Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Reframing the Victorians : Women's fashion during the Victorian Era

"Never before or since had western women's costume expressed respectability, acquiescence and dependency to such a degree as in the 1840's, the most static decade in 19th century fashion." 

In this blog post I will be documenting my discoveries about fashion during the Victorian era. I will be commenting on how fashion changed throughout this period as well as the influences that motivated these changes. I will pay particular attention to women’s fashion throughout this age. As my main focus is the change in pattern, cloth and influences, I will be writing about what women of a higher social status wore as they were the ones who had access to the latest and most extravagant and luxurious fashions. 
During my research I discovered that women who were from wealthier families had different clothes for various times of the day. They were also expected to wear particular things to occasions and events. In France, women even had previously chosen outfits which were only worn on days where someone would attempt to take the king's life. "Immediately after such attacks, society women would call at the Tuileries to offer the King their congratulations, wearing clothes which they kept at hand for these alarming occasions. They were known as "costumes for days on which the King's life is attempted." These costumes were usually dark in colour and simple in form to reflect the tragedy of the situation. 
For my research, I read several books which were solely based on Victorian fashion, textiles and patterns. I discovered the changed which not only occurred in the garments worn by women of this period but also the change in hairstyles and accessories. I learnt that during the early 1840’s, ringlets were considered to be very fashionable for young girls. Grown women wore side curls a la Sevigne. I also discovered that head wear along with hairstyles was another extravagant part of women's fashion "bonnets had wreaths of grapes, cherries, and currents. These were summer bonnets of Leghorn or rice straw, or silk. For winter, velvet or satin was the correct material, and ostrich feather tips replaced flowers or fruit for trimming." However, as time went by, the fashion progressed and a lace cap, from Paris which was called the "bonnet assassin" was introduced. This cap apparently "lived up to it's name" as it made a "pretty woman look very killing." Lace had started to become a very popular part of fashion and Queen Elizabeth was said to appreciate it greatly as her wedding gown was said to be worth £1000 in lace alone. Some historians also claimed that by the end of her reign she possessed £76,000 worth of lace. 
Form was a very important factor of Victorian women's fashion and "When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the trend which was later to culminate in that characteristic Victorian feminine fashion, the crinoline, had already been under way some 15 years...The romantic fashion of the 1830 period with balloon sleeves, comparatively short "ballet dancer's" skirts, upstanding "giraffe" hair style and flamboyant hats went a complete change of spirit by the time of young Queen's accession, as though welcoming the new bourgeois ideal." By 1850, the corset had become a dominating necessity for women as it helped them achieve the desirably small waist. This desirably small waist was also achieved by how large and heavy the bottom half of their dresses were.

“Dress was, as always, an expression of woman’s place in society.” 

I learnt that throughout the period, there was a change in which patterns and colours were deemed popular and fashionable. "Some colours were more ladylike than others, some were unsuitable for certain regions of the dress; some were unfit for the widow or the maiden; or for the particular seasons of the year." 
The main influence for British fashion for women a well as the main manufacturer of fashionable clothing for the Victorians during the first half of the era, was France. However, this differed for men as Britain played a large part in the manufacturing and designing for their clothing. This had changed by the 1870's as Vienna had become a center of importance for fashion. 
“Fashion was created in Paris – but it was the Paris of Louis Philippe”. Philippe, a dominating character in the fashion during this time, was a man who, in his earlier career, was mocked for carrying an umbrella, as it was deemed common during the time. Victorians of a higher social status believed it showed lack of wealth as it was a display that you could not afford a carriage to transport you. 
“There is a world of difference between dress of 1830 and 1860, not only in all these factors but in the underlying causes which were primarily those of the social structure." 
The change that came with fashion during Victoria’s reign could arguably be partially due to the fact that women were becoming more recognised as tailors, much to the dismay men, who previously were the leading characters of fashion production. The recognition women began to receive in regards to their work, reflected the general change in attitudes towards women during this period. This could have been due to the fact that the main figure of authority during the time, was a woman.“Women began to be appreciated as tailoresse in larger numbers and already by the mid-century their increased participation in trade was being attributed to the loss of control of their craft by the men.” 
By the 1840’s, previous fashions which were particularly figure hugging had vanished. It became a popular trend for women to be very covered up and was not uncommon for only a woman’s face to be showing. Neck lines became higher and dresses became longer and heavier. 
This era saw a large transformation, not only in style and influence but also material. During the 1840's, material which had not previously been used became increasingly more popular. Cashmere, alpaca, tulle, muslin and cotton became more common.The colours of this also decade became much darker and stronger than ever before. Despite this, the fashion and the women still remained very dainty and feminine and stripes, check, plaids and spring patterns were very governing. 

Works Cited - 

Gernsheim. A, Victorian and Edwardian Fashion, a Photographic survey
Wilson. E, Adorned in dreams, fashion and modernity

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