Tag Archives: 1860s fashion

Victorian Photography: Girls in Silk Cages, Pale and Fragile as Lilies

10 Jun

A friend recently reminded me of the photograph of Ellen Terry that you see below and its mood of sadness and wistfulness struck a chord with me. Naturally, I thought of many other Victorian photographs of girls in contemplation so I decided to share them all in this post; they are perfect for daydreaming.

Sadness (Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen), photo by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864

All of the photographs here were taken by female photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) who is perhaps a pandan to the Pre-Raphaelites in the field of photography because of her inclination toward the Arthurian world and medieval romances, and Clementina Maude Hawarden (1822-1865) who often took photos of her daughters and is sometimes called “the first fashion photographer” because many of her photos feature the lovely crinoline gowns from the era, full of ribbons and flounces.

What draws me to these photographs is their dream-like quality; they are like windows to the long lost worlds, they evoke as much feelings from me as a poem can, they portray beautifully the inner world of Victorian girls and young women. Gorgeous fashions and delicacy of the fabrics, dazzling play of light and shadow, a tinge of melancholy and wistfulness. In this long lost world from the other side of the mirror long haired dreamy maidens in their dazzling silk and tulle cages are shown reading or praying, or travelling the landscapes of their thoughts, sitting by the window and gazing into the outside world of freedom and strangeness; girls as fragile as lily flower, with faces pale from the moonlight, yearning hearts and silent tears that smell of jasmine, trapped in claustrophobic interiors of damask and daydreams, touching life only through veils, “seeing it dimly through tears”, drunk, not from cherry cordial, but from the heavy fragrance of roses in their vases. Caught between girlhood and adulthood, in their dreamy interiors, with mirrors and books, they are gazing through the glistening bars of their cages, in silence, for the captive birds sing no ditties.

“I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart: but really with it, and in it.” (Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights)

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What would Margaret March wear?

16 Apr

I already wrote a post about Amy’s fashion style, but now I’ll present you more mature and simpler, but still very elegant style of her older sister Margaret Meg.

”Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain.”

1860s day dresses, godey's

Meg, beauty of the household and a role model for her sisters, is sixteen years old at the beginning of the novel. She is sweet and caring but still human and often remembers the times when Marches were rich. She craves for luxury and idleness but realizes at the end that domestic peace and a happy family are much more important.

Since the Marches don’t put emphasis on clothes and frivolous pleasures, they didn’t encourage their daughters to follow the newest fashion and spent money on dresses, parasols, jewellery, fans and headdresses. Indeed, they didn’t have much money but even if they did such irrelevant matters should not be satisfied, especially in the war time.

1861. Godey’s Lady’s Book Fashions, September

“If I only had a silk!” sighed Meg. “Mother says I may when I’m eighteen perhaps, but two years is an everlasting time to wait.”

“I’m sure our pops look like silk, and they are nice enough for us.”

”…Meg’s in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin. Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament. Each put on one nice light glove, and carried one soiled one, and all pronounced the effect “quite easy and fine”. Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.”

(…)

“I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove apiece and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.”

For the New Year celebration Meg and Jo have been invited to a party by Mrs Gardiner. Many other young ladies must have been gorgeously dressed in the latest fashions, according to Godey’s lady’s Book Magazine, of course. But not Meg, she dressed a silver gown, modestly, keeping a pearl pin, velvet snood, lace frills and a beautiful smile as her only decoration. Beautiful painting doesn’t need a frame, right?

meg 1

However, poor Meg had a chance to attend a ball dressed more elegantly, in April 1862. Her friend Annie Moffat invited her to a spring ball and Marmee gave her special possessions from the treasure box – a cedar chest filled with precious things from the past times. Meg got:

“A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue sash. I wanted the violet silk, but there isn’t time to make it over, so I must be contented with my old tarlatan.”

“It will look nice over my new muslin skirt, and the sash will set it off beautifully. I wish I hadn’t smashed my coral bracelet, for you might have had it,” said Jo.

“It isn’t low-necked, and it doesn’t sweep enough, but it will have to do. My blue housedress looks so well, turned and freshly trimmed, that I feel as if I’d got a new one. My silk sacque isn’t a bit the fashion, and my bonnet doesn’t look like Sallie’s. I didn’t like to say anything, but I was sadly disappointed in my umbrella. I told Mother black with a white handle, but she forgot and bought a green one with a yellowish handle. It’s strong and neat, so I ought not to complain, but I know I shall feel ashamed of it beside Annie’s silk one with a gold top,” sighed Meg.

1862. nice white evening dress, Journal des demoiselles

Belle Moffat offered to turn Meg into Cinderella and lend her a blue silk dress which she have outgrew. Meg couldn’t refuse such a kind offer and became bell of the ball, at last for an evening.

”On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added `a soupcon of rouge’, if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set of silver filagree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty, white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.”

I found two beautiful blue dresses, and though I’m fond of the first one, which I also find more suitable, I wanted to show you a second, more mature and classic option. How thrilled I was when I found a matching sky blue shoes and a cap! I must say, young miss March looks marvelous in blue – colour of the sky, rivers, opal, sapphire, colour of Meg’s big oval eyes.

1860s Evening dress, simple, perhaps for debutants or teens

1860s Cap and Shoes, France

1855. Fan, French, made of silk

1860. pale blue ball gown

1863. Civil War Era Ladies' Hair Styles, Godey's Lady's Book, June

For day dresses, Meg most likely wore simple and practical cotton dresses. She wore old dresses but I suppose she altered and decorated them occasionally to fit the newest fashion. Most of the time I imagine her wearing blue or white dresses, lilac perhaps. As far as hairstyles and accessorize goes, Meg was practical and used the most out of her small possessions. Here are some examples of spring/summer dresses that I could most definitely picture beautiful meg wearing.

1862. summer fashion, Godey's Lady's Book

1861. outdoor dresses, La Belle Assemblee, september

Now the part I’ve been most excited about – the wedding dress.

”Meg looked very like a rose herself, for all that was best and sweetest in heart and soul seemed to bloom into her face that day, making it fair and tender, with a charm more beautiful than beauty. Neither silk, lace, nor orange flowers would she have. “I don’t want a fashionable wedding, but only those about me whom I love, and to them I wish to look and be my familiar self.”

So she made her wedding gown herself, sewing into it the tender hopes and innocent romances of a girlish heart. her sisters braided up her pretty hair, and the only ornaments she wore were the lilies of the valley, which `her John’ liked best of all the flowers that grew.

“You do look just like our own dear Meg, only so very sweet and lovely that I should hug you if it wouldn’t crumple your dress,” cried Amy, surveying her with delight when all was done.

Victorian fashion plate of wedding dress 18611865. Godey’s Lady’s Book

Meg’s wedding wasn’t a luxurious one, but the young bride must have sewn her wedding dress modeled after one of the dresses in Godey’s or Peterson’s magazine. Meg always looked like an angel in white, plus her glowing charm and beauty on her wedding day; she looked beautiful in a simple wedding dress after all.

1864. wedding dresses, Le Follet, april

1850s and 1860s Evening dresses

20 Dec

I love all the fashion eras and I’m addicted to historical evening dresses, but the ones that caught my attention the most were the 1850s and 60s evening dresses. Besides the silhouette I love fabrics, colours, trimmings and elegance and good taste that pervades the evening dresses of the crinoline era. Crinoline era is an era of fashion reign of empresses Elisabeth of Austria and Eugenie of France. Can you imagine Empress Eugenie or Elisabeth wearing these kind of evening dresses?

1859

I love the crinoline era and the elegance, opulence and luxury that comes along in fashion. Who among you can resist these beautiful evening and ball dresses? I know I can’t.

In this post I’ll explore the evening fashions from 1855. to 1865. – The crinoline era, to be precise. From 1850s skirt were becoming wider and wider and were supported by vast amount of petticoats until finally crinoline was invented in late 1850s. Though the silhouette in this era is basically the same, there are some differences between late 1850s and early 1860s styles.

Late 1850s skirts have lots of flounces and the sleeves are much more elaborate and wider in shape, often decorated with flounces, lace or opulent trimming. On the other hand, early 1860s styles are toned down and simpler; sleeves are less elaborate and skirts have one or two flounces if any.

1856

The neckline was open, revealing the shoulders. Sleeves were short and usually puffed but came in variety of shapes; petal, puff, flutter, bell, cap, basic short, gathered, petal and puffed combination, cap and puffed combination. Neckline was usually decorated with lace, flower bouquets, jewels or single flowers; roses were quite popular.  Little bouquets were often asymmetrically placed on the skirt. Main decoration of the late 1850s skirts were lots of flounces and the sleeves often have visible renaissance or Gothic influence.

1861

Most used fabrics were silk, taffeta, moire, organdie, muslin, tulle and lightweight brocade. Colour palette depended on the age; debutantes wore light coloured dresses (often white) while older ladies wore rich and darker colours. Plain coloured silks became extremely popular in late 1850s Pastel colours and dotted fabrics were popular while floral prints were saved for day and afternoon dresses.

1863

Trimmings were also very important in this period. They were usually pleated; silk, lace or satin. Decoration on the skirts included floral motifs, little rosettes, flower bouquets, lace, bows, roses or different flowers such as lilies, carnations, violets… For young ladies and debutantes nice choice was a plain white silk dress decorated only with white lace and bouquets of flowers or single flowers.

1862

Variations of the evening dresses were endless but I’m going to single out a few particularly popular combinations; white silk dress with sky blue, pink, turquoise or lavender trimming, pink and blue evening dresses for summer, darker colours for autumn and winter; burgundy red, dark green, purple, brown and yellow. Popular combination for winter was white satin evening gown with burgundy red, black or dark green trimming. Red roses appeared to be extremely popular decoration for December’s evening dresses.

1864

These evening dresses are beautiful and full of subtle elegance. I enjoy observing all the details, noticing the pattern in colours and trimmings for particular month.

Crinoline era is an amazing period in fashion history and I really hope that I managed to bring the grandeur, elegance and spirit of these evening dresses to you. In France this period is called Second empire. Second empire is an era of beautiful dresses, indolence, leisure and pleasure, elegant balls and joyful dances, interesting architecture, art galleries and exhibitions…

1864. evening dresses, Le Follet, june

Hope you love this fashion era too! Some of the fashion icons those days were, besides Empress Eugenie and Empress Elisabeth, Alexandra of Denmark, Maria Feodorovna…