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19th Century Fashion

Saturday, 24 April 2010

19th century fashionFashion holds a mirror to the epoch. Though trite, it's true. We can most accurately determine the epoch, with all its political, philosophical, cultural and other implications, by its headwear, the presence or absence of lace, length and shape of a women's skirt or a men's waistcoat. Every age generates its own aesthetic image, forges its characteristic beauty standards, expressed through art, architecture, and costume design (in proportions, shapes, volume, details, material, color, hairstyles, makeup, and accessories).

Fashion is a sort of gauge, indicating evolution of manners and morals. Politics change, new customs and tendencies emerge, and costume changes accordingly. By «changing its clothes», society changes its way of thinking. Throughout the history of caste society, costume served as a medium for expressing one's social identity, used to identify privileges of one class over another. In a way, clothing is a sort of social marking. So, let's hold our mirror to the 19th century Europe.

The culture of this century is characterized by a diversity of styles. This was the century of ups and downs, great alteration in outlook and transformation of the cultural paradigm; a century, which separated classical heritage and modern traditions. In art, philosophy and ideology realism reigned supreme. From myth and religion-oriented worldview to thinking in terms of economic profitability - that's the way of the 19th century.

This change was reflected in clothing. The influence of national features in dress in Europe had been declining since about 1675 and by 1800 fashionable dress design had become international. The character of the feminine wardrobe stemmed from Paris, the masculine from London.

In terms of fashion, 19th century can be divided into 3 periods:

   1. 1800-1825 Empire\Regency

   2. 1830-1860 Romanticism

   3. 1870-1900 Late Victorian era

Until about 1820 women's dress continued to reflect styles initiated by the French. These fashions were supposedly based upon the classical dress of ancient Greece. Ladies wore loose, draped, high-waisted gowns in white colors. Women wore a minimum of thin garments with little underwear which made it an unsuitable mode of dress during the winters. To attempt to combat the chill, women adopted a threequarter-length overdress made from a warmer material and a variety of shawls, pelisses, and redingotes.

During the 1820s in European and European-influenced countries, fashionable women's clothing styles transitioned away from the classically-influenced Empire/Regency styles of ca. 1795-1820 (with their relatively unconfining empire silhouette) and re-adopted elements that had been characteristic of most of the 18th century (and were to be characteristic of the remainder of the 19th century), such as full skirts and clearly visible corseting of the natural waist.

The silhouette of men's fashion changed in similar ways: by the mid-1820s coats featured broad shoulders with puffed sleeves, a narrow waist, and full skirts. Trousers were worn for smart day wear, while breeches continued in use at court and in the country.

During the first half of the 1820s, there were slight gradual modifications of Regency styles, with the position of the waistline trending successively lower than the high waistline of the Regency (just below the breasts), and also further development of the trends of the late 1810s towards giving skirts a somewhat conical silhouette (as opposed to earlier more clinging and free-flowing styles), and in having various types of decoration (sometimes large and ornate) applied horizontally around the dress near the hem. Sleeves also began increasing in size , foreshadowing the styles of the 1830s. However, there was still no radical break with the Empire/Regency aesthetic.

During the second half of the 1820s, this neoclassical aesthetic was decisively repudiated, preparing the way for the main fashion features of the next ten to fifteen years (large sleeves, somewhat strict corseting of the natural waist, full skirts, elaborate large-circumference hats, and visual emphasis on wide sloping shoulders). Around 1826, fabrics with large bold checkerboard or plaid patterns were seen on various fashion plates (another contrast with the previous fashion period, which had favored small delicate pastel prints). A bustle was sometimes also worn. Belts accentuated the new defined waist. Day gowns were often worn with a round ruffled linen collar similar to a soft Elizabethan ruff.

The prevalent trend of Romanticism from the 1820s through the mid-1840s, with its emphasis on strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience and its recognition of the picturesque, was reflected in fashion as in other arts. Items of historical dress including neck ruffs, ferronieres (jeweled headbands worn across the forehead), and sleeves based on styles of earlier periods were popular.

Overall, both men's and women's fashion showed width at the shoulder above a hippo tiny waist. Men's coats were padded in the shoulders and across the chest, while women's shoulders sloped to huge sleeves.

In the 1830s, fashionable women's clothing styles had distinctive large «leg of mutton» or «gigot» sleeves, above large full conical skirts, ideally with a narrow, low waist between (achieved through corseting). The bulkiness of women's garments both above and below the waist was intended to make the waist look smaller than it was - this was the final repudiation of any last lingering aesthetic influences of the Empire silhouette of ca. 1795-1825. Heavy stiff fabrics such as brocades came back into style, and many 18th-century gowns were brought down from attics and cut up into new garments. The combination of sloping shoulders and sleeves which were very large over most of the arm (but narrowing to a small cuff at the wrist) is quite distinctive to the day dresses of the 1830s.

Pelerines, or lace coverings draped over the shoulders, were popular (one of several devices, along with full upper-arm sleeves and wide necklines, to emphasize the shoulders and their width).

The fashionable feminine figure, with its sloping shoulders, rounded bust, narrow waist and full hips, was emphasized in various ways with the cut and trim of gowns. To about 1835, the small waist was accentuated with a wide belt (a fashion continuing from the 1820s). Later the waist and midriff were unbelted but cut close to the body, and the bodice began to taper to a small point at the front waist. The fashionable corset now had gores to individually cup the breasts, and the bodice was styled to emphasize this shape.

