Outdoor and Children’s Dress, 1870-1875

£4.00

History of Costume I 1800-1899

Availability: In stock

When the crinoline was abandoned, in 1867, it left a very poor shape to the dress, that designers appeared to be at a loss to im­ prove over the next two or three years. The fashions seemed to reflect the political and social situation in France (always the cradle of ideas) at the time: overblown, spent and rudderless. When the skirts were let down, in more ways than one, it left a decadent fashion of the previous years that did nothing to emphasize the figure or display it. The fashion plates still showed the high smooth waist (which we all know is difficult to maintain in practice) with long full skirts, and in the pictures of this date, however lovely in colour or atmosphere, the dresses look clumsy even if painted by a Monet or a Dégas. It must be pure coincidence that the waisted soft flowing dresses worn at the time of France’s distress were very like those worn at another time of upheaval when the English country lady’s muslin gown became the fashion. This time, the natural line was spoilt by stiff petticoats which had been worn with the crinoline and the higher waist that had come in with the long trailing gown. The first sign of change came by the simple expedient of looping up the cumbersome fullness at the back with the skirt-lifters that had been in use with crinolines for some years. The tunics remained and, when also bunched up on top, the designers discovered that they had produced something very similar to the pannier dresses of the period of Louis XVI. Well satisfied with the new idea, they proceeded to shorten and narrow the underskirt, put falling ruffles on fitted elbow sleeves, and tip the little hats still further on to the nose by lifting the back brim with garlands of flowers, and the result was very close to the Dresden Shepherdesses of the 1770’s. This led to a revival of the furniture and decoration of that period and accounts for the number of china figures and groups churned out by the German potteries that we find today in a just-off-the-mark imitation of the original Meissen. During the Franco-Prussian War the ladies of Paris were content to bunch their trailing skirts and frills while lending a hand in the good cause, but with the cessation of hostilities they quickly re­ covered (with typical French bounce) to find not only their own new mixed society clamouring for new fashions, but the English and the up-and-coming Americans as well. Their usual spark of inventiveness was rekindled and, looking at the current mode, they set to work to evolve from it an entirely new silhouette. By tightening the skirts and concentrating the raised fullness at the back, the figure was given a line that it had lost for generations – the display of a woman’s hips and length of leg. By 1871 the new style was all set to go on its way to variations and exaggerations, emphasizing a part of the figure that had been hidden for over thirty years. Bunching up tunics and skirts into panniers was a good design but was found to look limp in practice, as sitting or leaning was apt to crush the crisp effect. Not to be deflected from their object the designers introduced yet another mechanical device to hold the shape of the skirt. The Improver, or turnure (bustle), was a pad or series of stiff frills made like a tiny apron to tie round the waist but, of course, front to back, over which the fullness of the skirt jutted out from a tight waist. This new instrument of inconvenience was just as popular as the crinoline frame and although its original justification had been that it preserved the shape of the dress in movement or sitting it soon defeated its purpose by becoming so extravagant that sitting was only possible on a stool or sideways on a chair. The very peculiar dented-in look, under the bustle, that resulted from having to do this occasionally, was firmly dealt with by the dauntless dressmakers who produced a long petticoat improver, or demi-crinoline. Plain in front and fitted over the hips with a full back panel of frills, or even half hoops, it was tied from both sides behind the legs to form a cage at the back only. This was rather more comfortable as the hoops lifted or dropped as one sat or rose from a seat, but it was rather more restricting to the legs than the old crinoline. The looped-up tunics lent themselves to many variations, and charming to look at were the dresses made in wide striped material or with plain tunics over striped skirts. Both skirt and pannier were trimmed with ruching and ribbons in the style of their inspiration, the dress of the Louis XVI period. Tunics remained short, over the flounced or pleated underskirts, until about 1873, when an even more dignified line (resembling an ostrich in a court train) developed. The overdresses, made much longer, were swathed over the front skirt in swags, caught up tightly at the sides and bunched at the back to fall over the skirt in a long train. These, in velvet or fine cloth trimmed with bands of sable, were among the most regal costumes women have ever worn. Sleeves remained fitting, if greatly ornamented, but the shoulder was gradually rising to a normal line, giving the front view of the figure, with its slimmer skirt, a much narrower shape which evolved into the true Princess style a few years later. The Dresden Shepherdess was less evident in this more mature fashion and the hats, and even new little bonnets, rose up from the nose and sat on top of the now frizzed front fringe, with ribbons falling on coils, or chignons, at the back. This was the time when large fortunes were being made in Europe and America, with vast expanses being covered by railroads, in gold and diamond rushes, quick news and communications and the financing and speculation that goes with all these enterprises. Many more of the new rich frequented the sacred haunts of previous high society and the demand for high fashion was greater than ever. Mass production was also well in its stride for those without great fortunes, with sweated labour well organised to produce fashion very soon after new models appeared in the gaming rooms of Monte Carlo or the salons of Paris. The dress trade was learning the tricks we suffer from and, now, take for granted. Special clothes for every activity were advertised and recommended to every woman who was fashion-conscious; for Walking, Visiting, the Carriage, Country or Seaside, the Ball, Dinner or Reception and many others to fill in the spaces between these events. That there is no visible difference, except for day or night, between them, or any attempt to accommodate style to activity is something that appears to have escaped the wearers, but one is tempted to think that, even without other distractions, the woman of the 1870’s must have been a wreck by midnight after the round of essential changing she went through during the day. With increasing big business, which in society was no longer a disgrace, the male became sprucer and less of the lounger. His hair was clipped closer to the head and, for younger men, beards were less common. His three-piece suit was more comfortably cut and his bowler, square crowned, carried further the sharper appearance. White collars now became lower and, often meeting or crossed in front, were made detachable so that a fresh and clean-cut appearance was easier to maintain. The activity and comfort of the little boy was at last being considered but he still had to suffer the eternal sailor suit through the sentimental passion the British possessed for (at that lucky period) their glorious Navy. With a travesty of the symbol of Nelson’s battles round his collar and as trimming even round his long shorts or short trousers, added to striped stockings and ankle boots, one has the feeling that small boys were more docile than they are to-day. The 1870’s present an image of affluent self-confidence. The industrial class was no longer rising – it had arrived and was mixing in every sphere of society with ease. A wider education and a means of independent livelihood by employment in offices and the professions gave even women a look of determination they had lacked through years of domestic bondage. Whether spending their husbands’ fortunes in the Rue de la Paix, enlivening the men opening the Wild West, or riding on a covered wagon to a diamond rush, their shoulders were squared and, for all their furbelows, they were very different creatures from their Mothers or Grandmothers.

Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm