Tag: Fashion

Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal

Three doll dresses from Miss Fanchon’s wardrobe, late 1860s-1870s, possibly France. Gift of Gardner H. Nicholas in memory of Mrs. Gardner H. Nicholas, 1922-58-9a—c, 14a,b,3.

In November, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be presenting a new exhibition titled Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal. It features four gorgeous Victorian dolls and their equally gorgeous Victorian wardrobes. The dolls—known as Miss Fanchon, Miss G. Townsend, Miss French Mary, and Marie Antoinette—were all made in France during the 1860s and 1870s. They have painted bisque heads, leather bodies, and measure between 18 and 22 inches in height. The Philadelphia Museum of Art calls them “the ultimate toy for privileged girls of this period.” But these dolls were much more than mere toys. They were models of perfect Victorian womanhood.[…]Continue Reading

On Elbows, Etiquette, and Evening Gloves

Sogni (Dreams) by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1896.
(Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna)

I can honestly say that I’ve never really paid attention to elbows. Certainly not as much as the Victorians seemed to do. They prized a delicately rounded female elbow—and abhorred one that was too sharp and pointy. Even gentlemen fell in for their share of elbow shaming. According to Victorian etiquette manuals, a pointy male elbow was worse than unattractive. It could also be dangerous. As the author of The Etiquette of Love, Courtship, and Marriage (1859) relates:[…]Continue Reading

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

The Curious Case of Miss Schwich: A Victorian Girl in Boy’s Clothing

Illustrated Police News, 30 October 1886.
(© British Library Board)

In October of 1886, at the Marlborough Street Police Court in London, a young woman dressed in boy’s clothing was charged with stealing from her employer. Her name was Lois Schwich (sometimes spelled Schwick). She was twenty-one years old and had been wearing male attire since the age of seventeen. According to a 29 October 1886 report in the Herts & Cambs Reporter & Royston Crow:

“[Miss Schwich] had made every effort to obtain employment as a girl but had failed, and in desperation to support her starving mother, who had a young family, she assumed the garb of a boy, and succeeded in obtaining a situation.”

[…]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

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