PDA

View Full Version : Victorian Misconceptions



Orianna2000
08-30-2016, 05:21 AM
I'm writing an article about the myths and misinformation that's so prevalent today with regards to Victorian clothing. Things that many people believe to be true, thanks to Hollywood, but which are basically urban legends. My goal is to dispel the myths, educating readers on what getting dressed in the 19th century was truly like.

I've compiled a list of "well-known facts" that I plan on using, but I need more. Lots more! Enough to fill a 2,000 word article. Unfortunately, I can't rely solely on my own experiences, because I've been studying historical costuming for years and no longer remember what I used to believe. Which is where y'all come in.

What do you know about the Victorian-era, specifically regarding clothing and fashion? I'd like to hear about things you assume to be true. Maybe things you've heard, but aren't sure about. Or things you find unbelievable, unrealistic, or absurd. Anything and everything you think you know about Victorian fashion (from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s). Send it my way and I'll sort fact from fiction. (Note that I'm not looking for actual facts about the period, just things that are "commonly known" and might not actually be true.) Or if you're a historical costumer, what sorts of questions/comments do you often hear from the general public?

A few examples of what I'm talking about. . . .



Corsets are dangerous to your health.
You can't breathe in a corset!
Only upper-class women wore corsets, because they needed a maid's help to get dressed.
You can't sit in a bustle.


(Hint: All of the above examples are false.) If you'd rather not post in this thread, you can PM me.

Siri Kirpal
08-30-2016, 06:53 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"-a Sikh greeting)

I was surprised to learn that Victorian women did not wear hats to evening events (usually). I thought they always did.

My grandmother, who was born and raised on a farm and was therefore a thrifty sort, surprised me by saying that they only wore socks (which were knitted from wool) for one week before throwing them out. They didn't have the means to clean them, but they did have access to wool. This probably only applies to people in extreme rural conditions though.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Silva
08-30-2016, 07:05 AM
Corsets are dangerous to your health.
You can't breathe in a corset.


Interesting. I knew that corsets were just a supportive garment at one point/originally, but I thought there was also a phase where usage became extreme and caused internal damage-- especially if worn too soon after giving birth.

Orianna2000
08-30-2016, 06:07 PM
Interesting. I knew that corsets were just a supportive garment at one point/originally, but I thought there was also a phase where usage became extreme and caused internal damage-- especially if worn too soon after giving birth.
During the late Victorian period, there were a few women who tightlaced--which can be dangerous, if taken to the extreme. But as with any extreme trend, tightlacers were a minority, not the majority. Most women laced snugly, not tightly enough to cause any sort of damage or interfere with breathing.

I searched through my favorite 19th century pregnancy/childbirth manual and didn't find any mention of the need to avoid corsets following delivery. They had nursing corsets, with front panels that unfastened for easy access, which suggests that women did, in fact, wear them soon after delivery. In fact, women wore corsets throughout pregnancy. They were cautioned against using a corset to try and hide their pregnancy, as compressing the belly could lead to problems for the baby. But they had special maternity corsets, which had lacing on the sides, as well as in the back, so the corset could expand over the baby bump. These were much like today's belly bands--they helped support the baby's weight, taking the pressure off the woman's back, thereby making her more comfortable.

Siri, perhaps your confusion stems from the fact that women often wore a headdress in the evening. Not a hat, but an arrangement of flowers, or beads and jewels. However, there were times when wearing a floral headdress in the evening was considered impolite. I don't recall the exact circumstances, but I remember reading about it in one of my Victorian etiquette manuals. Fresh flowers were okay, if you really wanted to wear a floral headdress, but silk flowers were simply not acceptable. It might have been for a formal dinner or reception . . . but I don't recall for sure. Anyway, yup, dressing for evening required a totally different set of rules. You were allowed to bare a lot more skin, you could wear jewels, etc.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on Victorian fashion? It doesn't have to be something you learned is wrong. Just toss all your "known facts" about fashion in the 19th century at me. I'll sort out which ones are true and which are misconceptions.

Marissa D
08-30-2016, 06:18 PM
Um, slightly off topic, but I'm a collector of early 19th century fashion prints (Ackermann's Repository and La Belle Assemblee/Court Magazine in particular) and I've always wondered what caused the great sleeve deflation of spring 1836--one month, ladies' sleeves were still enormous, and the next, they were suddenly skin tight (at least to the upper arm). It looks like the change happened in France and spread like wildfire, but I've never been able to find out why.

And more related to your question: how common were embarrassing crinoline incidents during the height (or breadth!) of their popularity? If you sat down wrong, would they really fly up and Reveal All?

Evelyn_Alexie
08-30-2016, 07:27 PM
C Willett Cunnington wrote a comprehensive book about women's clothing in the 19th century. Describes women's headgear for morning, afternoon, and evening wear, broken down by decade.
https://books.google.com/books?id=-u307D-j7-EC

Silva
08-30-2016, 07:28 PM
During the late Victorian period, there were a few women who tightlaced--which can be dangerous, if taken to the extreme. But as with any extreme trend, tightlacers were a minority, not the majority. Most women laced snugly, not tightly enough to cause any sort of damage or interfere with breathing.

I searched through my favorite 19th century pregnancy/childbirth manual and didn't find any mention of the need to avoid corsets following delivery. They had nursing corsets, with front panels that unfastened for easy access, which suggests that women did, in fact, wear them soon after delivery. In fact, women wore corsets throughout pregnancy. They were cautioned against using a corset to try and hide their pregnancy, as compressing the belly could lead to problems for the baby. But they had special maternity corsets, which had lacing on the sides, as well as in the back, so the corset could expand over the baby bump. These were much like today's belly bands--they helped support the baby's weight, taking the pressure off the woman's back, thereby making her more comfortable.

