Walking Dress, 1864-1866

Original price was: £15.00.Current price is: £10.00.

History of Costume I 1800-1899

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Wishful thinking made several attempts to kill the crinoline but despite Royal Command and admonition it sailed on its way, even after 1860 when announcements in social columns stated that it was dead. It merely changed its shape and took the required number of years to fade from popularity, played out, with every possible variation exhausted. Many efforts had been, and were being, made to reform women’s dress and artistic taste in general, from the Rational Dress in 1851 of Mrs Amelia Bloomer from America to the ideas of the small but intense group of artists and poets, the Pre-Raphaelites, in England. Neither made much impression at the time but the first heralded the efforts of movements for women’s independence and the latter paved the way for the Aesthetic movement much later in the century. Bloomers were too sensible to catch the fancy of most women and to the fashion conscious, by a paradox, too feminine by showing the figure, to be intriguing. Fashion has never taken kindly to an idea that did not shock by its unsuitability. The world mocked at Bloomers; it was not scandalised, as they held no danger to health or convenience. Alas for woman’s comfort and well-being! Mrs Bloomer left few traces here, and faded back to America, only the tiny number of individual and intelligent women, in either country, having seen the advantage of her revolutionary dress. Artistic taste, in general, was at its lowest ebb, with no originality, and as opulence was the most important factor in the appearance of architecture, furnishing or dress, all the heaviest, most ornate previous styles were copied and put together in indiscriminate confusion. If an object was well covered and heavily decorated it must be good. With no knowledge of using the new materials, iron and steel were camouflaged to look like stone and the vast amount of ornament used was duplicated, wherever possible, mechanically in the trashiest material. This depressing atmosphere was felt, most heavily, among a tiny group artists and poets in London, of real originality and integrity, who rebelled against the florid, hollow sentiment of the popular art of their time. They, too, looked back, in this effort for improvement, but to a period they thought to be pure, honest and unadorned: as the name implies, before Raphael and the Renaissance, to the time of the Italian Primitives. This, too, had its drawbacks, for apart from Truth and Nature the period was rich in legends of chivalry and romance, which appealed to their particularly sensitive and (initially) spiritual natures but which drugged them into a world of medieval fantasy and finally corrupted their ideal. All too soon their work was imitated by unperceptive followers and when the prevailing sentimentality was allied to chivalric fantasy we were back where we started from. The Pre-Raphaelite women were apparently chosen for their long round necks and glorious hair (or at least their ardent swains wished it on them in their portraits) and persuaded to abjure the senseless, ugly high fashion and take to long softly fitted and flowing garments. Flattered, as all women will be, by being singled out, they allowed themselves to pose for paintings and in real life as the Lauras and Beatrices of legend, and to be hoisted on to a pedestal, high out of this world, not only as a Lady but as an Immaculate one, perfect and sans reproche. The poor things either died under the strain or, as their lovers’ enthusiasm for such anaemic passion waned, took themselves down to the more comfortable and popular world that swamped the Pre-Raphaelite ideal. But the seeds of an aesthetic movement had been sown in this country that were to develop and be copied, a few generations later, by the fashionable world in France. That fickle group, in the meantime, having blown itself out to its fullest possible extent, faced the problem of developing another style. The first alteration in line was to pull in the front of crinoline hoops so that the dress was no longer circular on the floor but oval, with a flattened front and the back fullness extend ed into a train. This was found to give more height and grace to the figure and th idea was further pursued by dropping the hoops to the knee line and goring the skirt so that they no longer bunched from the waist but hung smoothly over the hips and softly extended petticoats. Th effect was so pleasing that the trains were often exaggerated to trail one or even two yards on the ground behind. The smooth line embraced the tops of the dresses, bodices and skirts being cut all in one piece with the waist gently shaped to the figure, in the embryo of the slimmer Princess line. When the tunic, the peplum, was introduced, this, cut in the same way, flowed over the skirt taking the place of the pinched-in waist and stuck-out flounces. Fashioned in check silk, braid-edged and buttoned up the front to a tiny round collar, this was one of the most charming fashions that woman has ever worn. The long trailing skirts were even more difficult to manage than the round hoops, and to save the material from damage when walking in the street a ‘page’, or skirt lifter, was introduced to raise it out of harm’s way. The effect made for variety and other ideas followed: lifting the skirt permanently in three or four places and wearing coloured, shorter under-skirts. At precisely the same moment as the longer, trailing gown appeared, the short jaunty dresses of our illustration for 1866 were seen, with skirts tunicked or looped up over one or more variously coloured petticoats. A new type of English girl was emerging, sprightlier than her mother and taking an interest in the world around her. She went abroad in parties conducted by the enterprising Mr Cook, was seen on the croquet lawn and even started to do exercises for health reasons. All of which needed a less cumbersome dress. The influential if vulgar leaders of fashion in Paris, who to b conspicuous had exaggerated the fashion to its limit or worn th riding habit as a symbol of independence, leapt at the opportunity to show more of their figures and the possibilities of dashing short skirts, coloured petticoats and fancy stockings. It is to them we owe the pseudo-masculine styles that crept in, the collars and cravats men’s paletots, hard clashing colours and over-trimming. As the dress lengthened at the back, about 1863, the headgear moved forward on the head to balance the line. Large straw hats had been worn in the country, dipping back and front, and were now used, rather smaller and befeathered, for the town. Small round hats, after the style of that flamboyant hero, Garibaldi, were perched on the head, with tiny veils tipping the nose, and the back hair looser and piled up, to hold them. Even the bonnet’s brim lifted in front to enclose frills and flowers and support a higher decoration piled up on top. As the fashion decreed narrower but more trailing dresses, hats tipped further and further on the nose and the chignon encroached to the top of the head and fell in curls and ringlets over the neck. Male attire continued to solidify, with darker colours and heavier material, well suited to the more business-like life. The short jacket, single or double breasted, had been seen in the ‘fifties and now took on a popular role, with high buttoned lapels and braiding, as a more sporting and convenient garment than either the frock or tail coat which had, in fact, become demoded for day wear. Whole suits with this short jacket ousted the fancy coloured waistcoat and contrasting trousers for the earnest city man and were rather dashing, in checks, for the country. Even the top hat was no longer considered necessary for every form of activity and the round hat, or bowler, was accepted as suitable wear for town, while straw and even tweed was used for the same shaped hat to be worn outside business or social occasions. The whiskers lengthened gloomily down the jaw-bone, to puff out and droop either side of the chin and to balance the flat-topped full-sided hair arrangement. With the tube-like trousers in the shape of wooden clothes pegs, we have the perfect ‘Dundreary’ type so enlighteningly quizzed on the music halls of the period.

Additional information

Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm