Animal Fads and Fashions in the 18th and 19th Century

Monstrosities of 1818, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Fashion “Monstrosities of 1818.” Courtesy of Library of Congress.

It seems as if animals have always had some effect on fashion. Beavers were all the rage in the 17th century to the point they became decimated in Europe and paved the way for North America to become the premier supplier of beaver pelts. But it was not just beavers that consumers wanted. Other animals became fashionable and all sorts of crazes for these animals appeared in the 1700 and 1800s. Moreover, these animal fads and fashions were not just popular in London or France, they were popular across the European continent. Some of the fashionable animals of these times included the stoat, giraffe, chimpanzee, rhinoceros, and various birds. 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

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

Hat Fashions for September 1880

Hat Fashions for September 1880
Ladies’ Hat, Author’s Collection

Flower bonnets were all the rage in 1880, but a handsome feather was also “fashionable and stylish, and when gracefully and tastefully arranged, … always becoming.” Yet, feathers were not particularly cheap. The nineteenth century fashion magazine, The Delineator, noted:

“A handsome feather is a prize … More especially is the purchase of a black feather a measure of discretion. It may cost considerable … but years of service, and its undiminished stylish appearance, will more than pay for the original cost.”

Of the feathers available, it was the ostrich feathers that were considered to be the most “novel.” They were long and curly and usually displayed in twos and of contrasting colors: “cardinal and sulphur, sage-green and cardinal, peacock-blue and mauve, or lavender and old-gold.” Additionally, much to the delight of hat wearer’s was the demise of “placing three funeral-looking black … [feathers] on the side of bonnet, each one waving a different way … for the sight of the nodding plumes was anything but agreeable or artistic.” 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

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

Women’s Dress Fashions for October 1897

Ladies' Collarette with Collar Rolled Medici Fashion, Author's Collection
Ladies’ Collarette with Collar Rolled Medici Fashion, Author’s Collection

By October of 1897, the autumn or fall season was advanced enough to require heavy fabrics, with the dominant fabrics for this time of year being velvet, broadcloth, drap d’ete (a thin wool or blended summer fabric with a twill weave), cheviot, and camel’s-hair. Coats were worn somewhat longer than they had been, on the other hand, capes were growing shorter. In some stylish wraps, a smooth back and front framed the full rippling sides. Additionally, plaits and coat laps were fashionable on almost all coats, and single bust darts tended to render coat fronts as tight-fitting as the coat’s back. The most popular collars for coats were either a Medici (fan-shaped, upstanding collar made popular in the sixteenth century by the Medici family) or a Lafayette (modified stand up collar that covered the neck, hit below the ears, and was “as high in front as the chin [would] permit, in turning the head”), both of which were similar. When it came to waists, they varied, although many had blouse characteristics and most had fanciful trim. Additionally, some had narrow clusters of tucks in front, others “a tuck-shirred yoke,” and some a yoke in back. New skirts were nine gored, but all skirts—three piece, or five- and seven-gored skirts—sported the popular fan in the back because it better accommodated narrow-width goods. Continue reading

The Bicycle and Fashions for Fall 1898

Victorian Bicycle Fashions: Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898
Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898, Author’s Collection

Bicycling was a popular pastime in the late 1800s, so much so, it ushered in the “bicycle craze,” a craze that was in full swing in Europe and North America by the 1890s. The original bicycling problems that were related to the penny-farthing — comfort, safety, speed, and steering — were essentially resolved by the late 1800s and that allowed for a suitable bicycle for ordinary female riders. Because of this, the bicycle soon went from an everyday fad to a hobby and thousands of women began riding the bicycle.

America’s devoted feminist and social reformer, Susan B. Anthony, coined the bicycle the “freedom machine.” Anthony noted how the bicycle allowed women unprecedented independence. Edward Sandford Martin, founder of The Harvard Lampoon and literary editor of Life magazine, noted the bicycle’s popularity among Victorian women too. He maintained women had claimed it and marked it as their own, which encouraged even more women to join in the bicycle craze and causing the bicycle to reach its pinnacle in 1900 when 1.4 billion bicycles were in use worldwide. Continue reading

Women’s Dress Fashions for September 1898

Children and Misses Military and Naval Costumes for 1898, Author's Collection
Children and Misses Military and Naval Costumes for 1898, Author’s Collection

There were numerous toilette styles that were popular in September 1898. One popular toilette was the carriage toilette, which was similar to the traveling toilette. The carriage toilette was typically worn when traveling in a carriage, coach, or on a train. It was practical, hid any accumulated dirt, and allowed ease of movement so as to make it easy to enter or exit a vehicle. Additionally, as carriage toilettes were worn outdoors, the fabrics used to create them reflected the season, being heavier in winter and lighter in summer. One of the most popular fashions for 1898 were toilettes that displayed a military or naval effect. Patriotic ladies outfits—cadet, commodore, admiral, and hussar costumes—included military or nautical hats and adornments, such as buttons, braids, or epaulettes, and such fashions were as popular for misses and children as they were for ladies. Continue reading