Cool!

The postpartum concern was about too much pressure contributing to uterine prolapse, but the person I heard it from likely wasn't as educated about the function of corsets as you are. Also, over exertion is much, much more likely to be a factor in prolapse than binding the belly, and I think lying in was much more encouraged then than it is now.

Tocotin
08-30-2016, 07:36 PM
I've heard that ladies wore an awful lot of feathers and stuffed birds on their hats. Some birds (sorry, no idea which) are said to have gone extinct because of being extensively hunted for ladies' fashion.

Also, I don't know if it's of any use to you, but when the Japanese started wearing Western (= Victorian) clothing, it was much more popular with men than women. Most of Japanese women wore traditional clothing well until the 1920s, while most men adopted Victorian clothing as early as the 1880s.

Alessandra Kelley
08-30-2016, 07:45 PM
Um, slightly off topic, but I'm a collector of early 19th century fashion prints (Ackermann's Repository and La Belle Assemblee/Court Magazine in particular) and I've always wondered what caused the great sleeve deflation of spring 1836--one month, ladies' sleeves were still enormous, and the next, they were suddenly skin tight (at least to the upper arm). It looks like the change happened in France and spread like wildfire, but I've never been able to find out why.

And more related to your question: how common were embarrassing crinoline incidents during the height (or breadth!) of their popularity? If you sat down wrong, would they really fly up and Reveal All?

A: That's fashion for you. One season has sleeves as big as watermelons, the next -- bam! -- sleeves are as tight as can be, maybe with a little bulge at the elbow so you can move. Even in the 1830s fashions could change with dramatic speed.

There exist, by the way, antique dresses which were originally cut with the massive sleeves of 1836 which were elaborately pleated and tacked down in 1837 to match the new narrow sleeve fashion.

Aslo by the way, those very late Victorian ladies' dresses of circa. 1893-1898 which had those giant sleeves, as seen on many old bicyling prints, were imagined at the time to be an exact historic revival of the pre-1837 balloon sleeves. They thought they were dressing up historically.

B: The embarrassment of the crinoline was not that your bloomers showed, but that your low class showed.

Real high-class ladies did not wear crinolines. They wore dozens of laboriously starched petticoats almost too heavy to move in. Crinolines were for women who could not afford servants or petticoats, or shop girls who needed to be able to move lightly and quickly.

The wind showing your crinoline showed your cheapness, not your underwear.

As for myths, I don't think people realize how ubiquitous gloves were and how intimate bare hands -- Or for that matter that a man in a shirt without a vest or coat was like he was in his underwear.

Alessandra Kelley
08-30-2016, 07:51 PM
I've heard that ladies wore an awful lot of feathers and stuffed birds on their hats. Some birds (sorry, no idea which) are said to have gone extinct because of being extensively hunted for ladies' fashion.

Also, I don't know if it's of any use to you, but when the Japanese started wearing Western (= Victorian) clothing, it was much more popular with men than women. Most of Japanese women wore traditional clothing well until the 1920s, while most men adopted Victorian clothing as early as the 1880s.

There are some very interesting Japanese woodcuts, actually. A few noble Japanese ladies in the court took up fashionable Western dress of about, oh, I'd say it looks about 1878 by the neckline and lack of bustle.

Then they continued to wear exactly that season's fashion for almost twenty years, if the woodcuts are anything to go by, as if Western fashion were a timeless unchanging thing (much as Westerners have treated whatever happened to be the fashion in Japan when they happened to land there).

CWatts
08-30-2016, 08:25 PM
This may be out of scope, but a look at the differences between British Victorians and Gilded Age Americans could be due. It seems to me that there wasn't much of one among the upper classes (at least not what an unrefined Yank would notice...).

If you're discussing menswear it might be fun to compare and contrast Daniel Day-Lewis's wardrobes in Lincoln vs. Gangs of New York (screaming plaid pants!) vs. Age of Innocence (the crowd of identical black-suited, bowler-hatted businessmen).

Speaking of showing skin in the evening, there's the Victorian taboo on showing legs/ankles, but a diving neckline & push-up corset could have 'the girls' practically exposed. I see that Marissa already asked about crinoline incidents, but that brings up the issue of undergarments and the lack thereof. How exactly did women deal with menstruation in that era? I've heard that lower-class women would sometimes just "go with the flow" so to speak (eww), also that women would discretely pee beneath their skirts when they were outdoors. I would also wonder how exactly one dealt with a hoopskirt in an outhouse, esp. for number 2. (My, the Victorians would be so appalled by such indelicate matters!)

There's also the whole culture of mourning and the attire for different stages and relations. Things like jewelry made from dead people's hair and other such cool/creepy things.

Tocotin
08-30-2016, 08:38 PM
There are some very interesting Japanese woodcuts, actually. A few noble Japanese ladies in the court took up fashionable Western dress of about, oh, I'd say it looks about 1878 by the neckline and lack of bustle.


That's very true – there are photographs of Japanese ladies in Western dress also, not only woodcut prints. But as you said, those were court ladies, not common people. When you look at pictures/photographs of everyday life, you'll notice that while men on the streets do wear Western hats, suits, shoes/boots, trousers etc., as well as short-cropped hair and facial hair, women have kimonos, haori or hanten jackets, geta clogs, and mostly Japanese-style coiffures. One thing where women in their majority adopted Western look is teeth – they stopped blackening them in the 1870s.

