The Longchamp Racecourse and Fashion Promenade

Attracting enormous crowds, by the late 1800s, the Longchamp Racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris had become one of the most fashionable public venues in France.

Spectating at the races was an immensely popular and socially prestigious pastime.

A place to see and be seen, Longchamp was like a giant stage to vaunt one’s social position.

The Races at Longchamps from the Grandstand by Giuseppe de Nittis, 1883

Attended by Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie, who sailed down the Seine River on their private yacht to catch the third race, Longchamp Racecourse opened to the public on Sunday, April 27, 1857.

Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie
Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie

And it wouldn’t only be French Royalty who loved Longchamps—King Edward VII of Great Britain attended too.

The King's carriage leaving Longchamps with French Prime Minister Loubet and British King Edward VII, 1903.
The King’s carriage leaving Longchamps with French Prime Minister Loubet and British King Edward VII, 1903.

Enclosures were reserved for aristocrats and the well-connected and ladies were required to be escorted by a gentleman in order to enter.

The Races At Longchamp In 1874 by Pierre Gavarni (1846 - 1932)
The Races At Longchamp In 1874 by Pierre Gavarni (1846 – 1932)

But grabbing the spotlight was a new class of celebrity: the demimonde.

Supported by wealthy lovers, these were women on the fringes of respectable society.

The Races at Longchamp by Jean-Louis Forain, 1891
The Races at Longchamp by Jean-Louis Forain, 1891

Arriving alone, demimondaine were forbidden access to the enclosures but were as much of a spectacle as the races themselves.

Mixing with society women, they often shared the same couturier but appeared a little more chic.

1908 Longchamp

Attending the Longchamp races as the mistress of wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan was a young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Although she didn’t quite fit the mold of a typical demimondaine, Gabrielle appeared in the loose, simple dress that would later influence an entire generation of “flappers” during the Roaring Twenties.

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel

Paris had become the fashion capital of the world and it wasn’t long before designers realized that Longchamp was a goldmine.

Fashion houses outfitted models with their finest clothes, sending them to the races to show off the latest styles.

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

Join us as we travel back in time to the Longchamp Races from 1907 to 1935—a time of elegance and flamboyance that may never be repeated.

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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.

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 Five-Minute Guide to Waistcoats and Vests

Today, waistcoats, or vests, are the essential third piece in the traditional three-piece male business suit.

Historians can precisely date their origin to King Charles II of England (1630 – 1685), who introduced the vest to the English court as part of correct dress.

Diarist and civil servant Samuel Pepys wrote:

the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how

The King of England was essentially trying to outdo the French King Louis XIV—a tall order indeed.

Portrait of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland by Thomas Hawker, 1660
Portrait of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland by Thomas Hawker, 1660

Charles II had borrowed the idea from English traveler and adventurer Sir Robert Shirley (1581 – 1628), who in turn had borrowed it from the Persian court of Shah Abbas the Great (1571 – 1629).

Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Shirley by Anthony van Dyck, 1622
Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Shirley by Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Originally a longer coat, the “vest” as it was initially called, later became the “waistcoat” as fashion demanded a shorter waist-level cut.

c1710. British. Linen, silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c1710. British. Linen, silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men often wore elaborate and brightly-coloured waistcoats.

But changing fashions in the nineteenth century demanded a more subdued palette to match the new lounge suits.

1730. Italian. Silk twill and plain weave (gros de tours) with silk- and metallic-thread discontinuous supplementary-weft patterning bound in twill (lampas). LACMA
1730. Italian. Silk twill and plain weave (gros de tours) with silk- and metallic-thread discontinuous supplementary-weft patterning bound in twill (lampas). LACMA

As the eighteenth century progressed, waistcoat skirts became shorter and eventually disappeared.

Complementing the coat and breeches, luxurious fabrics and decoration were emphasized for the visible areas, while those unseen were made of cheaper fabrics like linen or wool.

1740. British. Silk, linen and possibly horsehair, hand woven and hand sewn, silver. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1740. British. Silk, linen and possibly horsehair, hand woven and hand sewn, silver. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1750. French. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA
1750. French. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA

Reserved for the most formal occasions, the shimmering waistcoat below would have been used for court appearances or high ceremonies.

Woven entirely out of metallic threads which were difficult and costly to work with, it would have been a very expensive purchase.

1750. British. silk, metal, linen. metmuseum
1750. British. silk, metal, linen. metmuseum

Troops of the regular army would wear waistcoats made from old worn-out overcoats turned inside-out so that the reverse-colored lining was on the outside.

Regular British Soldiers and an Officer. Credit Tommc73
Regular British Soldiers and an Officer. Credit Tommc73
1760. British. Cotton plain weave with cotton corded quilting. LACMA
1760. British. Cotton plain weave with cotton corded quilting. LACMA

From the inventive floral sprigs composed of different flowers, down to the bull’s-eye motif of the buttons, the embroidery on this vest is a particularly noteworthy remnant of 18th-century men’s wear.

1760. French. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1760. French. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. British. Brocaded silk. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1765. British. Brocaded silk. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Outstanding naturalistic leaves and petals and intricate floral motifs on this vest show the refinement of 18th-century embroidery.

1780. French. Silk, metmuseum
1780. French. Silk, metmuseum

Depicting Aesop’s (620-560 BC) tale of “The Wolf and the Crane”, the embroidery motifs on this vest show a crane removing a bone from a wolf’s throat.

Indicative of the status of the waistcoat as decoration was a playful style to the beautiful embroidery work.

1780. French silk, cotton. metmuseum
1780. French silk, cotton. metmuseum
1780. French. Silk. metmusem
1780. French. Silk. metmusem
1785. French. Silk satin with silk embroidery and silk grosgrain ribbon. LACMA
1785. French. Silk satin with silk embroidery and silk grosgrain ribbon. LACMA
1790. Europe. Silk satin with silver-metallic and polychrome-silk thread and silver sequins. LACMA
1790. Europe. Silk satin with silver-metallic and polychrome-silk thread and silver sequins. LACMA
1800. French. silk, linen, metal, cotton. metmuseum
1800. French. silk, linen, metal, cotton. metmuseum
1810. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum
1810. American. Silk, linen. metmuseum

Beginning in the 1820s, elite gentlemen of the more fashionable set—particularly the younger crowd and the military—wore corsets.

Emphasizing the masculine body shape for men, waistcoats became skin-tight and cut to give a broad-shouldered look, with pouting chest, and nipped-in waist.

1830. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1830. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum

If no corset was worn, then the fashionable male silhouette could be still be maintained with whalebone stiffeners and reinforced buttons up the front.

To help mold the waistline, the lacings in the back could be pulled tight.

1835. American. wool, cotton. metmuseum
1835. American. wool, cotton. metmuseum

Shawl collars and patterned textiles were a prominent feature of vests in the 1820s and 30s.

Vividly contrasted glass buttons and wool pile embroidery set against glossy velvet lend a unique touch to this vest.

1838. American. Silk, cotton, wool, leather, glass. metmuseum
1838. American. Silk, cotton, wool, leather, glass. metmuseum
1840. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1840. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum

Popular throughout the middle of the 19th century, a padded chest and nipped in waist helped achieve the expected male body shape.

Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was known for wearing tight corsets sporting a tiny waist—a style that many men followed.

1845. American. Silk, cotton, leather. metmuseum
1845. American. Silk, cotton, leather. metmuseum
1845. British. silk. metmuseum
1845. British. silk. metmuseum

Although vests of the second half of the 19th century were more somber, the elaborate texture of this vest harks back to a more decadent era.

1850. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1850. American. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1855. French. Silk. metmuseum
1855. French. Silk. metmuseum
1858. American. Red and black striped wool lampas, silk twill. philamuseum.org
1858. American. Red and black striped wool lampas, silk twill. philamuseum.org

Inspired by French paisley shawls, the patterning of this vest proved very popular in the 1860s.

Adapted by Europeans from the Indian boteh form, goods featuring the paisley motif were imported from India by the East India Trading Companies in the 17th century.

Paisley has since become one of the most popular designs in fashion history.

1860. American. Cotton, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum
1860. American. Cotton, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum

Paired with a black evening suit, this vest made for a very elegant appearance, with intricate details such as the curve of the pocket mimicing the textile pattern and the embroidery detail.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Edwardian look made a larger physique more popular.

King Edward VII is said to have started a trend to leave the bottom button undone to accommodate his expanding waistline.

1885. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum
1885. American. silk, cotton. metmuseum

Exquisite Pocket Watches of a Bygone Time

Designed to slip into the pocket of the new waistcoats introduced by King Charles II of England, pocket watches became a luxurious accessory for correct dress after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660.

Prior to this, they had been heavy, drum-shaped cylinders fastened to clothing or worn on a chain around the neck.

17th Century

The French, Swiss, Dutch and Germans were the main artisans producing these beautiful watches that were essentially items of jewelry that incidentally told the time.

It wasn’t until 1680 that pocket watches introduced the minute hand and another 10 years before the second hand made an appearance.

Adorning the elaborately jeweled pocket watch below is a depiction of the young Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) on horseback.

One of the most important surviving watches of its period, it is thought to have been made as a gift for the young king.

1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum

It includes a miniature with the arms of France and Navarre and the Orders of Saint Michael and the Holy Spirit.

1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum2
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. Jacques Goullons. Case and dial of enameled gold; hand of steel; movement of brass, partly gilded, and steel. metmuseum
1645. Watch. French, probably Paris case with Dutch, The Hague watch. Case and dial enameled gold; Movement gilded brass and steel, partly blued. metmuseum
1645. Watch. French, probably Paris case with Dutch, The Hague watch. Case and dial enameled gold; Movement gilded brass and steel, partly blued. metmuseum
1645. Case and dial painted enamel on gold with brass hand; Movement gilded brass and partly blued steel. metmuseumFrench, probably Paris
1645. Case and dial painted enamel on gold with brass hand; Movement gilded brass and partly blued steel. metmuseumFrench, probably Paris
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum
1640. Watch. British, London. Silver gilt. metmuseum

18th Century

Britain was at the forefront of watch making in the 18th century.

Not only were half of the world’s watches made in Britain, but probably 70% of the innovation in a modern mechanical watch came from Britain.

Verge escapement in motion. Credit AlienAtSystem

Originally developed for large clocks like those of the town hall, the earlier watch mechanisms used the verge escapementverge being derived from the Latin virga for stick or rod.

An escapement is a device that transfers energy to the watch’s timekeeping element, allowing the number of oscillations to be counted.

Inherent with the verge escapement design was a high degree of friction, with no jewelling to protect the contacting surfaces from wear.

As a result, a verge watch could rarely achieve any high standard of accuracy.

How goes your watches ladies? What’s o’clock now?
First Lady: By mine full nine.
Second Lady: By mine a quarter past.

These three lines by the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton (d. 1627) sum up the unreliability of watches, which for the most part were more useful as jewelry than as timekeepers.

But with time came improvements.

Lever escapement. Credit Mario Frasca
Lever escapement. Credit Mario Frasca

The cylinder escapement invented by English clockmaker Thomas Tompion in 1695 and perfected by another English clockmaker, George Graham, in 1726, was much thinner allowing for very slim watch designs, which became the height of fashion.

But the cylinder escapement didn’t significantly improve accuracy.

Then in 1759, along came another Englishman, Thomas Mudge, with his invention of the lever escapement—the greatest single improvement ever applied to pocket watches.

With the lever escapement, watches could keep time to within a minute a day.

1720. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1720. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Enamel, silver. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Enamel, silver. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1740. Watch. British, London. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum
1770. Watch. German, Dresden. Case gold, inlaid with hardstones. metmuseum

19th  and early 20th Centuries

Although the exquisite craftsmanship of British and Swiss watchmakers dominated the first half of the 19th century, it was the Second Industrial Revolution in the latter third that catapulted America to center-stage of watch manufacturing.

1810. Watch. Swiss, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Gold, glass. metmuseum
1810. Watch. Swiss, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Gold, glass. metmuseum
1819. Watch. British, London. Case of gold, enamel, and pearls, with floral design; jeweled movement, with ruby cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1819. Watch. British, London. Case of gold, enamel, and pearls, with floral design; jeweled movement, with ruby cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1820. Watch. Swiss. Case of gold and enamel, with chronoscope dial; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1822. Watch. French, Lyon. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1825. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case of gold and enamel, with floral design; jeweled movement, with cylinder escapement. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1830. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1832. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly gold, enamel, and silver; Movement brass and steel with ruby. metmuseum
1835. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1835. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Gold, enamel, silver. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum
1850. Watch. Swiss, Geneva. Case partly enameled gold; Dial white enamel with gold hands; Movement gilded brass and steel. metmuseum

Demand for pocket watches rose dramatically in the late 19th century, but Britain and Switzerland were ill-equipped to seize the opportunity.

World leadership changed hands to America, with Waltham, Massachusetts and Elgin, Illinois becoming centers of mass manufacturing using standardized parts and the latest machine tools.

The rise of railroads also spread the popularity of pocket watches and helped improve their reliability.

Attributed to one of the engineer’s watches running four minutes behind, a deadly train disaster in Kipton, Ohio in 1891, in which two trains collided at full speed, prompted new precision standards and safety inspections for Railroad pocket watches.

Colloquially called “railroad-grade pocket watches”, these precision timepieces had to meet the General Railroad Timepiece Standards adopted in 1893 by almost all railroads.

Interior of Burlington Bulldog railroad watch. Credit Kevin Trotman
Interior of Burlington Bulldog railroad watch. Credit Kevin Trotman
Vintage Elgin National Watch Co. Pocket Watch with Hunter Case and Gold Chain, Circa 1901. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Co. Pocket Watch with Hunter Case and Gold Chain, Circa 1901. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Company Pocket Watch, 17 Jewels, Lever Set, 10 K Gold Filled Open Face Case Marked 'Hamilton Keystone Watchcase, J. Boss, Railroad Model', Circa 1918. Credit Joe Haupt
Vintage Elgin National Watch Company Pocket Watch, 17 Jewels, Lever Set, 10 K Gold Filled Open Face Case Marked ‘Hamilton Keystone Watchcase, J. Boss, Railroad Model’, Circa 1918. Credit Joe Haupt

Pocket watches remained popular until World War I when officers in the field discovered that wristwatches were easier and quicker to use.