Evening dresses had very wide necklines and short, puffed sleeves reaching to the elbow from a dropped shoulder, and were worn with mid-length gloves. The width at the shoulder was often emphasized by gathered or pleated panels of fabric arranged horizontally over the bust and around the shoulders.

Day dresses generally had high necklines, and shoulder width was emphasized with pelerines or wide collars that rested on the gigot sleeves. Summer afternoon dresses might have wide, low necklines similar to evening dresses, but with long sleeves. Skirts were pleated into the waistband of the bodice, and held out with starched petticoats of linen or cotton.

Riding habits consisted of a high-necked, tight-waisted jacket with the fashionable dropped shoulder and huge gigot sleeves, worn over a tall-collared shirt or chemisette, with a long matching petticoat or skirt. Tall top hats with veils were worn.

Shawls were worn with short-sleeved evening gowns early in the decade, but they were not suited to the wide gigot sleeves of the mid 1830s.

Full-length mantles were worn to about 1836, when mantles became shorter. A mantlet or shawl-mantlet was a shaped garment like a cross between a shawl and a mantle, with points hanging down in front. The burnous was a three-quarter length mantle with a hood, named after the similar garment of Arabia. The paletot was knee-length, with three cape-collars and slits for the arms, and the pardessus was half or three-quarter length coat with a defined waist and sleeves. For evening, voluminous mantles of velvet or sation, with fur trim or fur linings in cold climate were worn with the evening gown.

In this period, men's fashion plates continue to show an ideal silhouette with broad shoulders, and a narrow, tightly cinched waist. Shirts of linen or cotton featured tall standing collars, increasing worn «spread» and later turned down rather than turned up over the chin, and were worn with wide cravats tied in a soft bow; dark cravats were popular for day wear. Shirts for daywear had tucked insets over the chest, while evening shirts had frills.

Frock coats (in French redingotes) increasingly replaced tail coats for informal day wear. They were calf length, and might be double-breasted. Shoulder emphasis fell lower on the arm; shoulders were sloped and puffed sleeve heads gradually shrank and then disappeared. Waistcoats or vests were single- or double-breasted, with rolled shawl or (later) notched collars, and extremely tight through the waist. Waistcoast were sometimes worn two at time, in constrasting colors. Corsets or corset-like garments were worn by many men to draw in the waistline. The most fashionable coats had padded shoulders and chests, a feature that disappeared after about 1837.

Full-length trousers began to have the modern fly-front closure, replacing the earlier fall-front. Breeches remained a requirement for formal functions. Breeches continued to be worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.

No 19th century gentleman would have considered himself well-dressed without sporting some sort of cloth around his neck--the more decorative, the better. At times, cravats were worn so high that a man could not move his head without turning his whole body. There were even reports of cravats worn so thick that they stopped sword thrusts.

It is to Honore de Balzac that we owe the truism «le cravate c'est l'homme meme». Balzac spoke the truth. A consummate dandy and legendary practitioner of the art of tying the cravat, Balzac is generally believed to be the author of the first book on men's fashion called «The Art of Tying the Cravat». The book credits «H. Le Blanc» with the authorship, but few argue that Balzac was the man behind the pen.

It was the necktie which finally replaced the cravat. It was replaced during the 19th century by an unlikely combination of Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, English coachmen, and Edward VII. The necktie was tailormade for the clerical workforce of the new industrial economy of the late 19th century. It was inexpensive, lasted for ever, and was easy and quick to knot.

Innovations in roller printing on textiles introduced new dress fabrics. Rich colors such as the Turkey red of the 1820s were still found, but delicate floral prints on light backgrounds were increasingly popular. More precise printing eliminated the need for dark outlines on printed designs, and new green dyes appeared in patterns of grasses, ferns, and unusual florals. Combinations of florals and stripes were fashionable.

Vivid description of magnificent splendor of fabrics, lace, and linen in France of industrial era are given by Emile Zola in his novel «Ladies' Paradise»: «First, pale satins and soft silks were gushing out: royal satins and renaissance satins, with the pearly shades of spring water; light silks as transparent as crystal - Nile green, turquoise, blossom pink, Danube blue. Next came the thicker fabrics, the marvelous satins and the duchess silks, in warm shades, rolling in great waves. And at the bottom, as if in a fountain-basin, the heavy materials, the damasks, the brocades, the silver and gold silks, were sleeping on a deep bed of velvets - velvets of all kinds, black, white, colored, embossed on a background of silk or satin, their shimmering flecks forming a still lake in which reflections of the sky and of the countryside seemed to dance».

«Round the columns flounces of Mechlin and Valenciennes lace were hanging down like the white skirts of ballerinas, falling to the ground in a shiver of whiteness...And everywhere, on all the counters, there was a snowy whiteness, Spanish blond-lace as light as air, Brussels applique with large flowers on fine mesh, needle-point and Venetian lace with heavier designs, Alencon and Bruges lace of regal and almost religious richness...»

The technical advances and the capability for mass manufacturing were making fashionable dress available to a rapidly expanding middle class. The invention of the sewing machine and the development of the ready-to-wear trade, new marketing techniques, and the establishment of department stores and emergence of first fashion houses in 1870s were revolutionizing the fashion industry.

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