Marissa D
08-30-2016, 08:47 PM
Tocotin, my alma mater hosted its first Japanese student in 1889--she went on to found Tsuda College: http://www.brynmawr.edu/alumnae/bulletin/tsuda.htm There are lots of photos of her in her academic gown (de rigueur for everyday wear at the time) and western hairstyle, which I suppose was a necessity when wearing a mortarboard!

Tocotin
08-30-2016, 09:06 PM
Tocotin, my alma mater hosted its first Japanese student in 1889--she went on to found Tsuda College: http://www.brynmawr.edu/alumnae/bulletin/tsuda.htm There are lots of photos of her in her academic gown (de rigueur for everyday wear at the time) and western hairstyle, which I suppose was a necessity when wearing a mortarboard!

Hey Marissa! Tsuda Umeko is a big name in Japan. She was a member of the elite though (her father was a big proposer of Westernization), a personal friend of the Prime Minister etc., and after having spent a lot of time in the US she actually almost forgot how to speak Japanese. So she might have worn Western clothing more often and more willingly than most Japanese women, court ladies included.

Raindrop
08-30-2016, 09:12 PM
Speaking of showing skin in the evening, there's the Victorian taboo on showing legs/ankles, but a diving neckline & push-up corset could have 'the girls' practically exposed. I see that Marissa already asked about crinoline incidents, but that brings up the issue of undergarments and the lack thereof. How exactly did women deal with menstruation in that era? I've heard that lower-class women would sometimes just "go with the flow" so to speak (eww), also that women would discretely pee beneath their skirts when they were outdoors. I would also wonder how exactly one dealt with a hoopskirt in an outhouse, esp. for number 2. (My, the Victorians would be so appalled by such indelicate matters!)
That's probably not the only thing they used, but women wore pads made of cotton or other fabrics, attached to belts (commercially available from the 2nd half of the 19th century).

Museum of menstruation:
http://www.mum.org/belts.htm

Cobalt Jade
08-30-2016, 09:16 PM
One of my misconceptions was that corsets were always worn against bare skin, like they would be today at a club or naughty scene. But in real life, a chemise was always worn underneath them, to protect them from the sweat and oils of the body.

Orianna2000
08-31-2016, 12:45 AM
Um, slightly off topic, but I'm a collector of early 19th century fashion prints (Ackermann's Repository and La Belle Assemblee/Court Magazine in particular) and I've always wondered what caused the great sleeve deflation of spring 1836--one month, ladies' sleeves were still enormous, and the next, they were suddenly skin tight (at least to the upper arm). It looks like the change happened in France and spread like wildfire, but I've never been able to find out why.
I honestly don't know. Anything could have triggered such an abrupt fashion change. Maybe someone finally realized, "Hey, women look ridiculous with huge sleeves!" LOL!



And more related to your question: how common were embarrassing crinoline incidents during the height (or breadth!) of their popularity? If you sat down wrong, would they really fly up and Reveal All?
I don't know how common it was to have a crinoline accident, but they did happen. It's one reason drawers made a comeback, and why women wore so many layers of under-petticoats, for modesty, in case a hoop tilted up. You do have to be careful when sitting in a hoop skirt, because if you sit on the hoops just right, they will indeed flip up. You have to sort of "settle" the hoops first, then sit your bottom down.


I've heard that ladies wore an awful lot of feathers and stuffed birds on their hats. Some birds (sorry, no idea which) are said to have gone extinct because of being extensively hunted for ladies' fashion.
I've heard that, too, although I've no idea whether it's actually true or just an urban legend. I'll have to look into that further.


Also, I don't know if it's of any use to you, but when the Japanese started wearing Western (= Victorian) clothing, it was much more popular with men than women. Most of Japanese women wore traditional clothing well until the 1920s, while most men adopted Victorian clothing as early as the 1880s.
Interesting. I know Japanese culture had a big influence on Victorian fashion, particularly in the 1870s. There are extant gowns made of kimono silk, really gorgeous!



B: The embarrassment of the crinoline was not that your bloomers showed, but that your low class showed.

Real high-class ladies did not wear crinolines. They wore dozens of laboriously starched petticoats almost too heavy to move in. Crinolines were for women who could not afford servants or petticoats, or shop girls who needed to be able to move lightly and quickly.
The idea of upper-class women shunning the crinoline is something I've never come across in my research. What I've read is that women wore layers and layers of starched petticoats in the 1850s, until the wire hoop skirt was reinvented in 1856 (I think?). The crinoline spread like wildfire, because it liberated women from the heavy layers of petticoats. They could now get away with wearing maybe three pettis, instead of half a dozen or more. I've never read anything that suggested upper-class women didn't care for hoop skirts. Can you point me toward your source? I'd love to know more about this!


As for myths, I don't think people realize how ubiquitous gloves were and how intimate bare hands -- Or for that matter that a man in a shirt without a vest or coat was like he was in his underwear.
Yes! My first novel is set in 1881, and I made a big deal out of the fact that the hero and heroine clasp hands without gloves. It was shockingly inappropriate for the time. Not sure how to turn that into a "myth" and "truth," though. I'll have to give it some thought.



I see that Marissa already asked about crinoline incidents, but that brings up the issue of undergarments and the lack thereof. How exactly did women deal with menstruation in that era? I've heard that lower-class women would sometimes just "go with the flow" so to speak (eww), also that women would discretely pee beneath their skirts when they were outdoors. I would also wonder how exactly one dealt with a hoopskirt in an outhouse, esp. for number 2. (My, the Victorians would be so appalled by such indelicate matters!)
They did have pads, of a sort, for menstruation. I've seen ads in antique catalogs for "belts" that have tabs hanging down in the front and back, to which you would pin whatever sort of sanitary pad you were using. The idea of women just "letting it flow" is largely a myth--and a disgusting one, at that! They even sold special waterproof aprons that were worn under your dress, in the back, to protect your gown from bloodstains.

