Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Pretty in 19th Century Pink

pretty in pink collage 1 e1527539090667

Individual Images via Met Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, and MFA Boston.

During the Victorian era, pink was considered a sweet, feminine color, suitable for the gowns of young ladies in their first season.  It was also fashionable for more mature Victorian women, who often wore evening dresses made of fine pink satins and silks.  Most commonly of all, pink was an accent color used for trim and accessories.  Ladies carried pink parasols and pink fans.  They decorated their bonnets with pink ribbons and flowers.  And, in the summer, their light cotton gowns were brightened with pink stripes and pink floral sprigs.  In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color pink in Victorian fashion.

GOWNS

The 1862 edition of Littell’s Living Age states that pale pink was not an ideal shade for daytime wear, explaining that “in daylight, pink heightens the sallowness of the complexion.”  For evening dress, however, pink was highly recommended as it was “often becoming by candle-light.”  The below dress is a classic example of a late 19th century pink evening dress.  Made of silk, it is trimmed in pink flowers.

1898 1901 womens pink silk evening dress via cincinnati art museum

1898-1901 Pink Silk Evening Dress.
(Cincinnati Art Museum)

According to Littell’s Living Age, pink was most flattering when “uncombined with other colors.”  As for trimmings, Victorian ladies were advised that a pink evening dress was “more elegant” when worn with flowers or trimmings that were also a shade of pink.  As an example, the below evening dress is made with a pale pink satin and a slightly darker pink tulle.

1897 House of Worth Pink Satin Evening Dress.(Victoria and Albert Museum)

1897 House of Worth Pink Satin Evening Dress.
(Victoria and Albert Museum)

Pink was considered a flattering color for blondes and fair-skinned brunettes, but the 1860 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book advises that “those of darker complexion must avoid pinks.”  Littell’s Living Age echoes this sentiment, warning ladies with “raven hair and dark eyes” to steer clear of pink and choose deep reds instead.  The pink silk ball gown below looks like it may have fit the bill for a Victorian blonde or brunette.

1868 french pink silk ball gown via met museum

1868 Pink Silk Ball Gown.
(Met Museum)

Slightly darker shades of pink were suitable for morning dresses, day dresses, and tea gowns.  These included colors such as “shrimp-pink” and “salmon-pink” (frequently mentioned in Victorian fashion magazines of the day).  The brighter shades of pink could be quite dramatic, as illustrated by the silk taffeta afternoon dress shown below.

1857 Pink Silk Taffeta Afternoon Dress.(Museum at FIT)

1857 Pink Silk Taffeta Afternoon Dress.
(Museum at FIT)

Darker pinks could be contrasted with other colors, such as white or black.  Black could be especially striking when worn with pink, but Littell’s Living Age is careful to warn that “black, although agreeable, is so positive a contrast, as to savor somewhat of the theatre.”  A harsh judgment indeed!  The below pink cotton dress employs black trim in what would have been an acceptable fashion.

1862 Pink Cotton and Wool Dress.(Met Museum)

1862 Pink Cotton and Wool Dress.
(Met Museum)

Pink and white was another popular color combination—especially for young ladies.  Pale pink roses and ribbons often adorned white ensembles, while pink and white stripes were regularly seen in summer day dresses and evening gowns.  The below dress of pink striped silk taffeta is one example.

1866 pink striped silk taffeta evening dress Image via Kyoto Costume Institute

1866 Striped Silk Taffeta Evening Dress.
(Kyoto Costume Institute)

Pink paired well as a trim with other warm colors.  It looked particularly pretty with browns and tans.  The evening dress below is tan silk faille trimmed with pink.

1866 1868 evening dress of tan and pink silk faille via philadelphia museum

1866-1868 House of Worth Evening Dress.
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

When pink was paired with a cold color, such as blue or gray, Littell’s Living Age advises that the cold color “should always predominate.”  This advice is illustrated perfectly by the dress below.  Made of green-blue silk, it is trimmed with pink ribbons and bows.

1871 1873 cool green silk trimming in pink and lace image via manchester art gallery

1871-1873 Pale Green Silk Dress Trimmed in Pink.
(Manchester Art Gallery)

1871 1873 cool green silk trimming in pink and lace side view image via manchester art gallery

1871-1873 Pale Green Silk Dress Trimmed in Pink.
(Manchester Art Gallery)

 

SHOES

Pink accessories were quite fashionable during the Victorian era.  Pink slippers, pumps, and boots were also considered very stylish.  The silk evening pumps below are one example of how pink was used in Victorian footwear.

