlands, 1599

2. The crinoline gets its name from horsehair

Described as a combination of the French words crin, meaning horsehair, and lin meaning linen, the name essentially describes the materials used to make the original crinoline, i.e. horsehair and linen.

Used from the early 1840s, the horsehair crinoline supported the weight of other petticoats under the increasingly full, bell-shaped skirts that had become popular.

1842, British, silk. metmuseum
1842, British, silk. metmuseum

Horsehair crinolines reduced the number of required petticoats to achieve the desired profile and offered more freedom of movement for the wearer’s legs.

But they were heavy, uncomfortable, hot and unhygienic—especially during the summer.

What was needed was something lighter, but with more structure. Enter the cage crinoline.

3. Cage crinolines were lightweight and highly flexible

Cage Crinolines
c. 1860 Cage Crinolines. Credit Hugo Maertens (left), metmuseum (right)

The steel-hooped cage crinoline, first patented in April 1856 by R.C. Milliet in Paris, and by their agent in Britain a few months later, became extremely popular.

Although cage crinolines looked very rigid, the spring steel they were made from was very flexible and could be compressed. Aside from the inevitable accidents, women learned how to walk in crinolines and how to sit down in them without revealing underclothes.

Because the spring steel was very lightweight, far from restricting women, they were liberating, freeing women from multiple layers of petticoats worn in prior decades.

The Lady’s Newspaper of 1863 enthusiastically praised the cage crinoline:

So perfect are the wave-like bands that a lady may ascend a steep stair, lean against a table, throw herself into an armchair, pass to her stall at the opera, and occupy a further seat in a carriage, without inconveniencing herself or others, and provoking the rude remarks of observers thus modifying in an important degree, all those peculiarities tending to destroy the modesty of Englishwomen; and lastly, it allows the dress to fall in graceful folds.

4. Cage crinolines were mass-produced in huge quantity

One of the biggest producers was Douglas & Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory in New York. It employed 800 women and produced in excess of 8,000 hoop skirts each day.

Douglas & Sherwood's Hoop Skirt Factory
Douglas & Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory

To make the hoops required a ton of steel per day, and each month the factory would get through 150,000 yards of muslin, 100,000 feet of whalebone, 24,000 spools of cotton, 2,800,000 eyelets, 500,000 yards of tape, 225,000 yards of cord, and 10,000 yards of haircloth.

Douglas & Sherwood's Hoop Skirt Factory
Douglas & Sherwood’s Hoop Skirt Factory

5. There were accidents with crinolines, some tragic and fatal

Overzealous advertising tried to reassure potential customers that their freedom of movement would be unhindered by wearing a cage crinoline.

This gave a false sense of security about the level of care and attention that was needed to avoid accidents while wearing them.

c. 1860. Women wearing crinolines which are set on fire by flames from a domestic fireplace.
c. 1860. Women wearing crinolines which are set on fire by flames from a domestic fireplace.

Not being constantly aware of exactly where the extremities of the dress were could lead to tragedy.

Thousands of women died in the mid-19th century as a result of their hooped skirts catching fire.

Other hazards included the hoops being caught in machinery, carriage wheels, gusts of wind, or other obstacles.

6. Crinolines crossed class barriers

Crinolines were worn by women of every social standing and class across the Western world, from royalty to factory workers.

Princess Alice by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Princess Alice by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Cartoon of Mistress and her Maid in Crinolines
A fashionably dressed woman tells off her maid for wearing a crinoline hoop, unaware that she looks just as ridiculous in hers. Punch, 1861.
1861 Working Class couple enjoying a night at the theatre
1861 Working Class couple enjoying a night at the theatre
Croquet players of 1864 loop their skirts up from floor-length over hooped petticoats. Croquet Scene by Winslow Homer, 1864
Croquet players of 1864 loop their skirts up from floor-length over hooped petticoats. Croquet Scene by Winslow Homer, 1864

 7. Crinolines reached 18 feet in circumference

At its widest point, the crinoline could reach a circumference of up to six yards—providing the perfect opportunity for satirical cartoons to exaggerate dimensions even further.

Emily Madame Bonton says the Circumference of the Crinoline should be Thirty-Six Feet! Caroline Dear me! – I’m only Thirty-Two! I must Inflate a little!
Cartoon in Punch satirizing the circumference of crinolines
Cartoon in Punch satirizing the circumference of crinolines
1860-64, British, silk. metmuseum
1860-64, British, silk. metmuseum
1865, French, silk. memuseum
1865, French, silk. memuseum
1860-64, American, cotton. metmuseum
1860-64, American, cotton. metmuseum
1864 French, silk. metmuseum
1864 French, silk. metmuseum

Contemporary photographs show that many women wore smaller versions of the crinoline, as opposed to the huge bell-shaped creations so often seen in fashion plates. Large crinolines were probably reserved for balls, weddings and other special occasions.

8. Media scrutiny

Widespread media scrutiny and criticism followed the crinoline, from journal articles to poems decrying the fashion, to songs complaining about them.

The crinoline also came under heavy fire from moralists, publicists, and satirists who often condemned the fineries of fashion and sensationalized the most extreme situations—none more so than London’s satirical magazine Punch and New York’s Harper’s Weekly.

Only to think, Julia dear, that our Mothers wore such ridiculous fashions as these! Ha! ha! ha! ha!
1857 Cartoon comparing crinolines to Regency fashion
1857 Cartoon comparing crinolines to Regency fashion
Take care that the Ends of your Hoops be secure; they have been known to give way—to the great alarm and discomfiture of the Lovely Wearer
A fashionably dressed woman is shown with her skirt distorted due to the snapping of several of the hoops that supported her crinoline, much to the amusement of men and women looking on.
A fashionably dressed woman is shown with her skirt distorted due to the snapping of several of the hoops that supported her crinoline, much to the amusement of men and women looking on.
Hint for the Seaside: crinoline forever—no bathing machine required
Two women are shown sea-bathing while wearing crinoline petticoats around their necks as a substitute for bathing tents
Two women are shown sea-bathing while wearing crinoline petticoats around their necks as a substitute for bathing tents

9. Queen Victoria is said to have detested crinolines

Queen Victoria is said to have inspired a song in Punch:

Long live our gracious Queen, Who won’t wear the crinoline!
“I’m not going in this ghastly dress, Albert.”
“But it’s all the rage, my dear.”
“I’ll be the one in a rage if I have to go in this.”

When Queen Victoria’s daughter was married to the Prussian Prince Frederick in 1858, the queen requested the Prussian ladies not to wear crinolines because there was not enough room in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace.

This incident probably led many to believe she disliked crinolines, but numerous photographs show her wearing one.

10. The crinoline craze reached its peak during the early 1860s

Falling out of favor by about 1862, the silhouette of the crinoline changed from bell-shaped to flatter at the front with the fullness projected out more behind.

Called the “crinolette”, it was typically composed of “half hoops” made of the same spring steel

English crinolettes, 1872–75, LACMA
English crinolettes, 1872–75, LACMA

Crinolettes would bridge the gap until the next big fashion craze to sweep the world appeared—the Bustle.

Tissot's Victorian Ladies

Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Costume by Doreen Yarwood
Tudor Costume and Fashion by Herbert Norris
Corsets & Crinolines in Victorian Fashion by Lucy Johnstone, V&A Museum
Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey by Alison Gernsheim

12 Paintings That Tell Stories from Auguste Toulmouche

French artist Auguste Toulmouche (1829 – 1890) loved to tell stories. But instead of putting quill to paper, he put brush to canvas.

His paintings share the academic style of the Académie des Beaux-Arts that dominated French art in the mid 19th century.

Playing in Toulmouche’s favor was a trend that lent itself to storytelling—a move towards greater idealism. Although painted in the mid-Victorian era, his themes were often set in the Regency revival and late Georgian periods.

Let us examine 12 paintings from Albert Toulmouche … and the stories they tell.

The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863
The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863

With the prevalence of mobile technology today, it is very hard for us to imagine a time when people relied on letters as their primary means of communication across distance.

Dropping the envelope at her feet, this beautiful lady was obviously keen to open the letter from her lover in a hurry.

Moving near the light of the window, she remains standing. If it were bad news, would she be so hasty?

The letter probably has sweet words for her eyes only—and her corner position in the room gives her the privacy she needs.

The Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1879
The Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1879

Not all news is good news, as the young lady above might be finding out. She’s left the letter on the table and turned away from it, as if rejecting its message.

Is her fiancé away at war? Has something happened to him? She looks concerned, but not devastated. Perhaps she was expecting his return sooner …

Yet again, it could be bad news from her sister. What story do you think the painting tells?

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche, 1866
The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche, 1866

Not a happy bunny …

This young lady is not at all sure she’s doing the right thing. In an age when many marriages were for social standing or financial security, marriage for love was something more akin to dreams than reality.

If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield … and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.Mrs Bennett, Pride and Prejudice.

In a letter to her niece Fanny Catherine Knight, Jane Austen reminded her of how elusive perfection can be:

There are such beings in the world, perhaps one in a thousand, as the creature you and I should think perfection, where grace and spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding; but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the near relation of your particular friend, and belonging to your own county.
The New Arrival by Auguste Toulmouche, 1861
The New Arrival by Auguste Toulmouche, 1861
Consolation by Auguste Toulmouche, 1867
Consolation by Auguste Toulmouche, 1867

Families were large, but life was precious. Children died young and mothers were lost during childbirth. Cholera, consumption, and smallpox didn’t care how much money people had—they took the lives of rich and poor alike.

The period theme of Toulmouche’s paintings was a time of war. Many a young handsome officer would have fallen in battle.

Grieving and consolation touched everyone at unexpected times.

Sweet Doing Nothing by Auguste Toulmouche, 1877
Sweet Doing Nothing by Auguste Toulmouche, 1877

Novels helped fuel the hopes and dreams of readers. Have you felt this way when reading—so moved that you had to pause and contemplate the moment?

The 18th-century view that reading contemporary novels was a time-wasting leisure activity gave way to 19th-century ideals on their ability to educate.

While Jane Austen’s novels critiqued the life of the British landed gentry, by the mid-1800’s, the most widely read novel in England was the anti-slavery Uncle Toms Cabin of 1852 by American Harriet Beecher Stowe.

An Afternoon Idyll by Auguste Toulmouche, 1874
An Afternoon Idyll by Auguste Toulmouche, 1874

A good book and an afternoon nap. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

It was an age when meal times were strictly adhered to. Breakfast would have been eaten early, leaving a long wait until evening for the main meal of the day.

The Duchess of Devonshire reported having a “sinking feeling” mid-afternoon. We’ve all felt that way, haven’t we? Now we can top-up with countless energy snacks and drinks, but the Duchess had another idea—afternoon tea.

Notice also the chinoiserie screen behind the ladies, reflecting the importance of Chinese motifs in Western culture.

The Admiring Glance by Auguste Toulmouche, 1868
The Admiring Glance by Auguste Toulmouche, 1868
Vanity by Auguste Toulmouche, 1890
Vanity by Auguste Toulmouche, 1890

Mirror, mirror on the wall …

It was a time when keeping up appearances was critical to maintaining social standing.

But perhaps Auguste Toulmouche was using parody to message a decadent Victorian audience.

Romanticism—an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement of the first third of the 19th century—initiated a surge of enthusiasm for all things Greek, including Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was fixated with his own physical appearance and disdained others around him. Nemesis, the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, attracted him to a pool where he fell in love with his own reflection. Unable to take his eyes of his own image, he lost the reason for living and died, staring at his reflection.

Woman Sitting in Front of a Fireplace by Auguste Toulmouche
Woman Sitting in Front of a Fireplace by Auguste Toulmouche

Here’s an interesting painting. The lady is warming her hands and feet at the burning fire, but taking care not to let the heat tinge her complexion with redness. Another reason that made the fan such an indispensable accessory for the 19th-century lady.

Is there more to this story? Is she burning a love letter … ?

A Garden Stroll by Auguste Toulmuche, 1877
A Garden Stroll by Auguste Toulmouche, 1877

What are friends for but to listen to our stories and grievances? The lady on the right seems genuinely concerned for her friend, or perhaps they are sisters.

The painting reminds us that simple pleasures like a stroll in a park or garden, and sharing polite conversation in good company, are some of the best things in life.

The Blue Dress by Auguste Toulmouche, 1870
The Blue Dress by Auguste Toulmouche, 1870

It’s five minutes past three by the trusty wall clock. Why hasn’t he called? Oh yes, phones haven’t been invented yet …

But back to that clock. During the 19th century, pendulum clocks were some of the most accurate timepieces in existence. Any household that could afford one depended on it.

Conceived by Galileo Galilei in around 1637, the daily life of the 19th century revolved around the pendulum clock.

Hope you enjoyed our time together, strolling through Auguste Toulmouche’s little storybook of history.

All Roads Lead to Silk – A 5-Minute Guide to the History of Silk

For thousands of years, silk has been a symbol of luxury. Its lustrous finish and soft texture made it the choice of royalty and nobility. The ease with which silk could be worked and dyed earned it the title “queen of textiles”.