Waltham pocket watch once owned by a World War I veteran.. Credit Ross Dunn
Waltham pocket watch once owned by a World War I veteran.. Credit Ross Dunn

A 5-Minute Guide to the House of Worth

Something wonderful happened to the world of fashion during the second half of the 19th century.

Beautiful gowns were no longer the exclusive privilege of the aristocracy …

The splendour of the Royal Court
The splendour of the Royal Court

… but were available to anyone with the wherewithal to display their finery on the boulevards, in the opera houses, and in café society.

The Boulevard at Night, in front of the Theatre des Varietes by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1883
The Boulevard at Night, in front of the Theatre des Varietes by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1883
The Staircase of the Opera by Louis Beroud
The Staircase of the Opera by Louis Beroud
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud , 1889
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud , 1889

It was a time to “see and be seen”.

Woman with Opera Glasses by Frederik Henrdik Kaemmerer
Woman with Opera Glasses by Frederik Henrdik Kaemmerer

And who was responsible for this change?

None other than the English entrepreneur Charles Frederick Worth, “the father of Haute Couture”.

Charles Frederick Worth. At ages 14, 30, and 69
Charles Frederick Worth. At ages 14, 30, and 69

Born in Lincolnshire, England, Charles Frederick Worth spent his early career working for department stores and textile merchants in London.

Besides learning all there was to know about fabrics and the dressmaking business, he would spend hours in the National Gallery studying historical portraits.

Portrait of Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Portrait of Mrs. Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Mr and Mrs William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Mr and Mrs William Hallett (“The Morning Walk”) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

It was this time in London that would inspire his later works.

As the center of world fashion, Paris beckoned, and Worth found employment with the prominent textile firm Maison Gagelin, soon becoming a leading salesman, then dressmaker.

Quai du Louvre by Claude Monet,1867
Quai du Louvre by Claude Monet,1867

Establishing a reputation for himself and winning commendations at the expositions in Paris and London, news of Worth’s skills caught the attention of the Empress Eugénie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III of France.

Appointed court designer, Charles Frederick Worth’s success was all but guaranteed.

Portrait of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920) by Franz Xaver Winterhalder, 1853, wearing a gown designed by Worth
Portrait of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920) by Franz Xaver Winterhalder, 1853, wearing a gown designed by Worth

Soon after, he opened his own design house in Paris at 7 Rue de la Paix—first in partnership with Otto Bobergh and later as sole proprietor.

The House of Worth and Haute Couture were born.

House of Worth, 7 rue de la Paix, Paris, and Paris and Biarritz salons
House of Worth, 7 rue de la Paix, Paris, and Paris and Biarritz salons

Haute Couture is the fusion of fashion and costume.

It is wearable art.

And wealthy women of the 19th century would pay handsomely for it.

With seemingly endless social engagements, clients changed dress up to four times a day, some purchasing their entire wardrobes from Worth.

Elegant Soiree by Jean-Georges Béraud
Elegant Soiree by Jean-Georges Béraud

The House of Worth was known for showing several designs for each season on live models.

Clients would select their favorites and Worth would tailor-make gowns with elegant fabrics, detailed trimmings, and superb fit.

By the 1870s, Worth’s name frequently appeared in ordinary fashion magazines, spreading his fame to women well beyond courtly circles.

I told you it was a dress from Worth’s. I know the look.
I told you it was a dress from Worth's. I know the look

Combining colors and textures using meticulously chosen textiles and trims, House of Worth produced works of art.

That so many examples have survived in such good condition is testament not only to the popularity of Worth among wealthy patrons but also the quality of textiles insisted upon by Charles Frederick Worth.

What better way to celebrate the extraordinary House of Worth than the dulcet tones of Claude Debussy.

This is one of Worth’s earlier designs when he was still in partnership with Otto Bobergh under the name Worth and Bobergh.

Skirts of the 1860s were wide, full, and bell-shaped, supported initially by multiple layers of petticoats and later by crinolines made from graduated hoops of cane or steel.

1862. Evening ensemble. Silk. metmuseum
1862. Evening ensemble. Silk. metmuseum

As the 1870s got underway, the shape of skirts changed, with flatter front and sides and the fullness pulled back and supported behind by a “bustle”.

1875. Afternoon Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1875. Afternoon Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1877. Dinner Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1877. Dinner Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1878. Two-Piece Day Dress. Silk faille and brocaded silk lampas weave trimmed with lace, silk satin, and beads. philamuseum
1878. Two-Piece Day Dress. Silk faille and brocaded silk lampas weave trimmed with lace, silk satin, and beads. philamuseum
1878. Reception Dress. Silk, linen. cincinnatiartmuseum
1878. Reception Dress. Silk, linen. cincinnatiartmuseum
1882. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1882. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1883. Afternoon Dress. Dark blue satin; dark blue satin brocaded with bouquets of coral pink to rust colored roses and white stemmed flowers; petal pink chiffon; rust satin. Credit MCNY
1883. Afternoon Dress. Dark blue satin; dark blue satin brocaded with bouquets of coral pink to rust colored roses and white stemmed flowers; petal pink chiffon; rust satin. Credit MCNY
1887. Ball Gown. Silk, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1887. Ball Gown. Silk, glass, metallic thread. metmuseum
1888. Evening Gown. Silk, beads, metallic. metmuseum
1888. Evening Gown. Silk, beads, metallic. metmuseum

As the 1880s came to a close, the lines of skirts transitioned away from the bustle to form a clearer shape, but the sleeves swelled to enormous proportions, earning them the nickname “elephant sleeves”.

1889. Evening Dress. metmuseum
1889. Evening Dress. metmuseum
1892. Dinner Dress. silk satin with woven chrysanthemum pattern; large velvet gigot sleeves; lace decoration on cuffs and collar. KCI
1892. Dinner Dress. silk satin with woven chrysanthemum pattern; large velvet gigot sleeves; lace decoration on cuffs and collar. KCI
1893 Evening Ensemble. Silk, linen, metal. metmuseum
1893 Evening Ensemble. Silk, linen, metal. metmuseum
1893. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1893. Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1893. Ensemble. Silk, jet, metal. metmuseum
1893. Ensemble. Silk, jet, metal. metmuseum
1894. Ball Gown. silk brocade with tassel pattern; two-piece dress with gigot sleeves; silk taffeta bow at breast; silk chiffon decoration at hem of skirt. Credit KCI
1894. Ball Gown. silk brocade with tassel pattern; two-piece dress with gigot sleeves; silk taffeta bow at breast; silk chiffon decoration at hem of skirt. Credit KCI
1894. Afternoon Dress. Silk faille set of bodice and skirt; silk lace and velvet bows at neck and cuffs; apron-shaped overskirt with silk fringe at front. Credit KCI
1894. Afternoon Dress. Silk faille set of bodice and skirt; silk lace and velvet bows at neck and cuffs; apron-shaped overskirt with silk fringe at front. Credit KCI
1895. Ball Gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
1895. Ball Gown. French. Silk. metmuseum
“Lily Dress” evening dress, black velvet with application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins, 1896. © L. Degrâces et Ph. offre/Galliera/Roger-Viollet
“Lily Dress” evening dress, black velvet with application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins, 1896. © L. Degrâces et Ph. offre/Galliera/Roger-Viollet
1896. Wedding Dress. Silk, pearl. metmuseum
1896. Wedding Dress. Silk, pearl. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, cotton, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening gown. Silk. metmuseum
1898. Evening gown. Silk. metmuseum
1898. Ball Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1898. Ball Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones. metmuseum
1898. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, glass, metal. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, glass, metal. metmuseum
1900 Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1900 Evening Dress. Silk. metmuseum
1900. Evening Dress. Pale green silk chiffon and velvet; S-curve silhouette; appliqué of plant pattern; sequin and cord embroidery with water's-edge pattern. Credit KCI
1900. Evening Dress. Pale green silk chiffon and velvet; S-curve silhouette; appliqué of plant pattern; sequin and cord embroidery with water’s-edge pattern. Credit KCI

