Category: Fashion

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 Fashion and Beauty: Cover Reveal!

At long last, I can reveal the beautiful cover of my upcoming book A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. It was designed by Jon Wilkinson at Pen and Sword Books (UK) and features one of my favorite historical paintings: Toilette by Jules James Rougeron, 1877. I hope you love it as much as I do![…]Continue Reading

A Brief History of Victorian Veils...for Babies

The New Arrival by Jules Trayer, 1862.

When taking a baby out of the house, many Victorian mothers first covered the baby’s face with a veil. These veils were believed to protect infants’ faces from extremes of weather, as well as from harmful pollutants which might mar their delicate skin or injure their eyes. By the 1870s and 1880s, baby veils had become so ubiquitous that sewing books, ladies’ magazines, and even etiquette manuals often included knitting or crochet patterns for them. […]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 Hairspray: A Brief History of Gum Solutions and Bandoline

Vanity by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, 19th century.

Long before the twentieth century invention of aerosol hairspray, Victorian women were using sticky hair products to fix their wayward locks stiffly into place. Of these, the most popular was a clear gum solution known as bandoline. Liquid bandoline could be purchased at most Victorian perfumers. It could also be made at home from ingredients like quince-seed, rose-water, cologne, and spirits such as rum or brandy. […]Continue Reading