Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘fashion’ Category

Fashion is based on volume, or the lack of it, and the repartition of said volume. Nothing illustrates this fact better than the rapidly changing silhouettes of the 19th century dresses. A century that began with a healthy, unconstrained approach to the female body ended with the grotesque distortion of the S-shaped corset.

____

1800

____

1810

____

1820

__

1830

____

1840

____

1850

____

1860

____

1870

____

1880

____

1890

____

1900

____

 Related article:

All About Corsets

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

A Bird of Prey, Punch 1892

If you are interested in 19th century fashion, I suggest a visit at The Victorianist blog. An in-depth, richly illustrated article reveals little known ugly facts behind the image of the fashionable Victorian woman. You don’t want to miss that.

Related posts:

 The Fashion Empire of Charles Worth

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a Cage

All about Corsets

Note: For the month of April, I’m preparing a 3-part series about the lifestyle of Parisians of all classes.

Read Full Post »

In the mid-19th century, at a time when home stain-cleaning was the norm and dyeing of clothes a scary thought, Parisians had a remarkable alternative:

An art which has been recently brought to an astonishing degree of perfection in Paris, is that of dyeing, cleaning, scouring, and restoring almost all descriptions of habiliments; this has been effected by M. Bonneau, but not until he had visited the principal manufacturing towns, and had passed many years in studying the art scientifically, aided by persevering researches into the depths of chymistry, to which he is indebted for being able to perform that which has not until now been accomplished. I have seen instances of a soiled, faded, cashmere shawl, almost considered beyond redemption, committed to his charge, and reappear so resuscitated that the owners could scarcely believe it was the same dingy, deplorable-looking affair they had sent a fortnight before. The same power of restoring is effected upon all descriptions of satin, even that of the purest white, which, although so soiled as to be of a dirty yellow colour, is brought forth perfectly clean and with all its original lustre; with silks, merinos, gros de Naples of the tenderest tints, the process adopted is equally successful; blonde, guipure, and all descriptions of lace, no matter how discoloured, are restored to their original whiteness. With the apparel of men, the same advantages are obtained, silk, cashmere, velvet, and other waistcoats that many would throw aside as totally spoiled, or too shabby to be worn any longer, by being sent to M. Bonneau, are returned, having the appearance of being quite new. His establishment, at No. 17, Rue Lepelletier, just facing the French Opera, is well known to many English families; but having heard so much of the wonders he performed in reviving the lost colours of the elaborate borders of ladies’ cashmeres, and rendering them their pristine brilliance, I determined to visit his premises, upon which he carried on his operations, in the Rue de Bondy, No. 40. I there found everything conducted upon a most methodical system of regularity and order each room was appropriated to its peculiar department, and heated and ventilated by a certain process, and that which does M. Bonneau much honour, is, that all is so arranged, with the utmost consideration for the health of his work-people, by taking care that they shall be kept as dry as possible, and that a proper degree of warmth and air shall be admitted into every chamber. When required, M. Bonneau sends his men to clean furniture at persons’ houses, which would be rather incommodious to remove. When any article is sent to him, the bearer is informed what day it will be completed, and is sure not to be deceived, and he has an apartment so arranged for preserving whatever is confided to him, from any injury which might be caused by moths or other insects.

From How to Enjoy Paris in 1848 by F. Herve

 Related posts:

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage

The Fashion Empire of Charles Worth

Read Full Post »

Manufacture of crinolines circa 1860

The corset set aside, one of the greatest follies of the Victorian Era fashion was the oversized cage crinoline. Generous skirts were favored since the 1830’s, but the invention of the hoop crinoline in 1858, which allowed women to discard heavy petticoats, gave birth to a monstrosity never seen since. Women suffered the discomfort while the cartoonists were delighted with the situation.

“Madame can live in one room and the crinoline in the other one.” Le Journal Illustré, 1867
La femme en crinoline, caricature by Honoré Daumier

Related articles:

The Fashion Empire of Charles Worth

All about corsets

 

Read Full Post »

This drawing of tarts in a low-class brasserie provides food for thought. In the Victorian era, destitute women had few choices for making a living: servitude, drudgery in sweat-shops or, failing that, prostitution.  I think that in our time the four women in the scene could be a real-estate agent, a hairstylist, a marine biologist and a police officer. Or perhaps they’d be tarts again. Who knows? The difference is that women have more choices now.

In July 1865, one of the Goncourt brothers (more about them in a future post) records his visit to a brothel where both the surroundings and the women were a step above the previous bleak picture:

“Just past the Ecole Militaire, a front shop with white curtains. Another story above a large number on the door. The Big 9. A large room lighted from above by the van daylight. Some tables and a bar lined with bottles of liquor. There are Zouaves (*), soldiers, and workmen in smock and grey sitting at the tables with tarts perched on their knees. The girls wear white or colored blouses and dark skirts. They are young and pretty, with pink fingernails and their hair carefully dressed with little ornaments in it. Smoking cigarettes or drawing on a friend’s Maryland, they walk up and down in pairs between the tables, playfully jostling each other, or else they sit playing draughts. Singers turn up now and then to sing some dirty ditty in a bass voice. The waiters have big black mustaches. The girls call the pimp who runs the establishment “the old marquis”. A negress goes by in a sleeveless dress.

“One the first floor, there is a long corridor with a lot of tiny cells just big enough to contain a little window with broken blinds, a bed, a chest of drawers, and, on the floor, the inevitable basin and jug of water. On the wall there is one of those colored pictures entitled Spring or Summer that you win at a fair and, hanging from the mirror, a little Zouave doll.

“These twenty-sou women are not at all like the terrifying creatures drawn by Constantin Guys, but poor little things trying to ape the language and dress of the higher class prostitutes.”

Constantin Guys: Girls in a Bordello

Moving up the scale of prostitution to the very top, the Goncourts report the following:

“April 7, 1857

Anna Deslions

“Rose [Goncourts’ housekeeper] has just seen in the concierge’s lodge the night-clothes—or morning-clothes if you prefer—that our neighbor La Deslions (see the post Dinner with Courtesans) sends by her maid to the house of the man to whom she is giving a night. It seems that she has a different outfit for each of her lovers in the color that he prefers. This one consists of a white satin dressing gown, quilted and pinked, with gold-embroidered slippers in the same color—a dressing gown costing between twelve and fifteen hundred francs—a nightdress in batiste trimmed with Valenciennes lace, with embroidered insertions costing three hundred francs, and a petticoat trimmed with three lace flounces at three or four hundred francs each, a total of some three thousand francs taken to any house whose master can afford her.” (For comparison, the daily wage of a maid was one franc.)

(*) Zouaves: Body of light infantry in the French army, composed of Algerian recruits, popular for their exotic uniform.

Read Full Post »

Charles Frederic Worth 1826–1895

By an anonymous author

When Charles Frederick Worth died in 1895, telegraph carried the news around the world and orbituaries were published in thousands of newspapers. His family received telegrams of condolence from European royalty as well as from clients scattered on every continent. His funeral was attended by two thousand mourners, many of them people of high standing. A king was being laid to rest.

Born in 1825 in Lincolnshire, England, young Charles Worth was destined to become a solicitor like his father and grandfather. However, his father’s drinking and gambling ruined the family finances and when Charles was thirteen, his mother apprenticed him with a printer.

The job was dirty and boring, and a year later, the boy switched to a career in the drapery business. He became an apprentice at Swan and Edgar, drapers in London. To compensate for his lack of education, young Charles read current novels, and when an errand brought him to the vicinity of the new National Gallery, he often went inside. He studied attentively the historical styles of costumes in the paintings. Certain aspects of fashion, he noticed, came round in circles and this knowledge later helped him in refreshing his own designs.

At that time though, he had no other ambition than to succeed in the drapery business. When his seven-year apprenticeship was over, he recognized the need of completing his experience in Paris, the birthplace of fashion trends. In 1846, with no knowledge of the language, and only £5 in his pocket, he arrived in France. After two years of penury and odd jobs, he became a sales assistant at Gagelin, the best of Parisian mercers. He remained there for twelve years, eventually reaching the post of leading salesman in the shawls and mantles department.

Modeling the above articles had fallen to a pretty demoiselle de magasin and it was not long after that Charles Worth and Marie Vernet became an item. To display shawls at their best, Worth designed a few simple dresses for Marie and, soon, the clients became more interested in his creations than in the merchandise on sale. In 1850, he finally talked his employers into establishing a small dressmaking department in the store with a team of seamstresses and himself as the cutter.

The department prospered from the start. With his intimate knowledge of textiles combined with English tailoring techniques, Worth engineered gowns that fitted to perfection while taking into account the characteristics of the material. This was a new approach to dressmaking and Worth’s employers showed their appreciation by including several of his dresses at their exhibit during the Great Exposition in London in 1851. The dresses brought the firm of Gagelin a prize medal. Another medal followed in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Thus exposed to the public, Worth’s work brought an ever increasing number of customers to the Parisian firm.

By now Worth had married Marie, who was to give him two sons: Gaston (born in 1853) and Jean-Philippe (1856). One would think that following his success with dressmaking, his employers would do their best to keep him with the firm. Yet his demand for a partnership was refused and Worth, justifiably angry, teamed up with another disgruntled employee to open a new dressmaking establishment of Worth & Bobergh in rue de la Paix.

The timing was perfect. The net of railways spreading across Europe and the United States, coupled with fast steam ships, brought to Paris and unprecedented number of foreign visitors. Furthermore, the city was now the capital of the Second Empire with all the pomp and display attached to it. With a continuous round of state visits, ambassadorial functions, receptions, balls, and gala performances, the demand for sumptuous dresses escalated vertiginously. Heading the court was Napoléon III’s beautiful wife Eugénie, the arbiter in all matters of fashion.