House of Worth gowns were worn by the very wealthiest of clients.  The dinner dress (below left) was worn by the wife of the great American banker J.P. Morgan, Jr.

At night, the stars in the evening dress (below right) would twinkle as the wearer moved and the light caught the different textures.

1900 & 1905. Silk, rhinsetones, metal. metmuseum
1900 & 1905. Silk, rhinsetones, metal. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1900. Ball Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1901. Tea Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1901. Tea Gown. Silk. metmuseum
1902. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1902. Evening Dress. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1906 Peignoir. Silk. metmuseum
1906 Peignoir. Silk. metmuseum
1910. Tea Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1910. Tea Gown. Silk, rhinestones, metal. metmuseum
1911 Evening Dress. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1911 Evening Dress. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1916. Evening Dress. French. silk metal, rhinestones. metmuseum
1916. Evening Dress. French. silk metal, rhinestones. metmuseum
1918 Dinner Dress. Silk synthetic. metmuseum
1918 Dinner Dress. Silk synthetic. metmuseum
1925. Evening Dress. Silk, beads, metal thread. metmuseum
1925. Evening Dress. Silk, beads, metal thread. metmuseum
1930s Evening ensemble. Silk, plastic. metmuseum
1930s Evening ensemble. Silk, plastic. metmuseum
1940s. 'Féminité' dress and Ensemble. Silk, synthetic, beads. metmuseum
1940s. ‘Féminité’ dress and Ensemble. Silk, synthetic, beads. metmuseum

Charles Frederick Worth passed away in 1895 and The House of Worth remained in operation under his descendents but faced increasing competition from the 1920s onwards, eventually closing in 1956.

The House of Worth brand was revived in 1999 but failed to compete successfully in Haute Couture.

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

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinoiserie

1. Chinoiserie was once the most coveted fashion of the aristocracy

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans became fascinated with Asian cultures and traditions. They loved to imitate or evoke Asian motifs in Western art, architecture, landscaping, furniture, and fashion.

China seemed a mysterious, far-away place and the lack of first-hand experiences only added to the mystique.

Chinoiserie derives from the French word chinois, meaning “Chinese”, or “after the Chinese taste”. It is a Western aesthetic inspired by Eastern design.

The fact remains that four thousand years ago, when we did not know how to read, they knew everything essentially useful of which we boast todayVoltaire

To immerse yourself in the Chinoiserie experience, optionally play the traditional East Asian music.

A folding screen was one of the most popular expressions of Chinoiserie, often decorated with beautiful art.

Themes included mythology, scenes of palace life, nature, and romance in Chinese literature—a young lady in love could take a curious peek hidden from behind a folding screen.

Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742

2. Chinoiserie’s popularity grew with rising trade in the East

Rising trade with China and East Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries brought an influx of Chinese and Indian goods into Europe aboard ships from the English, Dutch, French, and Swedish East India Companies.

The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838
The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838

By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company had become the dominant player in East Asian trading, its rule extending across most of India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and British Hong Kong.

A fifth of the world’s population was under the trading influence of the British East India Company.

East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)
(British) East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)

3. Chinoiserie began with tea drinking

Drinking tea was the height of fashion for ladies of good taste and required an appropriate chinoiserie mise en scène.

Tea drinking was a fundamental part of polite society; much of the interest in both Chinese export wares and chinoiserie rose from the desire to create appropriate settings for the ritual of tea drinkingBeevers
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum

Tea and sugar were expensive commodities during the eighteenth century and this chest could be locked to secure its valuable contents.

Containing two canisters for tea (green and black) and a larger one for sugar, the pastoral scenes, and Italianate landscapes, combined with Rococo gilding against a pink ground, create an opulent effect.

1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum

4. Aristocratic women were famous collectors of chinoiserie porcelain

Among them were Queen Mary, Queen Anne, Henrietta Howard, and the Duchess of Queensbury—all socially important women, whose homes served as examples of good taste and sociability.

Wealthy women helped define the prevailing vogue through their purchasing power. One story tells of a keen competition between Margaret, 2nd Duchess of Portland, and Elizabeth, Countess of Ilchester, for a Japanese blue and white plate.

Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680

Reflecting the English factory’s focus on Asian porcelains as a primary source of inspiration, this plate with its skillfully composed chinoiserie decoration, is an ambitious work from the 1750s, the decade during which Bow first achieved commercially viable production.

1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum

Distinguished by the chinoiserie scenes painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin, these elephant vases from c. 1760 are thought to have been commissioned by Mme. de Pompadour, chief mistress of Louis XV of France. They are among the rarest forms produced by the famous Sèvres manufactory in the suburbs of Paris.

Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum
Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum

5. Chinoiserie is related to the Rococo style

Both styles are characterized by exuberant decoration, a focus on materials, stylized nature, and subject matter depicting leisure and pleasure.

Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum

Exotic chinoiserie accents in the pagoda-shaped outline of the tureen’s lid exemplify an interpretation popular in southern Germany.

1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum
1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum

6. European monarchs gave special favor to Chinoiserie

King Louis XV of France and Britain’s King George IV thought Chinoiserie blended well with the rococo style.

Entire rooms, such as those at Château de Chantilly, were painted with chinoiserie compositions, and artists such as Antoine Watteau and others brought expert craftsmanship to the style.

Highly ornamental, yet elegant, Western interpretations of Eastern themes were fanciful expressions, often with exotic woods and marbles used to further the effect.

A room furnished in the Louis XV style
A room furnished in the Louis XV style
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty's Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty’s Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820

Built in 1670 at Versailles as a pleasure house for King Louis XIV’s mistress, the Trianon de Porcelaine was considered to be the first major example of chinoiserie. It was replaced by the Grand Trianon 17 years later.

Trainon de Porcelaine
Trainon de Porcelaine. Credit Hervé GREGOIRE (top right image)

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia had a Chinese House built in the gardens of his summer palace Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.

Garden architect Johann Gottfried Büring designed the pavilion in the style of Chinoiserie by blending Chinese architectural elements with ornamental rococo.

