Category: 19th Century Women’s Fashion

An Informal Afternoon Tea: Etiquette, Fashion, and Excess in the Late 19th Century

5 O’Clock Tea by David Comba Adamson (1859-1926), n.d.
(© Dundee Art Gallery and Museum)

During the late nineteenth century, an afternoon tea was one of the most informal entertainments to which a fashionable lady could invite her friends and acquaintances. The menu was simple, as were the dress requirements, and etiquette only required that a guest stay—at minimum—half an hour. It was an easy method of entertaining and one that soon grew in both popularity and extravagance, leading an 1895 edition of Table Talk to declare that the once inexpensive ritual had evolved into “a party in the daytime…[a] large, gas lighted ball at five o’clock where half of the ladies were in décolleté dresses, the other in fur tippets.”[…]Continue Reading

Feline Dress Improvers: The Victorian Fashion in Bustle Baskets for Cats

“As the basket was padded and lined with satin, and bedizened with fringe and ribbons, pussy did not object to being a prisoner therein, and to being placed on the lady’s bustle as a pack.”

Truth, 1887

Kittens at Play by Henriette Ronner-Knip (1821-1909).

During the mid-1880s, the silhouette of women’s gowns was characterized by the size and shape of the bustle or “dress improver.” Unlike the more moderate-sized dress improvers of the 1870s, the bustle of the 1880s was—at its most extreme—large, protruding, and shelf-like. For fashionable ladies with cats, it provided a convenient ledge on which to strap a satin-lined cat basket.[…]Continue Reading

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Cleaning Dresses of Muslin, Silk, Velvet, and Lace

Musee Des Famille, 1852.
(Met Museum)

In the Victorian era, women’s clothing was just as likely to spot, stain, and soil as it is today. For fine fabrics, this posed a particular dilemma. Ladies couldn’t simply throw their printed muslin dresses into a washing machine or send their silk ball gowns to the dry cleaners. Instead, they relied on their lady’s maids to keep their clothing clean and in good order. Not only would a competent lady’s maid know how to sponge and press a gown for wear, she would also know precisely how to wash a delicate muslin or remove an oil stain from silk.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Handcuff Bracelets for Engagement and Marriage

The New Bracelet by Frans Verhas, (1827-1897).

Gold bracelets and bangles were popular throughout the Victorian era. They came in a variety of styles, including thin bracelets, heavy bracelets, and bracelets adorned with jewels. Most were fairly commonplace in appearance; however, in the late nineteenth century, a new style emerged on the scene in the form of gold bracelets made to look—and sometimes function—like handcuffs. As the 1879 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book reports;[…]Continue Reading

Fashionable Frocks of 1860

Flounced Dresses, Journal des Jeunes Personnes, 1860.
(Met Museum)

When it comes to Victorian fashion, it is often difficult to choose a favourite year—or even a favourite decade.  The romantic gowns of the 1830s vie with the enormous crinolines of the 1860s which, in turn, rival the sleek, bustled skirts of the 1870s. As someone who researches and writes extensively on historical fashion, choosing the year in which to set my new romance novel, The Lost Letter, had as much to do with the style of dress as it did with other considerations. In today’s post, we take a brief look at some of the styles which were popular in 1860, the year in which The Lost Letter begins.[…]Continue Reading

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