Enjoy the story of silk, or click here to advance to the silk fashions of the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and Roaring Twenties eras.

Ancient China

According to Chinese tradition and the writings of Confucius, Empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, was enjoying midday tea in her garden under a mulberry tree, when a silk cocoon fell into her tea.
She watched in amazement as a fine thread separated from the cocoon, which she started winding around her finger. Empress Leizu had discovered silk.
One of several stories about the origins of silk, the legend of Leizu dates from the 27th century BC.
Silk’s discovery was kept a closely guarded secret within China for over 2000 years. An imperial decree carried a death sentence for anyone caught exporting silkworms or their eggs.
But one day in the first century AD, a Chinese princess hid silk cocoons in her hair as she left China to marry a prince from the Kingdom of Khotan (near present-day Kashmir). Such was her love for silk that she refused to leave without it.

The Silk Road

Khotan became a major stopping point on the Silk Road—an ancient network of trade routes taking its name from the flourishing trade in Chinese silk.
Once the secret of silk was out, China focused on building out trade routes for exporting silk to the West—even extending the Great Wall of China to ensure their protection.

Silk not only accelerated the economic development of Eurasia, but connected East with West along political and cultural lines. Religions, technologies, philosophies, and even diseases all spread along the Silk Road.

Shimmering Silk

Silk was a sign of great wealth in China and became such a mania among high society that its use was subsequently limited to just the imperial family.
Its highly prized natural shimmer comes from the triangular structure that refracts light like a prism. And with good absorbency, it dyes easily.
Although silk was gradually allowed to be worn by other classes of society, Chinese peasants were excluded until 1644.
As China grew rich from the silk trade, neighboring territories looked on through envious eyes. Silk was used as a diplomatic offering to pacify raiding tribes and also to pay China’s own soldiers, who traded it for furs and horses from nomadic peoples at the gates of the Great Wall.

A Symbol of Luxury

The Romans perceived silk as a symbol of decadence and immortality.
Justinian, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, wanted more than merely trading silk with the Chinese—he wanted to develop his own silk industry.

The monks give the silkworms to the emperor Justinian
The monks give the silkworms to the emperor Justinian

He sent two monks to China to smuggle silkworm eggs out of the country in hollow bamboo rods.
Byzantine silks became known for their meticulous attention to detail and fine decoration.
After the Siege of Constantinople in 1204, the Byzantine silk industry declined and 2000 skilled weavers left for Italy.
And so began a booming Italian silk industry, with the cities of Lucca, Genoa, Venice, and Florence supplying the luxury demands of a growing bourgeoisie across Europe.
Driven by the demand for luxury French fashions, France developed its own silk industry, overtaking Italy as the capital of the European silk trade.

Fragment from an 11th-century Byzantine robe shows griffins embroidered on a delicate silk woven of murex-dyed threads.
Fragment from an 11th-century Byzantine robe shows griffins embroidered on a delicate silk woven of murex-dyed threads.

Technological Advancements

Silk and the textile industry were the driving force behind technological change in the 13th and 14th centuries. Bobbins and warping machines were introduced, as was the button loom of  Jean le Calabrais.
But the biggest changes of all came with the Industrial Revolution.
On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, spinning and weaving were largely cottage industries. Two inventions were about to change a way of life that had existed for centuries and usher in the rise of textile factories and mass production.
An early forerunner to modern-day computers, Joseph Marie Jacquard’s 1801 invention of a programmable loom (the “Jacquard loom”) simplified weaving of complex patterns for brocade, damask, and matelassé.

Power looms boosted worker output by a factor of 40 and by the mid-19th century there were 260,000 in operation in England alone.

1750 British Court Dress. Silk with metallic embroidery. metmuseum
1750 British Court Dress. Silk with metallic embroidery. metmuseum
1750 British Court Dress. Silk with metallic embroidery. metmuseum
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
British. Silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
Wedding dress, 1856–59. American, silk. metmuseum.org
1843. Silk. metmuseum.org
American. Silk. metmuseum
American. Silk. metmuseum.org
American. Silk. metmuseum.org
American. Silk. metmuseum.org
American. Silk. metmuseum
French. Silk. metmuseum
French. Silk. metmuseum
French. Silk. metmuseum.org
1924, Callot Soeurs, French, metmuseum.org
Callor Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum.org

Comfortable Elegance — A 5-Minute Guide to the Tea Gown

After a hard day at the mercy of a corset, 19th-century well-to-do ladies found welcome relief in the tea gown.

Worn for an informal afternoon entertaining friends, or dinner at home with family, the tea gown was a kind of halfway house between a wrapper and a ball gown.

With long sleeves, train, and sumptuous fabrics, they were consummately elegant, yet comfortable too—often being worn with a loose-fitting corset or no corset at all.

1875

1875 Tea Gown. American. Wool, silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Tea Gown. American. Wool, silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Tea Gown. American. Wool, silk, cotton. metmuseum
1875 Tea Gown. American. Wool, silk, cotton. metmuseum

The Japanese craze in western art and fashion, and in particular, the Kimono—worn by Japanese women during formal ceremonies—helped shape European tea gowns, which became popular in the United States at around the same time.

Girl in red kimono lying by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894
Girl in red kimono lying by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894
Girl in a White Kimono by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894
Girl in a White Kimono by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894

1878

c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c1878. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

1880

1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum
1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum
1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum
1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum
1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum
1880s Tea Gown. American. metmuseum

By the mid-1880s, tea gowns were considered modish, particularly among followers of the aesthetic movement—believing that life had to be lived intensely, with an ideal of beauty.

One firm catering to this artistic movement was Liberty & Co., famous as the chic venue for exquisite, individualized garments known as “art fabrics from the orient”.

1885

1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum
1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum
1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum
1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum
1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum
1885 Liberty and Co., British. Silk. metmuseum

1891

c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c. 1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c. 1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c. 1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum
c. 1891. American. Cotton. metmuseum

1907

Jacques Doucet was another couturier known for his passion for the refined and exquisite. The House of Doucet’s luxurious offerings were worn by royalty, elite society, and stage actresses.

In the example below, the lace at the bodice adds aesthetic interest, drawing attention to the wearer’s face. The open robe effect’s historical influence creates an air of romantic fantasy.

1907, Jacques Doucet. French. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1907, Jacques Doucet. French. Silk, linen. metmuseum

1920s

The popularity of the tea gown started to wind down in the 1920s, by which time they were very lightweight, with sheer silk and metallic thread.

1920s Tea Gown. American. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

According to the Boston Evening Transcript of 1907, a sale of tea gowns showed list prices varying from (in today’s dollars) about $370 up to $3300.

Boston Evening Transcript of 1907

References
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Wikipedia.org.
Dress Culture in Late Victorian Women’s Fiction by Dr Christine Bayles Kortsch.
Emily Post (1873–1960): Etiquette, 1922.
Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe by José Blanco F., Patricia Kay Hunt-Hurst, Heather Vaughan Lee, Mary Doering.

The Hustle and Bustle of Victorian Life — A 5-Minute Guide to the Bustle Dress

Following on from our article on corsets, we turn our attention to the bustle.

We think the bustle epitomizes Victorian fashion during the last quarter of the 19th century. It’s particularly synonymous with the period of peace, prosperity, and progress known as the Belle Époque.

The bustle was celebrated in paintings by the Belle Époque artist Jean Béraud, by the fashion portraitist James Tissot, and by the pointillist artist Georges Seurat in his iconic work “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”.

La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud - 1889
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud – 1889
The Ball on Shipboard by James Tissot, 1874
The Ball on Shipboard by James Tissot, 1874
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884

Out went the huge crinolines of the 1860’s …

1860's fashion plate
1860’s fashion plate

… and in came a slimline version.

1887 Fashion Plate
1887 Fashion Plate

The bustle was far more convenient for day-to-day activities … although some compromises were still necessary as Jean Béraud illustrates so aptly in his painting “Woman in Prayer”.

Woman in Prayer by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1877
Woman in Prayer by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1877

And the effect it had on men ranged from admiring looks at the opera, to marriage proposals on bended knee.

Left: The Box by the Stalls by Jean-Georges Béraud - 1883. Right: An 1885 proposal caricature
Left: The Box by the Stalls by Jean-Georges Béraud – 1883. Right: An 1885 proposal caricature

Even today, the essence of the bustle has been used by top designers such as Vera Wang in her stunning wedding dresses.

Vera Wang wedding dress. Photo credit: Sarah Kate Photography on stylemepretty.com
When I design a wedding dress with a bustle, it has to be one the bride can dance in. I love the idea that something is practical and still looks great.Vera Wang

Crinolines and bustles  were types of framework to give fullness to dresses and keep them from dragging.

1884-86. American. Silk. metmuseum_closeup
Bustle shown overlaid for illustration purposes

Heavy fabric would weigh down the skirts of dresses and flatten them, causing a woman’s petticoated dress to lose its shape during everyday wear—merely from sitting down or moving about.

From around the 1870s to the late 1890s, the large bell-shaped crinolines were superseded by the bustle as the preferred way to create the desired fullness that was in vogue.

The overskirt of the late 1860s was now swept up toward the back with the bustle providing the needed support for the new draped shape.

This fullness was drawn up in ties for walking that created a fashionable “puff”.

In this painting from Belle Époque-era Paris, we see ladies crossing the street in rainy weather while holding their skirts up with one hand.

The bustle made it much easier to manage the fullness of skirts and keep them from dragging on muddy streets.

Boulevard Poissonniere in the Rain by Jean-Georges Béraud - 1885
Boulevard Poissonniere in the Rain by Jean-Georges Béraud – 1885

Supporting this trendsetting puff was a variety of things such as horsehair, metal hoops and down.

More sophisticated designs would allow bustles to reach their maximum potential—looking like a full shelf at the back. Some even joked that the bustles could support an entire tea service!

1884-86. American. Silk. metmuseum_closeup
1884-86. American. Silk. metmuseum_closeup

Some of the sculptural undergarments required to achieve the extreme bustle of the 1880s are shown here.

To support the heavier gowns, light and flexible frameworks were created using wire, cane, and whalebone, held together with canvas tapes or inserts inside of quilted channels.

Bustle from c. 1885, American, linen, metal
Bustle from c. 1885, American, linen, metal
Bustle from 1871, British, cotton, metal. metmuseum
Bustle from 1871, British, cotton, metal. metmuseum
Bustle from 1870s, American. memuseum
Bustle from 1870s, American. memuseum
Bustle from 1870s, American, metmuseum
Bustle from 1870s, American, metmuseum
Bustle from 1880s Europe. metmuseum
Bustle from 1880s Europe. metmuseum
1878. American. Linen, metal. metmuseum
1878. American. Linen, metal. metmuseum
1880s. American. metmuseum
1880s. American. metmuseum
1882 bustle. American. Steel, cotton. metmuseum
1882 bustle. American. Steel, cotton. metmuseum
1873 Bustle. Credit Wilhelm Storm, flickr
1873 Bustle. Credit Wilhelm Storm, flickr
c. 1865. American. silk. metmuseum
c. 1865. American. silk. metmuseum
c. 1865. American. silk. metmuseum_front
c. 1865. American. silk. metmuseum_front
c. 1880. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c. 1880. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

c. 1880. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum_front

1885. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
c. 1885. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c. 1885. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c. 1885. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
c. 1885. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1888. American. Silk, linen, cotton. metmuseum
1888. American. Silk, linen, cotton. metmuseum
1888. American. Silk, linen, cotton. metmuseum
1888. American. Silk, linen, cotton. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Silk. metmuseum

The feminine bustle silhouette continued through the 1890’s before making way for the S-curve silhouette of the Edwardian era.

Sources
Metropolitan Museum of Art
wisconsinhistory.org
Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh

10 Exquisite Victorian Dressing Gowns — Slipping Into Something More Comfortable

After an evening spent at the opera or the ball in a tight-laced corsetted gown, perhaps Victorian ladies were a little more than relieved to slip into something more comfortable when they arrived home.

Queen (magazine) of 1881, now known as Harper’s Bazaar, observed the growing popularity of dressing gowns:

It is so much the fashion for young ladies to meet in their rooms, after they have seemingly retired to rest, that very smart dressing-gowns are brought into requisition, and flannel is forsaken for more dressy materials.

Our first example is the quintessential dressing gown of the mid- to late-Victorian era, complete with paisley pattern, military-style cuffs, and cord belt. The teal color runs through the pattern, cord, and lining.

Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk metmuseum
Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk, metmuseum (back)
Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk, metmuseum (back)
Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk, metmuseum (detail showing lining)
Dressing gown ca. 1875 American Wool, silk, metmuseum (detail showing lining)

Our next example was a popular style when it became acceptable to receive intimate guests at home in an informal manner. The fabric is more distinctive than the above paisley pattern and the form is more elegant. It was considered equivalent to a man’s banyan or smoking jacket.

Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum
Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum
Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum
Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum
Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum
Dressing Gown 1880-85 American Wool, Silk, metmuseum

Our third example is a sophisticated dressing gown of beautiful colors. The intricate back, with its horizontal ruffles, is reminiscent of the 1870s bustle. The complex back is sewn from four pieces starting at the shoulder seam, with a gradual flare to the hem.

Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1865-75 American Wool, silk, metmuseum

Our last example is an expensive, custom-made wool garment which belonged to a fashionable woman. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the evidence of high craftsmanship is in the skill, time, and extra material it would have taken to precisely place the stripe at the sleeve ends and match at the seams.

Dressing gown 1885–90 European wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1885–90 European wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1885–90 European wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1885–90 European wool, metmuseum

Other examples of Victorian dressing gowns

Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1850, American, Silk, cotton. metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1855, American, metmuseum
Dressing gown, 1880-90, American, wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown, 1880-90, American, wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown, 1880-90, American, wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown, 1880-90, American, wool, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1860s American, Cotton, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1860s American, Cotton, silk, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1872, American, Silk, wool, cotton, metmuseum
Dressing gown, c.1872, American, Silk, wool, cotton, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1870s American Linen, cotton, metmuseum
Dressing gown 1870s American Linen, cotton, metmuseum

A Dressing Gown Poem

Outside in my dressing gown by Liz Cowley.

I’m outside in my dressing gown —
I often am at half past seven,
when plants are sometimes waking up.
To me, that is a time of heaven.

The builders on the roof next door
were once surprised to see me there,
amazed to watch me pottering
in slippers and with unbrushed hair.

Thank God they’ve learned to look away,
accepting there’s a nut next door
who’s up and out and not yet dressed —
they don’t look startled any more.

They do their own thing, I do mine —
they glance at me, then look away.
I’m glad they have accepted it —
the way I like to start the day.

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20 Elegant Modern Women—the 19th-Century Paintings of Alfred Stevens

Alfred Stevens was one of Belgium’s leading 19th-century artists who specialized in paintings of fashionable young women in elegant interiors.

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As a young boy, Alfred Stevens (1823 – 1906) was surrounded by art: his father was an art collector and his grandparents ran a cafe in Brussels that was a meeting place for artists and writers.

At age 14, he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and at 20 was admitted to the most prestigious art school in Paris—the École des Beaux-Arts.

By  1851, at the age of 28, three of his paintings were admitted to the Brussels Salon, the most exclusive art exhibition in Belgium. Two years later, he was awarded a medal at the Paris Salon—the most important art event in the world.

It was here, in Paris, that he would find fame and fortune painting elegant modern women.

Here are 20 exquisite paintings from Alfred Steven’s repertoire that show his meticulous attention to contemporary dress and decor.

Departing for the Promenade, by Alfred-Émile-Léopold Stevens, 1859
Departing for the Promenade, by Alfred-Émile-Léopold Stevens, 1859
La Parisienne Japonaise by Alfred Stevens, 1871
La Parisienne Japonaise by Alfred Stevens, 1871
Lady at a Window Feeding Birds by Alfred Stevens, 1859
Lady at a Window Feeding Birds by Alfred Stevens, 1859
Pleasant Letter by Alfred Stevens, 1860
Pleasant Letter by Alfred Stevens, 1860
The Lady in Pink by Alfred Stevens, 1867
The Lady in Pink by Alfred Stevens, 1867
In the Studio by Alfred Stevens, 1888
In the Studio by Alfred Stevens, 1888
The Japanese Mask by Alfred Stevens, 1877
The Japanese Mask by Alfred Stevens, 1877
In the Country by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
In the Country by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
After the Ball by Alfred Stevens, 1873
After the Ball by Alfred Stevens, 1873
Autumn Flowers by Alfred Stevens, 1866
Autumn Flowers by Alfred Stevens, 1866
News from Afar by Alfred Stevens, 1865
News from Afar by Alfred Stevens, 1865
The Letter by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
The Letter by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
At Home by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
At Home by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
The Happy Mother by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
The Happy Mother by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
Déjà by Alfred Stevens, 1863
Déjà by Alfred Stevens, 1863
Pensive Woman Near a Window by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
Pensive Woman Near a Window by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906
La Parisienne by Alfred Stevens, 1879
La Parisienne, 1879 by Alfred Stevens, 1879
Portrait of Baroness du Mesnil Saint-Front by Alfred Stevens, 1886
Portrait of Baroness du Mesnil Saint-Front by Alfred Stevens, 1886
Mother and Children by Alfred Stevens, 1882
Mother and Children by Alfred Stevens, 1882
The Blue Ribbon by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906 Credit Giacasso
The Blue Ribbon by Alfred Stevens, 1823-1906 Credit Giacasso

Following in the footsteps of Sissi at the Hungarian Opera in 1885

Join us as we take a journey inside some of the world’s great opera houses.