The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort

7. Europeans manufactured imitations of Chinese lacquer furniture

Frequently decorated with ebony and ivory or Chinese motifs of pagodas and dragons, Europeans such as Thomas Chippendale helped popularize Chinoiserie furniture.

Chippendale’s design book The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director: Being a large Collection of the Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture, In the Most Fashionable Taste provided a guide for intricate chinoiserie furniture and its decoration.

1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.

8. Marco Polo was the first European to describe a Chinese garden

Marco Polo visited the summer palace of Kublai Khan at Xanadu in around 1275.

There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.Marco Polo
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742

Evolving over three thousand years, the Chinese garden landscaping style became popular in the West during the 18th century.

Built in 1738, the Chinese House within the gardens of the English Palladian mansion at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, was the first of its kind in an English garden.

Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England
Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England

Hundreds of Chinese and Japanese Gardens were built around the world to celebrate the naturalistic, organic beauty of their asymmetric design.

One admires the art with which this irregularity is carried out. Everything is in good taste, and so well arranged, that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by pieceJesuit priest Jean Denis Attiret, 1739
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi

9. Wealthy gentlemen preferred Banyans to formal clothing

Made from expensive silk brocades, damasks, and printed cottons, banyans were types of dressing gown with a kimono-like form and Eastern origin. Worn with a matching waistcoat and cap or turban, they were so popular among wealthy men of the late 18th century that they posed for portraits wearing the banyan instead of formal clothing.

Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem

10. Chinoiserie enjoyed a renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s

Intimating the most elaborate past of the Chinese court, the Chinoiserie roundels of this Lanvin robe de style alternately resemble embroidered Manchu court badge motifs or the glinting scales of Mongol armor interpreted in Western embroidery.

1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum
1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum

Stressing tubular simplicity, Callot Soeurs used the reductive rubric of Art Deco to combine Chinoiserie with other styles, resulting in an intoxicating fusion of exoticisms.

1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

Known for their Chinoiserie, Callot Soeurs also featured the long fluid vestigial sleeves of Ottoman coats.

1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

References
Wikipedia
V&A Museum
The Met
The British Museum

The History of Handbags — a 5-Minute Guide

Today’s designer handbags have a long and storied history.

Early Europeans used handbags just as we do today—to store personal belongings needed for the day. Clothing had no pockets until the 17th century, so men also carried handbags for things like coins, alms, and relics.

Worn attached to a belt, this 16th-century buckle bag had 18 secret compartments. For the aristocratic gentleman, it was a status symbol.

1500s. French. Goat's leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets, some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
1500s. French. Goat’s leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets—some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

The First Man-Purse?

The sporran played a similar role in the highlands of Scotland—part utilitarian, part symbol of wealth and status.

A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.
A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.

A 16th-Century Messenger Bag?

As pockets became an integral part of clothing during the 17th century, men no longer needed to carry handbags for anything other than the bulkiest of items—books, documents, and letters.

Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

Chatelaine Bags

From the 16th century, women often wore a decorative clasp at the waist with a series of chains attached, called a chatelaine. Suspended from it were useful household accessories such as scissors, keys, and sewing tools. Crafted from precious metals, chatelaines were considered as jewelry and status symbols.

Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.
Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.

Reticules or Indispensables

17th- and 18th-century ladies preferred to carry their particulars in small bags with drawstrings that were known as reticules in France and “indispensables” in England.

Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813. Both ladies are clutching a reticule.

Using embroidery skills learned from a young age, ladies created designs of great artistry and beauty.

c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA

The Dawn of the Designer Handbag

The Industrial Revolution brought steam railways and travel became increasingly popular.

In 1841, Yorkshire entrepreneur Samuel Parkinson, whose Butterscotch confectionary was appointed to the British royal household, wanted to treat his wife to a custom-made set of hand luggage.

He had noticed that her purse was too small and not made of a sturdy enough material for traveling. So he had leather handbags made for her in varying size for different occasions.

Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874
Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874

Besides durability, Parkinson wanted to distinguish his luggage from that of lower class passengers.

London-based luxury leather goods company H. J. Cave & Sons was more than happy to oblige. Its Osilite trunk became so famous that it won several prizes in the 19th century, including first prize in Paris in 1867.

But most importantly for Mrs. Parkinson, she got to own the world’s first designer handbag.

H. J. Cave’s designs are known to have inspired Louis Vuitton (1857) and a young Guccio Gucci (1910).

Gallery of handbags and purses through history

1700s

c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum

1800s

1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum

1900s

1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum

References
Museum of Bags
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wikipedia
LACMA

The Colorful Shoes of the 18th Century

Adorned with decadent decorative arts and steeped in affectation, it’s no surprise that the French Court led European preference for elaborate clothing and accessories—everything from luxurious wigs to the colorful shoes of the 18th century.

Just as the formal ladies’ Robe à la Francaise showcased lavish embroideries and silk damask fabrics, so too did footwear display the very best of the era’s woven artistry.

Both ladies and gentlemen were expected to be fluent in fine arts, music, and dancing and behave with the utmost grace and poise.

This exuberance was no less manifested in the footwear of the period—the colorful shoes of the 18th century.

1700. French. Silk, leather
1700. French. Silk, leather
1709. European. Silk
1709. European. Silk
c1710s. European. Silk. Leather
c1710s. European. Silk. Leather

Trending toward the lighter floral decoration of Rococo in the first quarter of the 18th century, the predecessor to the classic buckle was the latchet tie (shown below).

When buckles did become available later in the century, they were often retrofitted to latchet tie shoes to extend their life.

1720. British. Silk, leather
1720. British. Silk, leather
1721. British. Silk, metal
1721. British. Silk, metal
1729. British, Silk
1729. British, Silk

“Bargello” or flame stitch was an embroidery style most commonly used for upholstery and personal accessories, but also for shoes.

The bold zigzag wool canvas pattern shown below extends to the heels, which was unusual for the time—more often being silk or leather.

1729. British. Wool, linen, metal
1729. British. Wool, linen, metal
1729. British, Wool
1729. British, Wool
1729. British. Silk. Metallic
1729. British. Silk. Metallic
1739. European. Wool
1739. European. Wool

Wel-established in the 17th century and continuing into the 18th was a decorative style of braid with multiple parallel rows.

Pinched toes, high throat, flared tongue with small side opening, and sturdy high heel rounded out this popular style.

Ties were still in fashion and were the main method of closure until the buckle was introduced later in the century.

1739. British, silk
1739. British, silk
1739. European. Silk, gold, leather
1739. European. Silk, gold, leather
1740. British. Silk. Metallic
1740. British. Silk. Metallic
1745. British. Silk
1745. British. Silk

Inspired by an Indian floral design, this pair of ladies shoes (below) shows the penchant for patterned fabrics.

Ladies would sometimes embroider the upper themselves and take it to a shoemaker to be made into shoes. Published in ladies magazines, embroidery patterns had become popular by the last quarter of the 18th century.

1749 British silk
1749 British silk
1755. British. Silk, metal
1755. British. Silk, metal

Eye-catching textile designs were a favorite choice of aristocratic ladies.

The red heel and white strip along the shoe’s front edge coordinate well with the uppers.

A wide metallic ribbon down the center of the vamp was a popular decoration of the period.

1759. British. Silk, leather, metal
1759. British. Silk, leather, metal
1759. European. Silk
1759. European. Silk

Popular for about 100 years, striped braid is shown below toward the end of its fashionable period in the monochrome preference.

Despite a buckle that would hide the intricate pattern, the braided tongue was fashioned with an attractive star design.

1759. European, Silk
1759. European, Silk

Bold and colorful, the finely worked flame-stitch canvas upper was a common embroidery style.

The higher, more upright heel and blunt toe—free from the upturn of earlier designs—shows the progression of fashion through the 18th century. Gone is the metallic decoration down the vamp’s center, but of note is the unusual printed silk adorning the heel.

1769. British. Wool. Linen. Silk
1769. British. Wool. Linen. Silk

Fashionable from the late 1770s were pointed tongues—sometimes reworked from an original square tongue as shown below.

Increasingly favored as the 18th century progressed were simpler, lighter textile designs. In this case, the silk uppers have been carefully cut to show off the brocaded motifs.

1770. British, silk
1770. British, silk
1775. French. Silk, metallic
1775. French. Silk, metallic

Plainer than ladies shoes, those of gentlemen did, however, have decorative aspects. Red heels were a favorite among aristocrats—a style inherited from the French courts of the 17th century.

1779. British, leather
1779. British, leather
1780 American silk
1780 American silk
1780. British. Silk
1780. British. Silk
c1780. French. Leather
c1780. French. Leather
1785. European. Silk, leather
1785. European. Silk, leather
1789. European. Silk
1789. European. Silk

Embodying the pointed toe and tongue from ladies styles, this rare pair of children’s shoes (below) is in unusually good condition.

This type of flat-heeled shoe was common among boys and girls, although the bright color suggests they complemented the more colorful feminine dress of the period.

1790 European leather
1790 European leather
1795. American. Silk
1795. American. Silk

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

Edwardian Fashion: A 5-Minute Guide

The Edwardian era was the period covering the reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, and is sometimes extended to 1919.

King Edward VII in coronation robes

Edward loved to travel, setting a style influenced by the art and fashions of Continental Europe.

English socialite Vita Sackville-West and friends at Ascot, 1912

“A leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag.” —Samuel Hynes.

Reminiscing in the 1920s, after the horrors of world war one, the Edwardian era was remembered with nostalgia.

A bygone time of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never set on the British Empire.

Garden party at Fort York, Toronto, Canada, c1909

Time for some Edwardian fashion fun.

Two French evening dresses from the Edwardian era (1901 – 1919) battle for your vote. Which one will win? Cast your vote to find out.

Dress A

c1905 Gala Dress. Silk tulle, machine woven silk in plain weave and satin. Silk ribbons, metal hooks. French, now owned by National Museum Norway.

Dress B

1909 evening gown with empire waist, short sleeves and fishtail hem; skirt is square sequins on net over satin fitted to fishtail. Callot Soeurs.

13
Which dress do you prefer?

The Edwardian era marked a prominent turn in the direction of fashion for women.

Couturiers of Paris introduced a new columnar silhouette, with a distinctive “S” shaped curve.

It signaled the demise of the corset, which had been an indispensable garment of fashionable Victorian women.

The Edwardian era saw the full flowering of Parisian haute couture as the arbiter of styles and silhouettes for women of all classes.

Fashionable Londoners in front of Harrods, 1909

A series of Edwardian fashion plates give us a good idea of the couturier designs that formed the basis for what women would wear.

Featuring Spring season designs from 1901 to 1906, these New York fashion plates also have notes from the designer.

The first plate features a rose red dress with a high collar and long sleeves. The dress has two decorative bands, one with horizontal stripes of deep pink and black, and the other with pink floral brocade. The collar and bodice have a “v” design, and the sleeves include puffed sections of rose. The skirt is gathered to the waist, flaring out with a slight train at the back. Decorative bands create a petal effect above the hem.

The second plate features the dark, up-swept “Gibson Girl” hairstyle and long red dress with a black trellis-like diamond pattern on the bodice and skirt. The outfit starts with a high-necked, long-sleeved floral blouse in white, red, and black. The blouse extends beneath a full bodice, cinched at the waist with several black bands. The dress flows to the ground with a double layer of red ruffles and a train of tightly-gathered folds at the back, ending in ruffles. The rear view of the dress is shown in black and white.

The third plate features a yellow gown with leaf or abstract flower pattern, deep V-neck over a pink under-layer, and high lace collar. The collar has three or four picot-edged ruffles with narrow black bands and a rosette of eight loops of narrow black ribbon at the V-neck. Bodice features three vertical bands of black lace on each side of the center front.
Elbow-length sleeves mirror the collar with ruffles and a black rosette. The waist has three horizontal rows of black with bows at the back, and two long streamers over the gored skirt, flaring into a trumpet hem with a slight train. Vertical lines of black lace surround the skirt at knee length, and five bands of ruffles with picot-edged black ribbon adorn the hem.
Complete with elbow-length mitts and a black-banded, yellow flat-brimmed straw hat with white ostrich plumes.

The fourth plate features a home outfit with an elaborate up-swept hairstyle, rose-colored gown with floral-patterned sleeves, lower bodice, and skirt insets. Square neckline with pleats for fullness, floral lower bodice with rose cap sleeves, and bands of trim. Lower floral sleeves are full to the elbow, gathered snug from elbow to wrist. Softly gathered skirt flares into a trumpet hemline, flat at the front with three bands of decorative stitching on the hips. Ornate floral bands decorate the skirt below the knee on each side.

Of course, it just wouldn’t be the Edwardian era without hats, would it? Nine photographs of women numbered 1 through 9 show a variety of hats for Spring 1902.

In the upper left, number 1 wears a dark dress with a white jabot and a hat adorned with overlapping rows of leaves.

Below her, number 2 dons a high-necked white lace dress with a dark straw flat-brimmed hat featuring white on the crown and roses under the left side.

Number 3 sports a dark jacket over a white lace high-necked blouse. Her hat is woven straw with wide strands and several large feathers on the crown.

In the center column at the top, number 4 wears a white lace dress similar to number 2, with a hat covered in white lace, bows, and roses.

Number 5 wears a white lace gown with a jabot, and her hat has an upstanding brim adorned with rows of small beads and feathers fastened by a round jeweled brooch.

Number 6 is in a black outfit trimmed with white-edged ribbons, checks, and lace. Her dark hat has a high brim trimmed with white lace and adorned with many white plumes.

At the top of the right-hand column, number 7 wears a dark patterned high-necked blouse with a deep white collar featuring a scalloped hem and inset diamond patterns.

Number 8 wears the same dress as number 6. Her small-brimmed white hat is adorned with white flowers, bows, and black-dotted veiling.

Number 9, with her back turned, wears a light jacket with a fluffy white jabot. Her white hat has a banded brim turned up, trimmed with ruched dark velvet ribbon around the crown, and a jaunty feather at the side.

Edwardians showcased their latest fashions at horse races, as seen in the next plate featuring three women in conversation amidst an attentive crowd.

