Victorian French Lingerie

Victorian French Lingerie: Example of a New and Elaborate Under-Petticoat in 1899. This one is made with turchon lace and French embroidery with hem-stitiching between the lace and embroidery. Author's Collection
Example of a new and elaborate under-petticoat in 1899. This one is made with turchon lace and French embroidery with hem-stitching between the lace and embroidery. Author’s collection.

The concept that lingerie and undergarments were visually appealing, did not become a thought until the late nineteenth century during the Victorian Era, and, at that time, some of the best lingerie that could be purchased came from France. In fact, it was common for nineteenth century English and American visitors to travel to France to purchase French lingerie for their wedding trousseau.

Besides the visual appeal, Victorian women wore French lingerie for other reasons. Some women found they obtained some form of personal enjoyment from it. After all, many pieces of French lingerie captivated the eye because they were practically works of art with their fine embroidery and pretty ribbons and bows. The French also viewed lingerie in a different light than did most English or American women. Their view allowed Victorian lingerie wearers to focus on how they felt rather than how they actually looked in it. This in turn allowed wearers of French lingerie to enjoy an aristocratic elegance even if they belonged to the ordinary working class. However, there was also this tidbit about French lingerie: Continue reading

Victorian Fad of False or Artificial Calves

Victorian fad
Sample of the Roman Fall, Author’s Collection

Victorians embraced many unusual fads. For instance, besides adopting the famous stooping fashion of the Grecian Bend, some Victorian women adopted Alexandra of Denmark’s limp and were even willing to wear mismatched shoes to achieve it. Men likewise adopted a strange fashion. It was an S-shaped posture known as the Roman Fall. But there was also another unusual fashion that Victorians embraced. It was wearing false or artificial calves, a fad that actually started in Georgian times.

So what were false or artificial calves? One person wrote they were “nothing more nor less than the sculpture of cords, wires, and cotton.” Another person maintained they were usually “composed of lamb’s and other wool woven into the material of merino leggins [sic], just like a pair of masculine drawers; sometimes brain [was] used, and in all cases the imitation [was claimed to be] very artistic and perfect.” Continue reading

Paddling a Lady’s Grecian Bend

Grecian Bend
The Grecian Bend, Public Domain

In August of 1875, a police report was filed in Northern England, in Sunderland, against a young married man named Thomas B. Cowan. Cowan was charged with assaulting Caroline Watson of Wayman Street in Monkwearmouth. The police reported that the event started at the house of Watson’s sister, a married woman named Mrs. Field, but who was Cowan’s cousin by marriage.

When Cowan was hauled before the court, testimony was given that after Cowan arrived, Watson entered the same room. Cowan stood with his back to the fire for a few minutes, and then for no reason, he grabbed Watson, who was standing near him. He began rubbing his whiskers on her face. She resented his actions and kicked him in the shins, which caused him to take a couple of steps backwards. Continue reading

Millinery Fashions for 1881

Millinery Fashions: Winter Caps of Foulard Trimmed with Lace, Author's Collection
Winter Caps of Foulard Trimmed with Lace, Author’s Collection

Millinery fashions for 1881 were based on varying materials and styles depending on the season. For instance, straw was the popular springtime material for hats, and, in general, hats were large, whereas bonnets were small and worn close to the head. This close-fitting bonnet shape was still in vogue when summer started, and hats for the seaside were coarse straw, lined with velvet or plain or gathered satin, trimmed with flowers and worn large “so as to shade the face thoroughly.” For fall, bonnets remained small and close-fitting. Many were composed entirely of one material, such as leaves, feathers, or beads. Some fall bonnets were also created from plush and trimmed with flowers or beads, arranged en diademe.

Similar to bonnets, hats were created from plush and then trimmed with feathers. In fact, a rage existed in 1881 for “feathers of all kinds, from the close pheasant’s breast to the long graceful plumes of the ostrich.” Fall hats were opposite of bonnets in size and because hats remained large and picturesque-looking, when it came to winter hats, the most fashionable material was plush. In addition, during the bitter winter months, many women wore long black lace shawl veils on top of their bonnets to keep their ears and necks warm. Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for March 1881

New Sleeves Styles for 1881, Author's Collection
New Sleeves Styles for 1881, Author’s Collection

Great attention was devoted to sleeves in 1881, and fashion dictated that they needed to change from the tight plain top. This did not mean, however, that the old sleeve styles were no longer fashionable. They were fashionable but they appeared a little larger and a little fuller at the top. Examples of some of the new sleeves styles for March 1881 are shown in the illustration to the right.

The first sleeve on the top left is a 3/4 length sleeve with scalloped edges and is filled in with bouillonné. The center sleeve is a puffed sleeve with cravés of cerise satin. The next sleeve is an Abbe Sleeve embroidered with red floss silk, and it forms a double sleeve from the shoulder to the elbow. The first sleeve on the bottom left is a Tight Sleeve. It has two puffs and numerous buttons. The center sleeve is also tight to the wrist, but it is puffed at the top, scalloped, and fastened with four buttons at the lower edge. The last sleeve is also a Tight Sleeve, but it has three puffs at the back and a puffed cuff. Continue reading

Spring Bonnets 1878

spring bonnets 1878
Beret, Author’s Collection

The most popular spring bonnets in 1878 were the “French chip, soft English straws, and … rough fancy braids with a piping of velvet between the rows of braid.” They were popular because they were supposedly of exceptional quality and much more durable than bonnets of former seasons. White and black bonnets were equally fashionable, with straws being colored primarily in brown, black, gray, or ecru. Additionally, bonnet styles for middle-aged women were usually large with flaring brims filled in with lace frills.

The latest bonnets were also comfortable shapes, moderate in size, large in the head, and close-fitting in front. Crowns tended to be square at the top, low behind, and “finished by a straight curtain band, or one … indented in the middle.” Satin was the primary trimming, and beads were frequently used as a “special feature of spring garniture,” along with a variety of artificial flowers and feathers. Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for August 1881

1881 Costume, Author's Collection
1881 Costume, Author’s Collection

Important changes in fashion were seen in August of 1881. First, one of the most important changes was women’s taste in semi-masculine attire. The desire for it had apparently died out. According to one writer, “No lady now thinks dressing, even for the country, in such a style that she might be mistaken for her younger brother.” This change also meant jackets disappeared and were replaced by “elegant feminine Mantles and Mantelets.” There were also no more skirts that were so tightly tied in the back that it “prevent[ed] all freedom of locomotion.” Skirts were also becoming wider and fuller, but only in the back because the front and sides of skirts remained plain, which rendered “it necessary to adopt a modified form of tournure to keep the drapery and fulness [sic] of skirt in…place.” When it came to dress bodices, one of the principal features was the increase in gathers and full pleats, which were particularly popular during cold weather as it increased the warmth of the dress. Additionally, with gathered bodices, sleeves were “always puffed, fulled, or gathered” and also had fullness at the shoulder. Continue reading

Parasol Fashions in the 19th Century

Parasol Fashions: A Variety of Parasols, Author's Collection
A variety of parasols. Author’s collection.

Parasols are different from umbrellas in that umbrellas protect a person from the rain and parasols shade a person from the sun. Before sunscreen was invented, the parasol was the primary way a woman maintained her creamy, spot-free complexion. Parasols were used everywhere and at all times: Women carried them when riding in an open carriage, walking down a city street, admiring a garden, enjoying the seashore, or visiting country relatives. To demonstrate the popularity of parasols Punch wrote an article in 1850 complaining about them being ubiquitous and stating:

“I have noticed that every lady who enters an omnibus is sure to bring in a parasol with her. She may not carry a bundle, either dead or alive, in the shape of a baby, … she may, by some curious chance, be free from everything in the shape of luggage … [only having] a small reticule no bigger than a gentleman’s carpetbag, — but I have never yet seen the phenomenon of a lady invading an omnibus without her being duly armed with a parasol!

Now the parasol, Sir, is the most formidable weapon of defence (and offence too) …Why the nuisance obtrudes itself every where; you cannot sit down, but a lady is sure to exclaim, ‘Oh! Please, Sir, take care of my parasol!’ You cannot arrange your legs … without an overgrown umbrella … finding itself between them; and … you cannot turn to the right or to the left, but there is certain to be at either turn the point of a parasol ready to dot your eye. If you are sitting at the end of the seat it is fifty times worse. You are then sitting in a prickly bush of parasols; or, to come nearer the mark, your head seems to be revolving inside a large wheel, of which the ladies’ parasols are the spokes, and your nose the axle.”[1]

Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for October 1881

Selection of Jackets and Mantles, Author's Collection
Selection of Jackets and Mantles, Author’s Collection

New fashions for 1881 were paying tribute to older fashions. For instance, the fuller back in skirt fashions was said to be “presaging a return to the old crinoline, but the progress…towards that once favorite style, is a slow one, and it is more probably the English ladies, with their usual good taste, will rest content with a full and gracefully-draped bouffant, supported in its place by a small crinolette.” Dresses also continued to be worn short and have trains that were considered “vogue for ceremonious indoor toilettes.”

Gathered bodies remained in favor at this time and the pointed and round basque were both equally popular and fashionable. Polonaises were worn and, to a certain extent, were fashionable because they were seen as convenient. Sleeves varied, but they were fuller and more roomy at the shoulder part of the armhole than they had previously been. Additionally, mantles and jackets were extremely popular for fall. They were created from “rich materials, such as broths, brocaded satins and velvets…[and] trimmed in an equally rich manner with passementerie, rich lace, chenille, and heavy silk embroideries.” Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for April 1881

(Right to Left) April 1881 Bridesmaid Costume, Wedding Toilette, and Bride's Traveling Costume, Author's Collection
(Right to Left) April 1881 Bridesmaid Costume, Wedding Toilette, and Bride’s Traveling Costume, Author’s Collection

France was prosperous by 1881, and it was shown in the well-dressed people strolling the boulevards and by the fact women no longer worn the somber colors that had prevailed for so long. Besides the change in color, there were other changes. Hoods had been replaced by deep collars that were pointed at the back, and sleeves were fuller at the top with puffs or slashes down their sides. Collars were also deeper and broader. Dress skirts were different too: they were plainer at front, fuller at back, and worn over small crinolines.

As for accessories, gloves were still be worn with grand toilettes and when worn for evening wear, “gloves [were]…buttoned at the side—not with ordinary pearl buttons, but with small pearls, gold studs, ruby buttons—in fact, all kinds of gems…[were] used to button gloves.” Hats were trimmed with feathers and white or black lace. Hats also remained large whereas bonnets were small and “trimmed richly with flowers of the brightest hue, fastened under the chin by ribbon or lace, or sometimes by a small garland of flowers.” Coils, frisettes, and plaits were fashionable for the hair, and the hair was ornamented with semicircular steel combs or steel stars, as “steel by candle-light look[ed] very brilliant.” Continue reading