1885 1895 silk evening pumps via met musem

1885-1895 Silk Evening Pumps.
(Met Musem)

Pink boots could be worn for day, evening, and formal occasions—even weddings.  Below is a gorgeous pair of pink evening boots from 1870.

1870 american pink evening boots via met museum

1870 Pink Evening Boots.
(Met Museum)

BONNETS

Pink ribbons, pink plumes, and pink silk flowers were popular trimmings for Victorian era straw bonnets.  The straw hat below features pink flowers, ribbons, and white plumes at the back.

1892 1895 straw hat with pink silk flowers and feathers 2 via met museum

1892-1895 Straw Hat with Pink Flowers.
(Met Museum)

Pale pink was particularly pretty when combined with the lace on ladies’ indoor caps.  These sorts of caps were worn by matrons and spinsters throughout the 19th century.  Below is an 1880 lace cap trimmed with pink silk ribbons.

1880 cotton and silk pink ribboned cap via met museum

1880 Lace Cap with Pink Ribbons.
(Met Museum)

PARASOLS

Pink parasols were another fashionable accessory.  They were generally made of silk and came in a range of shades, including pale pink and delicate pink prints.  Many of them were trimmed with lace, adding to their soft, feminine appeal.

late 19th century french parasol via met museum 1

Late 19th Century French Parasol.
(Met Museum)

FANS

For evening dress, a soft, pink fan could be a lovely accessory.  In addition to painted paper fans, there were decadent feather fans like the one below.  Note the hummingbird drinking from the orange blossoms!

1870s pale pink french feather fan bordering a center of white down with orange blossoms made of feathers and a stuffed humming bird via mfa boston

1870s French Feather Fan.
(MFA Boston)

JEWELRY

Pink jewels, like pink diamonds and pink sapphires, may sound like a modern fad, but they existed in the Victorian era as well.  Even more popular were necklaces, rings, and brooches made of pink topaz or pink conch pearls.  Conch pearls were highly prized during the 19th century.  In his 1886 book Pearls and Pearling Life, Edwin Streeter describes them as having a “wavy appearance and a peculiar sheen, something like that of watered silk.”  Most were irregular in shape.  Those that were perfectly round were exceedingly valuable.  They were used in all manner of jewelry, including brooches, rings, and even hatpins.

1800 1869 Conch pearl in gold mount via Victoria and Albert Museum

1800-1869 Conch Pearl Ring.
(Victoria and Albert Museum)

 

A FEW FINAL WORDS...

I hope the above has given you some idea of how shades of pink were used in Victorian women’s fashion.  For a refresher on the shades of Victorian fashion that we have already covered, the previous articles in my series are available here:

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Orange, Pumpkin, and Peach

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Butter, Lemon, Gold, and Yellow

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Crimson, Claret, Scarlet, and Red

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Cerulean, Mazarine, Navy, and Blue

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Lilacs, Lavenders, Plums, and Purples

In future, I’ll be profiling other popular shades of the era. Until then, I leave you with the following quote from Littell’s Living Age:

“It is chiefly in the choice and arrangement of color that a woman’s taste in dress is displayed.”

toilette by jules james rougeron 1877

Toilette by Jules James Rougeron, 1877.


Sources

Audsley, George Ashdown.  Color in Dress: A Manual for Ladies.  Philadelphia: George Maclean, 1870.

Cunnington, C. Willett.  English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.  London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1939.

Godey’s Lady’s Book.  Vol. 54-55.  Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, 1857.

“How to Adorn the Person.”  Godey’s Lady’s Book.  Vol. 60.  Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, 1860.

“A Lady’s Dress.”  Littell’s Living Age.  Vol. 75.  Boston: Littell, Son, and Company, 1862.

“London Fashions for the Month.”  Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion.  London: Geo Henderson, 1841.

Paxton, Joseph Rupert.  Jewelry and the Precious Stones.  Philadelphia: John Penington & Son, 1856.

Streeter, Edwin William.  Pearls and Pearling Life.  London: George Bell & Sons, 1886.

About Mimi Matthews

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper historical romances, including Fair as a Star, a Library Journal Best Romance of 2020; Gentleman Jim, a Kirkus Best Indie Romance of 2020; and The Work of Art, winner of the 2020 HOLT Medallion.

Mimi’s novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. 

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