On the left, a woman wears a mulberry embroidered French voile gown with a high lace collar, softly gathered sleeves, and a flared skirt. Her high-crowned straw hat is adorned with purple flowers and a large black feather plume.

In the center, a woman dons a black chiffon satin taffeta gown with a high white lace collar extending to the waist. Top-stitched pleats at the shoulders create bust fullness, and the skirt features inverted box pleats. Her black velvet hat has a turned-up brim and is decorated with a large white ostrich plume.

On the right, a woman wears a pale yellow tussar gown with Irish lace, featuring a v-neck collar, released pleats, and elbow-length sleeves with lace cuffs. A soft bow tie and a fabric belt with a large buckle accentuate the waist. Her wide-brimmed straw hat, adorned with a black band and a large yellow rose, complements the ensemble.

References: Wikipedia, Clairemont College, National Museum of Norway, Gregg Museum of Art & Design.

10 Facts About the Victorian Tradition of White Weddings

1
White weddings started with Queen Victoria

Although Queen Victoria was not the first monarch to wear white at her wedding, she is credited with starting the tradition of a white wedding when she chose to wear a white wedding dress to marry Prince Albert in 1840.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840 by George Hayter
The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840 by George Hayter

2
Wearing white was unusual at the time of her wedding

At the time of Queen Victoria’s wedding, wearing white was considered unusual, but in less than a decade, it was being proclaimed as a long-standing tradition. Godey’s Lady’s Book—the most widely circulated magazine in America—wrote:

Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.
Queen Victoria sported the rounded shoulderline that enhanced the length of her neck—a look that was prized through most of the nineteenth century. From the 1830s to the 1880s, the lowered splayed stance of corset straps and open neckline lent a romantic effect.
Queen Victoria sported the rounded shoulderline that enhanced the length of her neck—a look that was prized through most of the nineteenth century. From the 1830s to the 1880s, the lowered splayed stance of corset straps and open neckline lent a romantic effect.

3
White dresses symbolized innocence and status

Not only did white wedding dresses connote innocence and sexual purity, but because laundry technology was not very advanced in the early Victorian period, they also represented a way to display conspicuous consumption.

White wedding dresses showed that the bride’s family could afford a dress that would be ruined by any type of work, indicating that they must be from the leisure class.

Silk-satin, trimmed with Honiton appliqué lace, machine net and bobbin lace, hand-sewn. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Silk-satin, trimmed with Honiton appliqué lace, machine net and bobbin lace, hand-sewn. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016

4
Queen Victoria wrote about her wedding dress in her 122-volume diary

Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Queen Victoria was an avid diarist, filling 122 volumes during her lifetime. Describing her choice of wedding dress, she wrote:

I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design. My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace & earrings & dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.

5
Victoria’s wedding supported the English lace cottage industry

Examples of Honiton Lace from Honiton, Devon
Examples of Honiton Lace from Honiton, Devon

The lace used for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress was from Honiton in Devon. Lace making was still a cottage industry and her choice demonstrated support for working-class Britain.

The lace comprised of sprigs or motifs made separately and then sewn together into a net.

It is thought Flemish refugees brought the art to England in the mid-to-late 16th century.

6
She commissioned Franz Xaver Winterhalter to paint an anniversary gift for Albert

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1847. Miniature by John Haslem.
Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1847. Miniature by John Haslem.

In 1847, Victoria commissioned Franz Xaver Winterhalter to paint a portrait of her wearing her wedding clothes as an anniversary present for Prince Albert. The portrait was also copied as an enamel miniature by John Haslem.

7
Her veil was 12 ft long

The veil, which matched the flounce of the dress, was four yards in length and 0.75 yards wide. When Victoria died, she was buried with her wedding veil over her face.

Wedding veils helped promote the Victorian ideal of modesty and propriety. Etiquette books spread the notion that decorous brides were naturally too timid to show their faces in public until they were married.

1868 Wedding Dress. American. Cincinnati Art Museum
1868 Wedding Dress. American. Cincinnati Art Museum

8
She wore specially made matching silk slippers

Queen Victoria's wedding slippers
Queen Victoria’s wedding slippers

Queen Victoria’s white satin slippers matched the white colour of her dress. Long ribbon ties fastening round the ankles held the shoes in place. They were made by Gundry and Son, 1 Soho Square, Boot and Shoemakers to the Queen.

9
Her train needed twelve bridesmaids

A watercolour design for Queen Victoria's twelve bridesmaids' dresses. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016
A watercolour design for Queen Victoria’s twelve bridesmaids’ dresses. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2016

The train of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress measured 18 feet (5.5 m) long, requiring 12 bridesmaids to carry it.

10
She started a trend followed by millions

Hollywood movie weddings, especially in the second half of the 20th century, have helped the popularity of white weddings.

But British royal weddings have probably done more to ensure the tradition of white weddings is here to stay than anything else.

In 1981, 750 million people tuned in to watch Charles, Prince of Wales marry Diana Spencer in her elaborate white taffeta dress, with a 25-foot-long train. This wedding is generally considered the most influential white wedding of the 20th century—and also the most expensive at an inflation-adjusted $110 million.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

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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10 Fascinating Facts About the Belle Époque

1. The Belle Époque was an era of peace and plenty between wars

The French expression Belle Époque was used in retrospect after the horrors of World War One—a term of nostalgia for a simpler time of peace, prosperity, and progress.

At the beginning of the Belle Époque, France was recovering from defeat in the Franco-Prussian War—a defeat of staggering proportions. In just 9 months, France suffered 138,871 dead, 143,000 wounded, and 474,414 captured—a total that was more than six times that of the Prussian opposition.

The Rifle Battalion 9 from Lauenburg at Gravelotte by Ernst Zimmer

In the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, Paris would suffer again through the Commune—a short-lived internal conflict between radical revolutionaries and the French Government. More tragedy and more loss, with estimates ranging from 7,000-20,000 revolutionary “Communards” killed.

Between the Paris Commune and the German heavy artillery bombing, Paris was a mess by the time a ceasefire was signed.

The ruins of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) after the Paris Commune (May 1871)

At the end of the Belle Époque, the winds of war were once again in the air. This time, it would be a thousand times worse.

One look at the devastation—hell on earth—and it’s easy to imagine every French soldier huddled, shivering in the filth of trench warfare, trying desperately to cling to the distant memory of a beautiful time—the Belle Époque.

Chateau Wood Ypres, Belgium, 1917

2. It was a global phenomenon

Similar periods of economic growth were experienced in Britain during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, in Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm I and II during the German Reich, in Russia under Alexander III and Nicholas II, in the United States in a period called the Gilded Age, and in Mexico during the Porfiriato.

Austrian-turned British, and Jewish banker, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s weekend retreat of Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire—built between 1874 and 1889—epitomizes the excesses of the era’s aristocracy in Britain.

Top: Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, England. Image credit GavinJA. Bottom left: The Concert by James Tissot. Bottom Right: Londoners outside Harrods, 1909.

Russian aristocrats enjoyed waltzing the night away at lavish balls in St Petersburg.

Ball for St. Petersburg Nobility by Kardovsky

The Porfiriato was an era when Porfirio Díaz was president of Mexico from 1876-1911. He promoted order and progress that modernized the economy and encouraged foreign investment. The Porfiriato ended in 1910 with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.