As for using the toilet, I expect they did it much the way reenactors today do . . . entering the stall and sitting on the toilet backwards. It's the only way to keep your skirts from getting in the toilet. I suspect that if you were poor enough to need an outhouse, you probably weren't too worried about wearing hoop skirts. Although, I have read that poor women were desperate to keep up a fashionable appearance, so even women out on the frontier, with no access to proper bustles, would tie soup cans around their waist, or use a stuffed pillow, or whatever they could think of, to achieve that butt-poof. (When I was a kid, I would make my own "bustle" by folding several blankets and draping them over a ribbon, then tie the ribbon around my waist, and shove the blankets to the back. For a hoop skirt, I would tie ribbons or shoelaces to a hula-hoop.)


There's also the whole culture of mourning and the attire for different stages and relations. Things like jewelry made from dead people's hair and other such cool/creepy things.
I saw a fine example of hair jewelry at a local museum. You would never guess it was woven from hair, it's so intricate looking! Apparently, they also took photos of dead loved ones, often posed with a living relative. Talk about creepy. . . .


One of my misconceptions was that corsets were always worn against bare skin, like they would be today at a club or naughty scene. But in real life, a chemise was always worn underneath them, to protect them from the sweat and oils of the body.
Ah, good one! Thanks. Those who've ever tried to wear a corset bare will know what a bad idea that is! You get all sorts of chafing. Not to mention getting the corset dirty with sweat and body oils. Corsets can't be washed often, because you'd have to remove the steel bones first, which is a pain and a half. So you wear the protective chemise underneath, because it can be easily washed. I remember reading somewhere that silk was NOT often used for chemises, not even for upper-class women, because it tends to cause chafing. Thin linen or cotton was vastly preferable.

Bolero
08-31-2016, 12:52 AM
I know that my grandma got it wrong sitting down in a crinoline the first time she was put into one as a teenager - she told me. She was a bit of a tomboy, flung herself into a chair sitting on the hoop at the back and showed her pantaloons to her family.

Interesting that crinolines were not upper class in the Victorian period. I know 17th century and a bit of Elizabethan and there the equivalent to a crinoline was definitely upper class, especially if metal (expensive) with ladies maids for example making themselves cheap copies in cane.

Marissa D
08-31-2016, 01:01 AM
There are wonderful descriptions of how laborers' wives contrived bustles and such to be as au courant as possible in Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford.

And I've never heard that crinolines were not worn by upper class women; fashion prints I've seen from the 1860s show silhouettes that could only be achieved by crinolines, and they weren't catering to the lower classes...

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 02:14 AM
Fashion prints were largely aimed at the aspiring middle classes and they often exaggerated the silhouettes, as a comparison of fashion drawings with photographs and surviving garments will show.



The idea of upper-class women shunning the crinoline is something I've never come across in my research. What I've read is that women wore layers and layers of starched petticoats in the 1850s, until the wire hoop skirt was reinvented in 1856 (I think?). The crinoline spread like wildfire, because it liberated women from the heavy layers of petticoats. They could now get away with wearing maybe three pettis, instead of half a dozen or more. I've never read anything that suggested upper-class women didn't care for hoop skirts. Can you point me toward your source? I'd love to know more about this.


I wish I had something more I could point my finger to, because mostly it's a sense I have gotten from decades of reading Victorian writings and studying their art and humor.

Part of the problem seems to be that the topic was slightly racy and taboo. There seems to have been a silent acceptance that crinolines were a little ersatz, like plastic flowers, but that they were a reasonable way of appearing more prosperous if one could be discreet about it. But on the whole people do not seem to have discussed it much.

There are clues. It's things like the Punch song that begins "God save our gracious Queen, She won't wear crinoline ..."; or the Winterhalter portraits of noblewomen, Empresses and court ladies in their sumptuous, soft, pillowy skirts laid out over the sward in ways that hoops cannot possibly go; or the meticulous instructions in ladies' magazines for disguising one's hoops to look as much as possible like layers and layers of petticoats; or that so much of the hoops-too-big humor is slightly ribald, like more recent humor about padding one's bra or gentlemen sticking a sock down their trousers; or the dismay that with cheap crinoline hoops, Betty Downstairs can dress as if she were as fine as a real lady -- although of course she gets stuck in turnstiles for her vanity, ho ho (and of course real ladies do not use commuter trains or omnibuses).

Megann
08-31-2016, 02:22 AM
Another thing about the crinolines were that they easily caught fire and a number of women burned to death in them, especially if they wore them in the kitchen.

Also what about the bloomer dress? Several of the prominent suffragists wore them for years, but were constantly harassed where ever they went so they eventually went back to something more conservative.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 02:29 AM
Interesting that crinolines were not upper class in the Victorian period. I know 17th century and a bit of Elizabethan and there the equivalent to a crinoline was definitely upper class, especially if metal (expensive) with ladies maids for example making themselves cheap copies in cane.

What is expensive luxury and what is cheap commonplace changes with time, resources, and technology.

A little over a hundred years ago automobiles were exclusively toys of the rich; now they have become nearly ubiquitous. Cotton, a Napoleonic luxury fabric, became a Victorian commonplace with the invention of industrial spinning and weaving.

Likewise, with Victorian technology and resource exploitation, spring steel became a commonplace, if not quite dirt-cheap, at least ubiquitous, allowing for better piano wire and industrial machinery springs, corsetry for the masses (now that whalebone was becoming so much harder to find, what with the hunting to near-extinction and all) -- and cheap hoopskirts.

So far as I can tell upper class ladies did at least sometimes wear hoop skirts. But they did everything they could to disguise that fact.

CWatts
08-31-2016, 02:39 AM
This is such a fascinating thread. I love the details about crenalines etc. speak to the class anxities of the time. Wasn't there also something similar going on with the color palettes worn, since this was also the time when chemical dyes made bright colors available to the lowers classes? I know for example the demimondaines in Impressionist paintings tend to wear bold colors and prints, and of course there's the Five Points gangsters I mentioned earlier. Of course it could also be that gentlemen took to wearing black suits, hats and overcoats because there was soot everywhere in the cities.

Oh and as for urban legends, there's the naughtiest one about Prince Albert and the penis piercing that bears his name. Apparently this is a myth made up by a piercer in the 1970s. I have run across references to other piercings some Victorians did do (such as both nipples connected by a chain) but it may not have been a good source.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 02:58 AM
One more thing about hoop skirts. "Crinoline" was something of a euphemism. "Crin" means horse hair, and a "crinoline" was actually a stiffly woven skirt made of horse hair. But the word got applied to the much cheaper spring steel hoop skirts as it sounded classy.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 03:17 AM
This is such a fascinating thread. I love the details about crenalines etc. speak to the class anxities of the time. Wasn't there also something similar going on with the color palettes worn, since this was also the time when chemical dyes made bright colors available to the lowers classes? I know for example the demimondaines in Impressionist paintings tend to wear bold colors and prints, and of course there's the Five Points gangsters I mentioned earlier. Of course it could also be that gentlemen took to wearing black suits, hats and overcoats because there was soot everywhere in the cities.

Black was a fashionable color for men for the entire nineteenth century. Black had been a luxury dye since the Renaissance -- It is very difficult to achieve without color undertones and it fades quickly. Furthermore, some of the best black dyes could eat away at fabric if one were not careful.

The Victorians considered black a sober, dignified color. They also had an elaborate cult of mourning their dead that called for massive amounts of black clothing (with extraordinarily intricate rules of what to wear when and who by). Victorian dyers specializing in black did a brisk business in converting wardrobes to mourning clothes.

The Victorians took with enthusiasm to the bright dyes developed in the mid-nineteenth century. It's not just the Demi-Mondaine; Impressionist paintings are full of perfectly proper ladies (and some self-portraits) in eye-wateringly electric colors. In an era of harsh new electric lighting the brighter colors looked exciting, and even bright lemon yellow, scorned since the Regency, came back into fashion.

Here's a myth: Mauve is a droopy, washed out pale lavender-grey.

Actually, mauvine, the dye, is an eye-wateringly electric hot pink, closely related to magenta, but it is very short-lived and fades quickly. By the time the young adults of the 1920s were snickering at their grandparents, all that mauve had faded to a dull blue-grey, the color we have associated with mauve ever since.

Siri Kirpal
08-31-2016, 03:46 AM
[QUOTE=Orianna2000;9929328]
Siri, perhaps your confusion stems from the fact that women often wore a headdress in the evening. Not a hat, but an arrangement of flowers, or beads and jewels. However, there were times when wearing a floral headdress in the evening was considered impolite. I don't recall the exact circumstances, but I remember reading about it in one of my Victorian etiquette manuals. Fresh flowers were okay, if you really wanted to wear a floral headdress, but silk flowers were simply not acceptable. It might have been for a formal dinner or reception . . . but I don't recall for sure. Anyway, yup, dressing for evening required a totally different set of rules. You were allowed to bare a lot more skin, you could wear jewels, etc.

QUOTE]

Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I think my confusion stemmed more from hearing so many people talking about how their grandmother or mother or aunt ALWAYS wore a hat. Of course, a kid would only see the grown-ups during the day, not at fancy evening events.

Just some other snippets based on old family photos: My grandmother was raised in rural Missourah (circuit riders, outdoor plumbing, no electricity, travelling peddlers, etc.) in the late 1890s. The women DID wear corsets, but did NOT wear crinolines or an excessive number of petticoats or bustles. You can tell that from the photos. They also didn't wear hats in the photos, but I've always assumed that was for the sake of a good likeness.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Orianna2000
08-31-2016, 03:55 AM
Hmm, interesting. I've always thought of mauve as being a pinkish-purple. Not necessarily bright, but not washed-out, either. If it's faded, it's lavender. When I was young, a friend of my mom told me to hand her a "mauve eyeglasses case" and it was a blue-gray color. I remember being very confused, because I hadn't heard of the color mauve before. Later, I came to associate mauve with pinkish-purple, rather than blue-gray, but I couldn't tell you when or where that happened.

Isn't Empress Sissy wearing a hoop skirt in that famous portrait of her in the white tulle gown with stars in her hair? Or does not enough of the skirt show to make a determination? There was another painting, I forget which one, but it showed either Empress Sissy or Queen Victoria (or some royal lady) with several of her ladies-in-waiting. Some costumers I know decided to recreate the scene for a competition at a costume convention, several years ago. They did a brilliant job! I want to say they all wore hoops, but I honestly don't recall for sure. I'll have to try and search for photos of that event.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 03:59 AM
An adult woman did not wear a hat in her own home. Outside her home, a hat, a bonnet, or a little something in the hair was considered essential.