Princess Metternich – an unlikely, but powerful herald of fashion

To attract attention of such an exalted personage, Worth needed an ally. He aimed at the Princess of Metternich, the wife of a new Austrian Ambassador. Vivacious, although not beautiful, the princess soon found her niche at the court and became a leading fashion-setter. At first, she found the idea of a male milliner utterly ridiculous–at the time, all dressmaking firms were headed by females–but seduced by the album of designs presented by Marie Worth, she finally ordered two dresses. The Empress saw them and Worth was made.

Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III

In 1864, Worth got the monopoly of supplying all evening and state wear for the empress and became the most expensive dressmaker in Paris. Following the empress’s example, other illustrious ladies flocked to his establishment. Worth’s dresses were worn in most Europeans courts but he also dressed the demi-monde. Princess or a highly paid tart, actress, or American millionairess, the Maison Worth was open to all in the spirit of financial democracy.

That a man should see strange women in their underwear, that he should touch their bodies, rankled with the moralists of the era. Enemies were many, but no critique, no moral indignation, could stop Worth’s meteoric rise. Never before had a simple dressmaker consorted with the high and mighty almost as an equal. Before an important ball or masque princesses, duchesses, and countesses came to rue de la Paix for inspection. They paraded before Worth while he decided on last minute changes, on the emplacement of a sash, or the angle of a headdress, and even approved the jewelry. His aim was to create a complete image. His were no longer dresses but “compositions” – too precious to be ruined by a wrong accessory. In an interview, he said:

Those ladies are wisest who leave the choice to us. By so doing they are always better pleased in the end, and the reputation of the house is sustained. Curiously enough, the persons who realize this fact most clearly are precisely those whom you might fancy the most difficult to please. For example, a telegram comes from the Empress of Russia, “Send me a dinner dress!” Nothing more. We are left absolute freedom as to style and material. Not that the Empress is indifferent in the matter of dress. Quite the contrary. She will sometimes require that all the ladies costumes at a certain ball be pink, or red, or blue. And her own dresses are always masterpieces of elegance. The point is that she trusts our judgment rather than her own. In the same way recently we have received over twenty telegrams from Madrid for ball dresses, and we shall make them as we think fit.

To order a dress at Worth’s was a simple procedure. Once the measurements were taken and a dummy made, the client only had to send in a request. With 1200 employees, he turned out hundreds of outfits a week and, if needed, he was able to deliver an elaborate ball gown within 24 hours.

Each time he wanted to launch a new fashion, he recruited his wife and the Princess Metternich. They would go to the races or another notable event wearing the new designs. Such was the prestige of the two women, that no other promotion was necessary.

The crinoline of the 1850’s and 1860’s was the greatest fashion aberration with the tight corsets of the 80’s and 90’s as second runners.

One of the greatest changes Worth executed was the abolition of the Second Empire crinoline. This absurd cage worn under wide skirts achieved such enormous proportions that the wearers could not function properly. By 1870, the crinoline was gone to be replaced by a bustle. The latter was a padding device attached to the waist. It supported an overskirt drawn to the sides and piled in folds over the bustle. The silhouette was still full but all the bulk was concentrated at the back.

Worth had grown enormously wealthy. He possessed a coat of arms and received guests of high standing in his sumptuous villa at the outskirts of Paris. Neither the events of Franco-Prussian War, nor the fall of the empire and the Commune uprising that devastated Paris had ill effects on his business. The court may be gone, but clients kept coming, keeping him busy to the end of his life. Many other male couturiers followed in his path, but none has achieved the sublime power Worth held over fashion for thirty-five years. He remains the true inventor of the Haute Couture.

Related post: The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage

Read Full Post »

Excerpt from the Goncourt Journals 1851-1896

2 June 1868

Dinner at Magny’s. We heard some curious details about the German scholars Froenher and Oppert, a couple of pedants who are no more learned than anybody else but to whom the present-day cult of Germanism in the world of learning has brought ironic blessings—to the first a cosy sinecure in the Louvre, and to the other a prize of a hundred thousand francs for his work on cuneiforms, a language of which he alone knows the secrets and which nobody has ever been able to check.

One of our number had known Froehner when he was humble, poor, and wretched, and, like all Germans, played a piano in his garret. When he met him again, Froehner was wearing a cravat with pink spots and an astonishing suit, the sort of suit you can imagine a German scholar turned dandy would wear. “I dare say you find me changed, my dear fellow,” he said. “The fact is that I discovered that hard work, application, and all that was just nonsense. Hase told me that the only way to get to the top here was through women. Look at Longpérier: if he hadn’t begun frequenting drawing rooms…”

On another occasion Froehner got hold of our guest, taken him into a window recess and anxiously asked him if he thought that a German like himself, Froehner, would ever be able to talk smut to women as Frenchmen did, saying that he had tried but that what he said always became so coarse and filthy that he could never finish it properly.

What a comic sign of the times, erudition applying this method to achieve success! Erudition represented by these two Germans, these two vulgar natives of the land of artlessness, trying to succeed by means of the delicate corruption of France.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers