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Fashion During The Late 19th Century

( Originally Published 1926 )



A new element was entering into the fashionable world, that of the spa, or watering-place. With the improved methods of travel, society became more restless, more desirous of seeing the world, and sojourns at spas, where the water was supposed to contain medicinal properties, or at the seashore, became the objective point of the social leaders of all nations. This meant that oostumes must be designed with this especial end in view, and fashionable women carried full trunks, as it was not considered the thing to wear the same gown twice. When the Empress Eugenic went to the opening of the Suez Canal, an absence of two or three months, she carried 250 gowns with her!'

In this country Saratoga Springs, Virginia Hot Springs, and White Sulphur Springs were the most famous, the first one even giving its name to a certain type of trunk which was used to carry the large number of gowns that were necessary for a stay of a month. In Europe, Baden-Baden and Weisbaden were the favorites, although Bagore, Biarritz, Dieppe, Trouville, and Compiegne were close seconds. The most reckless extravagance was carried on, and one fashion followed the other in rapid succession, each lady trying to outdo her neighbor.

Materials.—A comparatively new material was coming to the fore ; wool had been used for costumes, in light-weight materials, such as cashmere and barege, but its. use in the heavier forms of woollen and worsted cloth had been limited to outer garments, and clothing for men. At this time it began to take its place with silk and cotton for dresses. It was introduced first from England in the form of an under-petticoat, to take the place of the many white skirts worn; the upper skirt being raised in scallops over it for ease in walking. Gradually the entire dress was made of wool, one trimmed rather elaborately with guimpure cost i,000 francs in 1864.

Alpaca, poplin, and mohair were some of the favorites in woollen cloths, and foulard, light-weight silks, tulle, tarlatan, velveteens, raw silks, or pongee, batiste, and linen were still in use. Fur for trimming was very popular, even on evening dresses. Sable was used on yellow velvet, and astrakhan on pink moire antique. Skunk, now known as Alaska sable, was introduced from Leipzig in 1859, and small muffs of Russian sable were carried with the costumes of 1870. They were very expensive, being made of the tails of the animals.

Women's Dress.—The crinoline was passing away gradually; the upper wires were removed from the hoop-skirts first, and only those at the bottom retained; this gave opportunity to make the skirt tighter at the top by means of gores and to enable the lower part of the waist to fall more gracefully over the hips; and to add to the desired slimness, the skirt terminated in a train.

At a later date the first Princess dress, or "Gabrielle," appeared; this was an innovation, as it was in one piece from shoulders to hem, and was fitted to the form by means of seams which ran the entire length. Great stress was laid on cut and line in these gowns, and it needed an artist to make them successfully.

For walking, dresses became shorter; they were looped up over an under-petticoat of a different material and color; many inventions were made to facilitate this arrangement, as they seem to have been the long skirts drawn up for convenience. An elastic band called a "page" and the II porte jupe," invisible strings, inserted in four or five places in the skirt, which when drawn raised it in four scallops, were the most popular. This fashion for short dresses lasted only a few years.

The type of trimming was changing, flat gimps, beads, laces, and ribbons and braiding taking the place of ruffles. The bodice was still high in the neck and closed in front with buttons. It often extended quite a distance below the waist, forming a peplum. Tight sleeves were replacing the pagoda sleeves of the last decade.

By 1870 the skirt had become so tight and scant that ladies of extreme fashion were obliged to bind their knees together when they walked.. Draperies had been added on the sides and at the back, similar to the panniers of Louis XIV, and a bustle held the dress out at the back.

The costume of this period was overloaded with all sorts of trimming, heavy plaitings, puffs, bows of ribbon, and ruffles of lace.

The skirts were long and had trains, and several kinds of materials, as well as various colors, were used in the same costume. Most of the decoration was placed on the skirt, and in consequence the bodice looked very short and small. The sleeves were long and fitted the arm ; sometimes they were decorated with puffs between bands of velvet; a ruche of lace filled in the neck and stood up at the back, inside of a rather low "Medici" collar.

The hair was arranged high on the head, with curls in front, and was topped by a small bonnet ornamented with standing feathers and flowers. The entire costume was most exaggerated and overelaborate, and was one which seems most ludicrous at the present time.

For the period of the Franco-Prussian War little attention was paid to fashion by the women of Paris; they were too busy with war work to give a thought to what they should wear. Dress became very simple and inexpensive, and the publishing of fashion papers was discontinued. Wealthy women gave their diamonds and laces to be sold, that the proceeds might be devoted to the care of the widows and orphans. All manufacture in Paris virtually ceased, and the merchants were nearly ruined.

From this time woollen and worsted materials became more popular for entire gowns, and they were used in combination with silk and velvet for trimmings. A great deal of black was used, but it was not strictly mourning, as it was ornamented with jets or lace.

The "polonaise" was worn over a kilted or flounced skirt of silk; it was a garment which was fitted in front from the shoulders to about the knee, and had two Watteau plaits, which were looped up to form a large bustle in the back. It was buttoned straight up the front to the neck, where it was usually finished with a standing collar and a ruche; the sleeves were tight and long. A great deal of attention was paid to the fit and cut of this garment, and the fashionable figure had a very small waist and high bust-line.

Many amusing tales are told in connection with the bustle. An American woman who had married a German and was living abroad had a little maid who was much surprised to see her one day without her bustle. She confided to her that she thought all high-born ladies were born with them,and only the poor peasants without. Another tale is told of a lady living in Washington who had just acquired a very beautiful red velvet gown in the latest style with a huge bustle. She wore this gown to church one day and noticed every one looking at her, but thought they were admiring the costume. When she reached home, however, she discovered that one of her children had placed a small toy rooster on her bustle and she had carried it there all the way to church and back.

Even the manner of walking was changed and the Grecian bend, as it was called, became the style.

Kid shoes with rounded toes and high heels, after the fashion of Charles IX, were worn in the house; they had low vamps and were ornamented with a square buckle set with rhinestones or cut steel.

For outdoor wear the dolman, a wrap shaped somewhat like the polonaise, but with circular open sleeves, was the style, and with this was worn the small bonnet, similar to that worn in 1870, except that strings had been added.

These same fashions continued for the next decade, changing only in the added amount of trimmings, which cost fabulous prices. Some gowns had fifteen and twenty flounces, and buttons of all kinds, bronzed, oxidized, and chased, were used indiscriminately. All principles of design were violated in these creations, and probably many of hygiene as well. All dresses had long trains, and to protect the material from the dirt of the streets, a white muslin, lace-trimmed ruffle, called a balyeuse, was basted inside the hem of the skirt.

To add to the uncomfortable dress, great quantities of false hair were piled on the head. So great was the demand for this that the hair-dressers of Paris sent agents through the provinces in the spring to trade gay-colored cotton prints for the hair of the peasant girls. The street-sweepings of Paris were searched, and agents were even sent as far as Egypt and Hindustan in search of hair.

By 1880 the styles show quite a decided change. This was the period of the jersey and the kilted skirt; it was adopted from England, where it had been originated by Lily Langtry, the "Jersey lily," as she was called, to show her beautiful figure; it was worn by practically every woman and child.

Dress was more sane for a few years, as very little trimming was used and that in the same shade rather than a contrast.

This was also the beginning of the "tailor-made" for women, which practically revolutionized outdoor dress. In its early years it was fitted snugly to the form, the object being to look as though the figure was melted and poured in, and the tailor who could fashion a waist or coat without a break or wrinkle might consider his fortune made, for only men's tailors were considered fit to make these costumes.

By 1890 a decided change in the size of sleeves and the width of the skirt revived the fashions of 1830. Leg-o'-mutton sleeves held out by reeds, and skirts with "godets," i. e., a gore slanted off on each side and lined to the knee with haircloth, changed the silhouette to the hour-glass once more. Fortunately the hoop-skirt was not brought back, but the ridiculous hats were, balanced this time on a huge pompadour of hair.

The principal change for the next ten or twenty years seemed to be in the size of the sleeve and the fulness of the skirt, the former growing larger at the top or larger at the wrist or tight all of its length. Skirts remained practically plain, but sometimes they were extended at the bottom, sometimes at the top, by means of drapery ; they were short, and they dragged on the floor with long trains, but not on the street. Women were beginning to study the principles of cleanliness and health, and this was having an influence on costume for the first time.

Late in the '90s our corset-designers made the first straight-front corset, which was a decided innovation, and meant comfort and better health for women. The kimono sleeve was introduced from Paris about 1910, and that, with the open neck, have added much to the comfort of the modern costume.

All nations are still looking to Paris to set the fashions, but each country is now adapting them to their individual needs, and even the French designers realize this and make special designs for each.

The industry of ready-to-wear clothing has increased tremendously in the last fifteen years, due probably to the fact that women have entered the business world to such an ex-tent that they no longer have the time to waste on custom dressmakers, or in making their own clothing. The demand for costumes to suit all occasions has been met by the designers, who are being trained in this country.

Several standard styles have developed that have little or no connection with the dress of bygone years, but designers still return to those for most of their inspiration.

There has been a movement on foot to revive the decorations and cut of the garments worn by the aborigines in this country, whose attempts at decoration on pottery, baskets, and even clothing are now preserved in the museums. Very beautiful effects in color and design have been obtained in this way. We are also encouraging our talented girls and boys to take up the profession of designing for materials as well as costumes, and exhibits are held each year and prizes offered for the best results.

Many efforts have been made to establish a standardized dress for women as well as men; so far not much has really been accomplished, as woman is not yet willing to discard her coquetry and caprices and desire to charm. get its name? Discuss it from the viewpoint of its modern successor, the sweater.

Fashion, like an impressionistic picture, must be looked at from a distance in order to get the effect that the artist desires to convey. But fashion, unlike the picture, does not always improve when looked at from a distance, that is, a period of time.

Uzanne says that "an ancient fashion is always a curiosity, a fashion slightly out of date is an absurdity; the reigning fashion alone in which life stirs, commands us by its grace and charm, and stands beyond discussion."

A chapter on modern modes is apt to become a dead number in the time that elapses between the writing and the printing; therefore, all that can be done is to give a resume of the definite styles which have lasted a decade or more.

In what way may the term style be differentiated from fashion in regard to dress? Style is usually applied to a mode that has stood the test of time, and has been used mere than once; fashion to the fads of the moment. Fashion is fleeting, style more stable and lasting. We revive certain styles, we speak of the style of the Empire, of the Directory, or of the Middle Ages. The dress-designers use these over and over, often once in a decade, with slight changes to bring them up to date.

In looking back over the designs of costume for the last ten or fifteen years, two things seem to stand out as having had a strong influence on modern dress—the motor-car and the entrance of women into the business world.

The motor car has revolutionized head-gear especially. Who does not remember the way in which all the women tied themselves up in veils, or disfigured themselves with motor-hoods in order to keep their hats, which surmounted huge pompadours, from flying off into space, and perhaps carrying some of the puffs and curls which made up the chignon with them ? Contrast these with the bobbed hair and tight, close hats of the present day, which fit well down on the head like a man's hat and seldom require even a pin to keep them on.

With the entrance of women into the business world, the demand came for comfortable dress which did not hamper the wearer in any way, and would hold its own no matter in what situation its owner found herself. It must have lasting qualities as well, for the business woman, like the business man, must not be bothered with constant repairs. It must be easy to put on. The designers set to work and the one-piece slip-on gown was the result.

During the World War, when our boys went into khaki, our girls put on overalls or trousers, assuming the costume of the men as well as their responsibility. Women found this mode of dress so well fitted for certain occupations that they were loath to give it up, and it is no uncommon sight to see groups of women and girls in trousers or bloomers on hiking parties, in girls' camps, and taking part in other athletic sports.

The sport costume might also be traced to the advent of the motor-car. Distances have become as nothing, and the country has been brought to dwellers in the cities. This exodus to the country necessitated a different style of dress, for it meant an entirely different set of pleasures outdoor sports, country clubs, Southern winter resorts. What could be more appropriate than the silk, flannel, or knitted sport suit, or the one-piece dress, that the designers have provided !

Then enters the flapper. Will she be handed down to history as the product of the early twentieth century ? She seems to have made her entrance with the signing of the Armistice. Exuberant youth, breaking over the traces of authority is she the result of too much individuality in early training or just the result of the aftermath of war ?

History repeats itself; after every great disturbance there seems to follow a period of license and fast living, and modern society is almost an exact replica of French society in the first decade of the nineteenth century, even to the excess in dancing and the scarcity in clothes.

The term "flapper" was used originally in England to designate the girl between fourteen and seventeen years of age. And as the name implies, it meant the awkward age, before she had acquired poise and dignity. She was supposed to need a certain type of clothes—long, straight lines to cover her awkwardness—and the stores advertised these gowns as "flapper-dresses."

How the term fastened itself to the modern flapper, with her sophisticated air, her "Ponjola" bob, her painted lips and cheeks, her tight, short dress, with low neck and short sleeves, and her high-heeled, cut-out slippers, is a mystery. Suffice it to say she is here, perhaps to stay, but more probably to fade away like all the fads and fancies of other days.

Many things about modern dress seem sensible and likely to last, but who can say; certainly dress is much more comfortable, and all clothing is lighter in weight than it has been for some time. The dress with the open neck has lasted nearly fifteen years, quite a period for one style. In that time it has changed in shape often, and there have been efforts on the part of the designers to bring back the high collar, but the majority of women have decided against it each time, on account of the discomfort.

Sleeves have run the gamut—long and short, large and small, just enough change to make last year's gown look out of date. Skirts have been full and long, full and short, scant and long, and scant and short. When they were scant and long, it was necessary to design the stepless car. So many women had accidents in trying to get on and off, that the street railroads had to protect themselves in some way.

Materials and colors are very beautiful at the present day. The textile designers are trying to outdo each other in kind and pattern. The chemists have done some marvellous things with the ugly aniline dyes of twenty years ago. They have also perfected the manufacture of artificial silk, which means many new fabrics at prices under those of true silk, and within the reach of nearly every woman.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the next decade, but it seems probable that if the general public continues to be educated from the standpoint of good design, color, hygiene, and the economic side of dress, that the designers of ready-to-wear clothing will provide styles which meet these requirements, and a safe, sane type of dress will be the result. Already they are putting on the markets styles suitable to the different figures, and "stylish stouts" have become a term in general use in the trade. Most of the best shops also have a department called the "Petite Shop," where the small woman may purchase costumes suitable to her figure, and not be obliged to wear clothes that were designed for the flapper.

The ready-to-wear costume seems to have come to stay. It is no longer necessary for any one to stand for hours while the experienced or the inexperienced dressmaker puts in pins and takes them out again. Only the woman who wishes something entirely different from any one else will go through these tortures and waste of valuable time. Women have too many other interests at the present day to spend hours at their dressmaker's when they can buy the thing they want all ready to put on.



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