Likewise one always wore gloves when out, but never when eating. One took off one's right glove to shake hands, and was permitted to walk around holding one's right glove in the left hand if one expected to meet a lot of people (one hears of thrifty sisters sharing a nice pair of gloves for wearing and each holding an older, soiled glove as if it were the mate).

Orianna2000
08-31-2016, 04:00 AM
Just some other snippets based on old family photos: My grandmother was raised in rural Missourah (circuit riders, outdoor plumbing, no electricity, travelling peddlers, etc.) in the late 1890s. The women DID wear corsets, but did NOT wear crinolines or an excessive number of petticoats or bustles. You can tell that from the photos. They also didn't wear hats in the photos, but I've always assumed that was for the sake of a good likeness.

I don't know about the hats in portraits, but they wouldn't have been wearing bustles or hoops in the 1890s. The bustle faded in the late 1880s and never returned, except for extremely small ones that were worn at the small of the back, meant only to help the skirt drape gracefully. Styles were a lot simpler from that point on, with the exception of the brief resurrection of balloon sleeves in the mid-1890s.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 04:02 AM
Hmm, interesting. I've always thought of mauve as being a pinkish-purple. Not necessarily bright, but not washed-out, either. If it's faded, it's lavender. When I was young, a friend of my mom told me to hand her a "mauve eyeglasses case" and it was a blue-gray color. I remember being very confused, because I hadn't heard of the color mauve before. Later, I came to associate mauve with pinkish-purple, rather than blue-gray, but I couldn't tell you when or where that happened.

Isn't Empress Sissy wearing a hoop skirt in that famous portrait of her in the white tulle gown with stars in her hair? Or does not enough of the skirt show to make a determination? There was another painting, I forget which one, but it showed either Empress Sissy or Queen Victoria (or some royal lady) with several of her ladies-in-waiting. Some costumers I know decided to recreate the scene for a competition at a costume convention, several years ago. They did a brilliant job! I want to say they all wore hoops, but I honestly don't recall for sure. I'll have to try and search for photos of that event.

Not sure. Could you link to the image please?

There is this one, I think in the Met: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Winterhalter_Franz_Xavier_The_Empress_Eugenie_Surr ounded_by_her_Ladies_in_Waiting.jpg

It is difficult to imagine a metal hoop anywhere under those great soft lawn-clipping bags of skirts.

Susannah Shepherd
08-31-2016, 07:34 AM
As to whether birds were hunted to extinction for ladies' hats, you might want to look up the huia bird which was hunted to extinction in Victorian times in New Zealand - although from memory it was just as much the fad for big glass jars full of stuffed birds, and scientific collections, that did for the poor old huia.

On other clothing front, I've never been quite sure how prevalent the use of the new chemical dyes was, or whether they had dangerous effects on health a la arsenic green. At times I imagine the Victorians wandering around in the colours of a 1980s disco.

Cobalt Jade
08-31-2016, 08:36 AM
I always wondered how hot all those Victorian women were in their tight corsets and crinolines/petticoats. Even if the world was cooler back then (most of the 19th century was still in the Little Ice Age) what about the colonial wives in tropical places and the hot, humid parts of America? They must have led very inactive lives.

Another misconception: people actually got tinier in the Victorian age, compared to previous ages in England.

Roxxsmom
08-31-2016, 10:18 AM
I always wondered how hot all those Victorian women were in their tight corsets and crinolines/petticoats. Even if the world was cooler back then (most of the 19th century was still in the Little Ice Age) what about the colonial wives in tropical places and the hot, humid parts of America? They must have led very inactive lives.

Another misconception: people actually got tinier in the Victorian age, compared to previous ages in England.

I've wondered about how they weren't just broiling a lot of the time too, especially before AC, or even electric fans, were invented. European and American people were so into their layers back then, and upper class sorts couldn't be seen in public without jackets and waistcoats (for men) and all those layers beneath their dresses (women). I know the layer worn next to the skin was the washable fabric that absorbed sweat and oils, because the fabrics used for the outer garments couldn't be washed in those days (just spot cleaned and combed) but that doesn't explain why they didn't just wear a single layer of more washable fabric (as people who are native to more tropical climes tended to do) in warmer climes and in the summer at least.

I'd never heard the myth that people were particularly tiny in the Victorian era, though.

The Carolina parakeet (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/carolina-parakeet-removal-of-a-menace/) was a bird that was hunted to extinction in the Americas. Providing feathers for hats was part of the reason, though they were also popular cage birds for a while, and farmers loathed them for eating crops (so some of the hunting was for that reason too).

Bolero
08-31-2016, 02:44 PM
Queen Victoria and the not wearing crinoline. Years back I went on a tour around the Duke of Wellington's house. The first Duke liked his modern comforts and had central heating fitted - an early version of cast iron radiators. The tour guide said that when Queen V came to visit she complained bitterly about how hot it was, as she was wearing twelve petticoats and they were what she needed to keep warm while trundling round Windsor Castle.

Orianna2000
08-31-2016, 05:02 PM
Not sure. Could you link to the image please?

There is this one, I think in the Met: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Winterhalter_Franz_Xavier_The_Empress_Eugenie_Surr ounded_by_her_Ladies_in_Waiting.jpg

It is difficult to imagine a metal hoop anywhere under those great soft lawn-clipping bags of skirts.
That may be the painting I was thinking of. It looks vaguely familiar, at least! I haven't actually dressed up in hoops, excluding my childhood experiments with hula-hoops, so I don't know how well they collapse when you sit. But I've seen pictures of modern reenactors sitting in them, and often, the hoops seem to disappear, especially if they're wearing adequate petticoats. (It's something of a myth that you only need one petticoat. You need at least two: an under petticoat, worn beneath the hoops, to protect your modesty should the hoops flip up, and at least one, but preferably several (including at least one ruffled petti), over the hoops, to soften the lines and obscure the wires.) It's my understanding that letting your wires show was considered vulgar.

Alessandra, I remember the glove sharing from Little Women, I think. But weren't gloves back then made with a left and right? Unlike today's ambidextrous gloves which can be worn on either hand, I thought Victorian gloves were made so they had a specific hand they needed to be worn on. Which would make it hard to share with someone, because one sister would have the right glove, while the other had the left glove. (Edited to add: Actually, now that I think about it, lace gloves or crocheted mitts were probably ambidextrous, so they could share those. Just not kid gloves.)

Susannah, I've heard that women got sick or died from wearing fabric dyed with arsenic or other dangerous chemicals, but I've never actually looked into whether it's true or not. Back then, medical science wasn't exactly cutting-edge, so I sincerely doubt they actually identified a lady's ballgown or visiting dress as being the cause of her untimely fatal illness. Especially since they were ignorant enough to use those dyes in the first place, they probably wouldn't suspect them of being the cause of death. So I don't know if there's any way of finding out how many women truly got sick from dangerous fabric dyes.

As for the question of heat, keep in mind that women wore several layers, yes, but of natural fabrics. And they were very lightweight fabrics, too. Much finer than we produce today. They had an extremely thin summer-weight wool, for example, that you simply cannot find today. Even our thin tropical wools are heavier. They also wore cotton lawn and voile, which are super thin, semi-sheer fabrics. My point being, wearing several layers of cotton and/or linen tends to keep you cooler than wearing just one layer of polyester. The layers insulate your body, and they breathe, too, which synthetics do not.

True story--I once wore a Victorian day dress, with all the appropriate undergarments, including combinations, corset, bustle, and several petticoats, plus a skirt, overskirt, and bodice, in August, in St. Louis, MO. It had to have been 100 degrees, but because the dress was made of a lightweight cotton, as were most of my underthings, I was only slightly more uncomfortable than I would've been in shorts and a t-shirt. When I got undressed, I found that my combinations were completely soaked with perspiration, but they had done their job, keeping the rest of my garments clean and dry.

Alessandra Kelley
08-31-2016, 05:04 PM
As to whether birds were hunted to extinction for ladies' hats, you might want to look up the huia bird which was hunted to extinction in Victorian times in New Zealand - although from memory it was just as much the fad for big glass jars full of stuffed birds, and scientific collections, that did for the poor old huia.

On other clothing front, I've never been quite sure how prevalent the use of the new chemical dyes was, or whether they had dangerous effects on health a la arsenic green. At times I imagine the Victorians wandering around in the colours of a 1980s disco.

I read a book by Bee Wilson called Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee, which pointed out that a major use of those dyes was to color overboiled and canned foods, jams, jellies, and candies (eventually leading to food reforms and the FDA and similar organizations).

Arsenic green was used to color pickles!

And I have heard dress historians and others say to just assume that any bright green fabric or leather from the nineteenth century is dyed with arsenic green and treat it a little like hazardous waste.

And yes, fashionable Victorian colors were far more vivid than modish early moderns seemed to want to think, if paintings and surviving garments are anything to go by.

Orianna2000
08-31-2016, 05:06 PM
Here's a link to an article about the ladies who recreated the Winterhalter portrait (http://demodecouture.com/projects/eugenie/). They did, indeed, wear hoops, and the article states their research and reasoning for doing so.

Marissa D
08-31-2016, 05:43 PM
I host a blog on 19th century history geared toward a younger audience as I mostly write YA, and wrote about Emerald Green last fall--physicians were indeed aware of the health issues around it but many dye manufacturers pooh-poohed their concerns (not sure if it's polite to link to one's own blog posts, so I'll refrain.) There was also an exhibit (closed in June, alas) at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto that featured clothing and shoes with this dye, appropriately called "Fashion Victims:the Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century."

CassandraW
08-31-2016, 06:00 PM
I have several pairs of leather gloves, and none are ambidextrous.

Siri Kirpal
08-31-2016, 09:38 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Another reason ladies stayed cooler than you might think with all those clothes on was that ceilings were higher. And that was part of the reason they were.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Sunflowerrei
09-01-2016, 10:22 AM
I saw a fine example of hair jewelry at a local museum. You would never guess it was woven from hair, it's so intricate looking! Apparently, they also took photos of dead loved ones, often posed with a living relative. Talk about creepy. . . .

Oh, death portraits. Yup. They used to dress up the dead person and prop them into sitting or standing positions sometimes. I was looking at a few last year (the thing I'm writing now takes place in the 1890s) and in a few of those pictures, I had a hard time telling the dead person from the living person in the picture beside them. Creepy!


Tocotin, my alma mater hosted its first Japanese student in 1889--she went on to found Tsuda College: http://www.brynmawr.edu/alumnae/bulletin/tsuda.htm There are lots of photos of her in her academic gown (de rigueur for everyday wear at the time) and western hairstyle, which I suppose was a necessity when wearing a mortarboard!

I read a book about Tsuda Umeko a few months ago, called Daughters of the Samurai. So fascinating and with great picture inserts.

As for Victorian fashion misconceptions...before I started writing in the era, I used to mix up the various fashions. Bustles are no longer a thing in my story, but still, how did they sit down with bustles? Also, I think a lot of people think that all Victorian fashions were restrictive, but then we have the tea gown and shirtwaists.

CWatts
09-01-2016, 06:10 PM
As for Victorian fashion misconceptions...before I started writing in the era, I used to mix up the various fashions. Bustles are no longer a thing in my story, but still, how did they sit down with bustles?

The internet delivers :)

http://historicalsewing.com/how-to-sit-victorian-bustle-dress

The video also discusses how having a guy hold the chair was a practical matter.

Orianna2000
09-01-2016, 06:11 PM
Siri, I can definitely see how higher ceilings would help keep the air cooler, since heat rises. That's pretty smart, actually! Although, what about in the winter? It'd be a pain to heat those rooms. Recently, I got to tour a local mansion built in 1871, because I was doing a series of articles about their antique clothing collection (the largest in the South!). The rooms on the ground floor, including the dining room and ballroom, were much smaller than I expected, but the ceilings were all extremely vaulted. The rooms on the second and third floors weren't as grand, because guests were expected to keep to the first floor, but they still had very high ceilings. Many of the doors had transom windows above them, too. I don't know much about the purpose of transoms, but I assume they helped air circulate above your head.

Generally, women carried a hand-fan with them, too, so they could stay cool. Fans work pretty well, but your arm gets tired after waving the fan for a few minutes.

Sunflowerrei, many bustles were made of wire half-hoops, which collapse when you sit. When you stand, gravity pulls the hoops apart, so they expand into a bustle, but when you sit, they compress together or pivot upwards, like on hinges. (Here's a picture of one. (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/162059286564555466/)) I have two (modern-made) bustles that are designed that way. They're very easy to sit in! I wore one to the theater once, and I didn't have any trouble fitting into a small theater seat. Other bustles weren't as well-made. There were large padded ones, like wearing a pillow tied to your backside. Those, you had to shove to the side and perch on the edge of the chair, rather awkwardly. There are also coiled wire bustles and padded bustles that are a lot smaller, intended for traveling. They don't extend below your hips, so they don't interfere with sitting, aside from taking up space behind you, which means you sit a bit forward in the chair.

Siri Kirpal
09-01-2016, 09:43 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Ceilings in the South tended to be higher than those in the North, which makes sense for heating. Also, by the late Victorian era, the North, especially the suburbs, tended to have central heating, which the South didn't usually have.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

benbenberi
09-02-2016, 04:56 AM
Transom windows were not just for air circulation, but also for light - esp so that daylight from rooms with windows could reach interior spaces without.

Orianna2000
09-02-2016, 06:18 AM
Ah, that makes sense (regarding transom windows). Good to know.

Bolero
09-02-2016, 11:51 PM
Also in hot climates - India in particular - in the hot season everyone headed for the hills - literally - where it was cooler. In India there were "punkah wallas" as I remember the term from reading about the era - a punkah being a big woven mat (palm leaves?) hanging from the ceiling, with mechanism and ropes for someone to flap it from outside the room - the job of the punkah walla.

In the UK the richer people tended to have country houses, where they went in the summer, or they went to the sea side. Brighton was a "dressy" place, but the countryside often less so - therefore they were out in the nice breezy countryside and tending to wear simpler, lighter dresses.
It needs to be remembered that dresses were changed several times a day, and there were also dresses with purposes - riding habits, walking dresses, carriage dresses, morning dresses, evening dresses...... So not all were as heavy or as elaborate. Also you tend to wear your most expensive and elaborate outfits for a portrait so what you see in portraits is often the extreme.

Dmbeucler
09-03-2016, 02:28 AM
They also made summer corsets. There are images here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/66217056996384142/ and the Met and the Kent state collections have some examples. I highly recommend the Janet Arnold books, Patterns of Fashion, if anyone is looking for detailed information.

And it's really easy to sit in a lobster tails style bustle or a hoopskirt. The lobster tail collapses, I usually have to shake mine when I stand, but I wasn't completely diligent in my reconstruction, so a better constructed one might not need that.

As for Victorian myths, the myth of the covered piano legs, covered for morality's sake, and the general prudishness associated with the Victorian times, contrasted with how they really were. I believe it was late Victorian (but maybe Edwardian) where getting tattoos was a high fashion of the upper crust. In particular Jenny Churchill, mother of Winston, had a dragon on her forearm I believe.

/nerding ;-)

CWatts
09-03-2016, 03:03 AM
As for Victorian myths, the myth of the covered piano legs, covered for morality's sake, and the general prudishness associated with the Victorian times, contrasted with how they really were. I believe it was late Victorian (but maybe Edwardian) where getting tattoos was a high fashion of the upper crust. In particular Jenny Churchill, mother of Winston, had a dragon on her forearm I believe.

/nerding ;-)

So no wonder Churchill turned out to be a badass.... Actually it seems that tattoos were a thing among both the high and lower classes, it's just that the upper crust could afford the good ink when it was all still done by hand. Professional Criminals of America (1886) describes tattoos among their distinguishing marks but it's usually something simple like a star or someone's name or initials.

autumnleaf
09-07-2016, 05:22 PM
Apparently, they also took photos of dead loved ones, often posed with a living relative. Talk about creepy. . . .


Remember that photography was very expensive in those days. For many people, the postmortem photo might be the only opportunity they had to capture their loved-one on film, especially in the case of a child.

Some parents nowadays get photos taken of their stillborn babies. Some hospitals offer a specialist photographer (they need to know how to take the best picture while gently handling an emotional situation). My brother and sister-in-law did this and I believe it helped with their grieving process.