During the late 19th century and very early 20th, this theatre was the site of most of Mexico City’s high culture, presenting events such as theatre, operettas, Viennese dance and more.

The Gilded Age was a period of rapid economic growth in the United States—an era when anyone was a potential Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, built between 1889 and 1895, is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Image credit RLTerry.

3. It was an era of huge urban population growth

In the 39 years preceding 1911, the population of Paris grew by 64%. By the end of the Belle Époque, the population of Paris was higher than it is today.

Paris in 1897 – Boulevard Montmartre, by Camille Pissarro
Boulevard des Capucines by Claude Monet, 1883

New York’s population increased by 2 1/2 times from 1870 to 1900.

New York City’s Fifth Avenue bustling with horse-drawn traffic and two motor cars, 1900

Chicago experienced even greater growth, with a staggering ten-fold increase in population between 1870 and 1900.

Chicago c1900

4. The Belle Époque was an era of progress and prosperity

With the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian war a distant memory, the Paris Expositions of 1878, 1889 and 1900 celebrated France’s recovery.

At the Exposition of 1878, the gardens of the Trocadéro displayed the full-size head of the Statue of Liberty, before the statue was completed and shipped to New York.

Head of the Statue of Liberty in the gardens of the Trocadéro, 1878

Gustave Eiffel’s thousand-foot tower was symbolic of just how far France had come. It was the tallest manmade structure in the world and stood at the entrance to a showcase of French ingenuity and engineering mastery.

Paris Exposition Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900

An equally significant building was the Machinery Hall. At 111 meters (364 ft), it spanned the longest interior space in the world at the time.

Central Dome of the Gallerie des Machines, Exposition Universelle de Paris, 1889, by Louis Béroud (1852-1930).

5. It was an era of cultural exuberance

Marked by the red windmill on its roof, the Moulin Rouge is considered the spiritual birthplace of the modern version of the can-can dance.

The Moulin Rouge at midnight

Befitting the decadence of the times, the dance was considered scandalous and there were even attempts to repress it. Women wore pantalettes, which could be unintentionally revealing.

Depiction of the can-can by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1895

The club’s decor still holds the romance of fin de siècle (end of the century) France.

At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1890

6. It was an era of rich and poor

Paris was both the richest and poorest city in France. An 1882 study of Parisians concluded that 27% of Parisians were upper- or middle-class while 73% were poor.

Paris workers unloading flour. Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, 1885

During America’s Gilded Age, the wealthiest 2% of American households owned more than a third of the nation’s wealth, while the top 10% owned roughly three quarters.

“The protectors of our industries”. Cartoon showing Cyrus Field, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Russell Sage, seated on bags of “millions”, on large heavy raft being carried by workers.

In New York, the opera, the theatre, and lavish parties consumed the ruling class. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish once threw a dinner party to honor her dog who arrived sporting a $15,000 diamond collar.

In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year; of this group, the average annual income was $380—well below the poverty line.

7. It was an era of scientific and technological advancement

The second wave of the industrial revolution seized the world.

Along came cameras, electric lights, the telephone, the gramophone, the automobile, and the dawn of air travel.

When Queen Victoria invited herself to Rothschild’s Waddeston Manor, it is said she was so impressed with the electric lighting that she spent 10 minutes switching an electric chandelier on and off.

William H. Taft learns by telephone of his nomination for president, 1908
Louis Pasteur in his laboratory, painting by A. Edelfeldt in 1885
The first illustration of Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen was published in 1888 in the Leipziger Illustrierten Zeitung

8. An era of art and architecture

Although the architecture of the Belle Époque combined elements from several styles, the predominant architectural style was Art Nouveau.

A reaction to the academic influence of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau (“new art”) was inspired by the natural forms and structures of flowers, plants, and curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment.

Art Nouveau building in Paris by architect Jules Lavirotte, sculptures by Jean-François Larrivé (1875–1928)
The art nouveau Le Grand Café, Place d’Allier, Moulins, France
Hector Guimard’s original Art Nouveau entrance of the Paris Métro in Abbesses station

The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 was an Art Nouveau extravaganza.

Paris Exposition Palace of Electricity, Paris, France, 1900

9. The Belle Époque was an era of fashion

Jeanne Paquin was one of several fashion designers of the Belle Époque. She became known for her publicity stunts including sending her models to the races and the opera to get her designs noticed.

‘Five Hours at Paquin’s’ by Henri Gervex, 1906

10. It was an era of Imperialism

The “Scramble for Africa” was a race by European powers to colonize as much of Africa as possible in the latter part of the 19th century.

African land under European control went from 10% in 1870 to 90% in 1914.

Scramble for Africa 1880. Credit Somebody500
Scramble for Africa 1913. Credit Somebody500
The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo.

By the end of the 19th century, Africa was one of the last regions of the world unaffected by Imperialism. That was about to change.

France and Britain in particular carved out huge swathes of land, with France concentrating on Northwest Africa and Britain wanting the eastern ports as stopovers for it’s Indian and Asian trade routes.

Cecil Rhodes was the man behind Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the world-famous de Beers diamond company. His British South Africa Company acquired the land during the Belle Époque.

The Belle Époque was a beautiful era, but as Mark Twain described the Gilded Age, it was a thin veneer hiding systemic problems—discontent among the working classes, political tensions between nation states, militarism, imperialism, and to top it all, an unyielding arms race that by 1914 was a bubble about to burst. All that was needed was a trigger event.

Sources and credits

A Victorian Fashion Show

Imagine you’re attending a fashion show in the Victorian era. You get to choose the trends for the next Victorian season—what’s hot and what’s not from the entire period of Queen Victoria’s reign—1837-1901.

Before we begin voting yea or nay, let’s review the Victorian ladies fashion scene.

Read more …

In the 1840s and 1850s, dresses were mostly simple and pale, often with wide puffed sleeves. Corsets and chemises were worn under gowns, together with multiple layers of petticoats. The arrival of the crinoline meant far fewer petticoats were required to maintain the desired fullness and volume of skirts. Dresses with a solid bodice were worn during the day, and a low-neckline off-the-shoulder look was typical for evening wear.

By the 1860s, skirts were  flatter at the front and projected out more at the back. Wide pagoda sleeves and high necklines with lace or tatted collars became popular. The low-neckline evening dresses were worn with short gloves, fingerless lace or crocheted mitts. In America, the influence of civil war military-style decoration appeared in civilian clothing.

In the 1870s, tea gowns were worn for entertaining at home and didn’t require corsets. Bustles replaced crinolines for supporting skirts, as a slimmer style came into vogue. Evening dresses were very tight around the corseted torso.

During the 1880s, bustles initially became less prominent, but sizes grew again later in the decade. Greater affluence brought more leisure time with fashion catering to riding and walking pursuits.

High collars, held in place by collar stays, and stiff steel boning characterized the 1890s. Crinolines and bustles were no more. Instead, in came the tiny wasp waist.

Vote yea or nay for your favorites below …

Vote for your favorites

Scroll through the dresses, select up to 3 of your favorites, and then click the Vote button at the bottom.

20
Min votes count should be 1

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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