Imagine we’re in 1885, and tonight, we have tickets for the Hungarian Royal Opera House in Budapest, Hungary.

The neo-Renaissance opera house was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure in 19th-century Hungarian architecture.

Built between 1875 and 1884, it was a time when Franz Joseph I was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. There had been peace for 20 years and Hungary was prospering.

Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth
Franz Joseph I of Austria and Elizabeth of Bavaria (“Sissi”)

His wife, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary—fondly known as “Sissi”—spent most of her time in Hungary, either at their sprawling country residence of Gödöllő Palace or the capital city, Budapest.

The politics and protocol of the Vienna court did not suit her. She much preferred to ride her horses through the beautiful grounds of Gödöllő and attend the opera in Budapest.

Naturally introverted, it is said that when Sissi wanted to break from the solitude of Gödöllő for the cultural delights of Budapest, she would attend the opera and watch performances from the first-floor proscenium box known as the “Sissi Box”. From here, she could see everything whilst being hidden from public view.

Join us as we follow in Sissi’s footsteps while listening to Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian national anthem.

This is the Hungarian Royal Opera House in the latter part of the 19th century.

At night, it would have been a glorious sight, lit with softly glowing gas lights, first introduced in 1856.

Hungarian State Opera House Credit Snobli Ivan, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House Credit Snobli Ivan, flickr
View of the Hungarian State Opera House at night. Credit Mstyslav Chernov
View of the Hungarian State Opera House at night. Credit Mstyslav Chernov

The main entrance was dazzling, with its richly decorated Baroque interior, marble columns, and vaulted ceiling covered in beautiful murals depicting the nine Muses—the Greek goddesses of literature, science, and the arts.

Going to the opera was a great social occasion for the elite of Budapest society.

A vast, sweeping marble staircase allowed the ladies to show off their new gowns.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit jaime.silva, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit jaime.silva, flickr
The grand staircase is one of the most impressive aspects of the Opera House. Image Credit Hungarian State Opera.

We will use the royal entrance, naturally. The royal staircase takes us discreetly from the street to the parlours on the first floor.

A private entrance from the carriage ramp in Dalszínház street – known as the royal staircase – leads to the parlours on the first floor. Credit Hungarian State Opera.

And there is the royal box in the center, with a magnificent view—the best seat in the house.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Ted McGrath, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Ted McGrath, flickr

What a beautiful creation this is. Seating 1,261 people, it has a horseshoe shape and, according to sound measurements, the third best acoustics in Europe.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Jason DeRose, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Jason DeRose, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Miroslav Petrasko, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Miroslav Petrasko, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Markus Lutkemeyer, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit Markus Lutkemeyer, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit ecv5, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit ecv5, flickr
Teatro dell'Opera. Credit: Andrea Puggioni
Teatro dell’Opera. Credit: Andrea Puggioni

Sissi preferred the proscenium box—just to the left of the stage. So nice and private—hidden from prying eyes. Those who knew called it the “Sissi box”.

Hungarian State Opera House. Credit hijukal, flickr
Hungarian State Opera House. Credit hijukal, flickr

Let the opera begin.

Click here to pan around the opera house interior in real-time.

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Dinner at Downton – What to Wear?

Imagine you’ve been invited to dinner at Downton Abbey.

It’s the first season covering the period around 1912-1914.

The decade leading up to our dinner at Downton saw the rise of Haute Couture; French for “high fashion” with its exclusive tailored clothing.

Paris was the fashion capital of the world and designers outfitted models with their finest clothes, sending them to Longchamp Races to show off the latest styles.

Ladies at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, Paris 1908
Ladies at the Hippodrome de Longchamp, Paris 1908

A new female silhouette had emerged from design houses Callot Soeurs and Paul Poiret. The new form-fitting gowns featured narrow skirts and raised waistlines and required a “straight line” corset, also known as the S-bend or health corset. It had a very rigid, straight busk, forcing the torso forward.

During Season One of Downton Abbey, a narrow-hipped and narrow skirted silhouette was all the rage.

Listed below are actual evening dresses from the period, donated by various wealthy families to the collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

An Edwardian lady in full dress was a wonder to behold, and her preparations for viewing were awesome.William Manchester.

What will you wear for dinner at Downton? Vote for your favorites.

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