Tag Archives: Jack the Ripper

Victorian underground fashion – From Hell

23 Nov

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Last night I finally watched the movie From Hell (2001) and I quite enjoyed it, but the thing that caught my attention the most was the fashion, Victorian underground fashion, to be precise. Dark and gloomy atmosphere of the Victorian era is inspirational to me and I love watching movies that portray lives of Victorian underground society – prostitutes, drunk men, poor orphaned children, thieves and unfortunate destinies for many of them. And I must confess I loved Heather Graham as Mary Jane Kelly and Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline. Heather is charmingly beautiful with her large blue eyes and seems to me like she matched Mary Kelly’s appearance who allegedly had blue eyes and red hair.

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Unfortunate destinies of these poor people make me very sad. Let’s take an Irish girl Mary Kelly (6th victim of Jack The Ripper) for example. Wasn’t she just like any other rich aristocratic lady, wasn’t she dreaming of being belle of the ball, wearing evening dresses, having garden full of roses, having a good husband and be respected for once. Didn’t she have wishes and feelings. Mary Kelly and her friends were all such a sad women; exhausted, tired and disappointed with their lives.

It wasn’t Mary Kelly’s wish to become a prostitute and wander the streets at night. Life and poverty forced her and her friends into prostitution and they never had a chance to be virtuous, innocent women simply enjoying life as it is. They never had a chance of wearing nice dresses and attend fancy balls. It’s ironic that they were considered immoral as if they wanted to live like that. What a sad and tragic lives they had, poor little things.

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Prostitutes were called ”Unfortunates” in London those days. Both Victorian Underground world and fashion are interesting to me and keep fascinating me over and over again. Unfortunates wore the same clothes as any other women at that time but with special characteristics. For instance, their dresses had lower necklines and corset was often visible; peaking from the neckline. Since prostitutes worked to rent a room, they were never certain they would earn enough to come back the next night. That’s why they carried all of their possessions, including clothes, with them selves.

With that on mind, you ought not to be surprised when you see that Mary Kelly and her friends wore lots of petticoats, scarfs and multiple layers of stockings. I’ve noted that fingerless gloves, little reticules and different scarfs, pelerines and fichus were most often worn by prostitutes. In conclusion; prostitutes wore the same clothes as other poor women at the time but with less formality, after all; nobody expected morality from them.

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Summer of 1888. was quite dreadful in London. Dark, cold, wet and gloomy days weren’t so rare in August when the first victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Ann Nichols, was found in Buck’s Row in Whitechapel. Seems like the atmosphere was perfectly suitable for these murders.

However, here are some fashion plates from 1887. and 1888. that show the dresses which could have been worn by Mary Kelly and others. It is, I believe, quite clear they didn’t wore the newest fashion and their dresses, besides being simple and made of cheap fabrics, were year or two old. They didn’t have enough money to pay rent, so how and why would they buy the newest dresses.

1888. day dresses

1888. day dresses, england, summer

Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, Elizabeth Stride’s clothes at the time of her death were described as:  ”Stride was wearing a black jacket and skirt, with a posy of a red rose in a spray of maidenhair fern or asparagus leaves. Her outfit was complemented by a black crêpe bonnet.” The first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, actually implied before her death that she would earn the money on the street with the help of her new bonnet.

Bonnets worn in 1888. looked pretty much like hats and were tied under the chin with a bow, but sometimes they were merely a decoration, standing on the top of the head. Mary Jane Kelly reportedly always wore a clean, white apron but never a hat. Here are some examples:

1887. bonnets, french

1886. Journal des Demoiselles, with five different images of women's hairstyles, hats and head coverings. This spring models are richly decorated with gaudy feathers, bows and other adornments, april

Besides clothing, Victorian unfortunates could easily been recognized because they were the only women on the streets at night and in the early morning.