Posts Tagged ‘19th century fashion’

This blog has quietly passed the 10-year anniversary. We met many remarkable personalities along the way, and I want to recall some of them in this post. Not all were paragons of virtue, but they were bursting with enthusiasm, perseverance, and unlimited energy. The combination of all three is what leads to high achievement. Here then is a collection of five exceptional go-getters:


Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III


His megalomaniac uncle ravaged Europe, wasted a whole generation of Frenchmen on battlefields, and caused untold suffering to people across the continent, from Spain to Russia. Napoleon III, on the contrary, ruled for eighteen prosperous years with modernization and progress as his goals. For some strange reason, Napoleon the Great found his historical place among the admired personalities instead of being sent to hell along with Hitler. His industrious nephew, on the other hand, is called Napoleon le Petit (Napoleon the Small) by the ungrateful French. And yet! Where are the glorious conquests of Napoleon I now? Gone, long gone. Only the legend remains. The legacy of Napoleon III, far less glorious, but far more useful, is still with us. It’s time to do this remarkable man justice. His life story is just as colorful as his uncle’s. Read The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the man who transformed Paris


Better known as Baron Haussmann, this man was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal of Paris. Never before had a city been transformed so fast and so completely. Never again will we see such a ruthless urban upheaval for greater good. What was possible then, under the imperial absolutism, is no longer doable in a democratic state. Nevertheless, whichever way we look at it today, we cannot deny Baron Haussmann’s genius. Read more…


Countess of Castiglione, professional beauty, secret agent, and pioneer of photography


Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni, the Countess of Castiglione by virtue of her marriage, and the most notorious narcissist of the century, led a busy life. Still in her teens, she became the mistress to a king who then sent her to conquer an emperor. After bedroom diplomacy in her youth, she spent the rest of her life posing for portraits of her gorgeous self. While doing so, she rewrote the rules of photography. Read La Castiglione: The Too Much Countess


Charles F. Worth, father of the haute-couture and fashion dictator


When Charles Worth died, queens and other wealthy women around the world wept. In his egalitarian establishment, Rue de la Paix, royalty met with high-ranking prostitutes and the common language was money. This former printer’s apprentice, ended with 1,200 employees and a huge fortune. How did it all happen? Read it here…


Sarah Bernhardt, the drama queen who conquered the world


The Divine Sarah as she was known worldwide, was a woman of many talents, and even more eccentricities. She possessed the energy of a power plant and an extraordinary courage to fight adversity. When she stood in the US Congress, pleading for America to join the WW1, no one had to ask who was this small, one-legged, old Frenchwoman. If you lived in a civilized country you would have heard her name. She’d made sure of that. Read The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt here…



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After twenty years apart, the Three Musketeers reunite to right a wrong.

Madelon-la-Belle left Paris twenty years ago to escape her damaged reputation. She abandoned her infant daughter, Louise, in the care of her sister. Now she is back, a wealthy widow, and she plans to be a caring mother. Her idea of caring motherhood is to make Louise a high-born heiress. It only needs a little deception.

This does not sit well with Louise’s father, Captain d’Artagnan of the Royal Musketeers, who finds Madelon’s plan unsound. He wants to see Louise married as soon as possible, before she becomes a slut like her mother, and has already found a good husband for her. Unfortunately, the formidable Madelon does not agree with d’Artagnan’s choice. A battle of wills ensues, involving d’Artagnan’s long-lost friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

A screenplay inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel.

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Léon Frédéric: The Boys

An excellent article on the My Daily Art Display blog—where you’ll always find excellent articles—focusing on the Belgian painter Léon Frédéric (1865 – 1940), offers a rare look at the 19th-century peasant clothes. For those who research the history of fashion, such images are uncommon as the material they find prevailingly depicts upper-class clothing. Yet peasants formed the overwhelming part of the 19th-century’s population, and the newly-built railways brought them into cities in large numbers. Their simple clothing, mostly of somber colors, did not differ from that of the working-class city dwellers.

In his cycle, The Age of the Peasant, Frédéric’s portrayal of four peasant generations gives us the opportunity to follow the working-class people as the hardships of life wrote wrinkles on their faces. More about this realistic painter and his work here.

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The Girls

1 the bethroted

The Betrothed

1 married couples

Married Couples

1 the elderly

The Elderly

Related post:

Fashion Enima: The Secrets of Victorian Restroom

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Claude Monet: Women in the Garden, 1866


How did they do it? The question occurs to many who see pictures of Victorian women in voluminous skirts. With up to twenty yards of fabric supported by a cage, the call of nature seems to be an insurmountable problem. In the post The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet published here,  we read about the history of public urinals that served men. Readers wondered, with reason, what provision was made for women. We can only guess that chamber pots were the solution. Other than that, the true manipulation remained a mystery until the Prior Attire came to the rescue. The Prior Attire is the Sixth Cavalry of fashion history. With the video they published on YouTube, we now know the secrets of the Victorian restroom:



Related posts:

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Personal Hygiene


If you enjoy reading these posts, support the author by purchasing her books on Amazon:


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Don’t miss this educational gem! Complete historical accuracy with a light touch of humor is what I appreciate about this production of the Prior Attire.  Click on the link below:



Related posts:

The Huge Women of the 1850s

The Hoop Crinoline: Dying for Fashion


Traveler’s Bonus:




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The Arrival of the Midinettes by Jean Béraud

In the earlier Parisian fauna, we met the grisettes and the gigolettesThe former were independent working-class girls often romantically involved with students. The latter, the equivalent of gangsters’ molls, were mostly full-time prostitutes. Generally speaking, while the grisettes centered in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, which housed the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic School, and other important educational institutions, the gigolettes inhabited the working-class neighborhoods on the city periphery.

The Right Bank, around the rue de la Paix, saw a rapidly-growing number of couture houses and luxury accessories workshops populated by young and fashion-conscious female workers. At noon -midi – these girls hurried out to take a light meal – dinette – in a cheap restaurant or simply on a public garden bench. The age of the midinette extends from around 1850 to the 1960s, when the haute-couture business began to fade.

la modiste

The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Béraud

Both the grisette and the midinette were steady figures in the romantic imagery of Paris. They acted as the muses for writers and painters. Poems, songs,  novels, and later movies, paid homage to them. The tragic Mimi, from the opera La Bohêmeimmediately comes to mind.

The midinette is painted as she trots the streets delivering a dress or a new hat. She is immortalized dancing in public balls or enjoying a Sunday picnic. Little is said about a 12-hour day and insufficient wages. The girl, who wants to be fashionable, may resort to prostitution to pay for her finery.

The temptation is ever-present. At noon, the predators are waiting. Old men in the pursuit of youth gather at the entrance of the couture houses, offering the treat of a luxury lunch; men with dark intentions roam the public gardens, where the girls rest.


“With no regard for your white hair, you run after the midinettes. Merry Spring finds Winter scary – don’t bother the young girls,” says this postcard

Paris honored her working girls. The washerwomen became queens for a day.  As for the midinettes, once a year, they participated in a grueling competition known as The Race of the Midinettes.


The course started on the Place de la Concorde and led up the Champs Elysées, and past the Arc de Triomphe, to end after 12 kilometers (approx. 8 miles) in Nanterre. A newspaper describes the event in 1903:

All these young ladies, competing first, in the most varied costumes, some, not all, very successful: then the crowd of relatives, friends, and finally innumerable, thick, the troop of the curious. The departure was laborious. At last, at half – past eleven, a real army sprang from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe; cars, cabs, bicycles, motorcycles, struggled in the midst of all this and, although preceded by Paris guards on horseback, the Midinettes sometimes had to play fists to make their way. The first arrival was Miss Jeanne Cheminel, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old brunette who shot her 12 kilometers in 1:10, which is meritorious. This sturdy walker is a milliner, and that somewhat upset a few seamstresses, who, behind her, nevertheless obtained the best places. Here, in fact, were the first: Jeanne Cheminel, milliner; Lucie Fleury, seamstress; Marie Touvard, seamstress; Louise Balesta, seamstress; Alice Brard, seamstress; Mathide Mignot, seamstress; Kugel, seamstress; Marguerite Pradel, seamstress; Jeanne Brederie, seamstress.


A competitor in the race offered a pleasant sight: a chic naval hat sitting on freshly curled hair, a dress with a lace collar, the waist squeezed with a corset. A bouquet of fresh flowers pinned at the shoulder completed the outfit


The end of the race shows considerable damage to the outfit and the hairdo. The sport was in its infancy and so was the fashion for the competitors. See how men dressed in Sporting Events and Men’s Fashion

Related posts:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

La Grisette

Parisian Prostitutes (2): La Gigolette


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A tinted photograph of Countess Castiglione.  In the fashion of the 1850s and 1860s, too much was never enough

The previous post dealt with the duel – a very masculine endeavor of two men killing each other for the sake of honor. Unlike the male population, women did not carry swords or pistols to assert themselves. They used fashion to that end. The 1850s and 60s was the era of expansion in every way including fashion. Railways expanded around the world, an undersea cable was laid and the telegraph carried instant news across the Atlantic. Machines and bridges were built that required chains of links the size of a human body. International expositions united goods and people from every corner of the globe. Women in their ever-increasing skirts took more and more room at such gatherings. A dress made of 15 to 20 yards of fabric covered with an ample mantle in the winter made women look like moving pyramids. Fortunately, the sewing machine was invented just then to help with assembling the abundant material.




1858 Italian gownAlthough I published a few posts on the 19th-century fashion, especially on the infamous 1850-60s crinoline, none of them can compete with Mimi Matthews’ meticulous work The 1860s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade. Mimi is working her way through the century post by post, each decade a careful assemblage of museum collections photos: a visual feast not to be missed. You’ll find some fashion atrocities like the Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition gown with cancerous satin growths, but also things of stunning beauty, of rich materials and clever use of sewing skills. The winning entry is the orange Italian court gown. Do click on the photo to enlarge the gorgeous gold embroidery. You will be taken directly to the Metropolitan Museum fashion collection. But do come back to read Mimi Matthews’ remarkable post!

Update: Sorry, the links are no longer functional. The author of the blog promised to look into it.

Second update: Since no links are coming, I managed to find Queen Victoria’s Great Exhibition gown (1851).  Visit The Royal Collection Trust for more here.



Related posts:

The Hoop Crinoline: Dying for fashion

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a Cage

La Castiglione: The Too Much Countess


If you enjoy these posts, support the author by buying her books on Amazon (also available in print):


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The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The art of sitting in a cage crinoline

The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage post, published here earlier, discussed the encumbrance of this fashionable accessory mostly in a humorous way. Yet there was a serious—one may say tragic—side to the matter.

When the crinoline had reached its greatest degree of expansion, it was extremely hard—indeed, practically impossible—for more than two ladies to maneuver their skirts in one small room. “It was necessary,” remarked a lady of the Empress Eugénie’s court, in later years, “to watch one’s every movement carefully, to walk with a gliding step, and to supply the elegance lacking to the outline by a certain yieldingness of figure.   It was not easy for a woman to walk with such a mass of material to carry along with her. But as to sitting, it was a pure matter of art to prevent the steel hoops from getting out of place. To step into a carriage without crushing the light tulle and lace fabrics required a long time, very quiet horses, and a husband of extraordinary patience! To travel, to lie down, to play with the children, or indeed merely to shake hands and to walk with them—these were problems which called for great fondness and much goodwill for their solution.”

Women, moreover, with the introduction of the most advanced Victorian fashions, had become highly inflammable. Though gasoliers now lighted ballroom and drawing-room in place of the crystal chandeliers and silver sconces, candles, and oil lamps were still set in dangerous proximity to flimsy shawls, sleeves, and skirts, and the chronicles of the nineteenth century are full of stories  of dreadful deaths by fire – of how the Duchess de Maillé was burned to death at her friend’s fireside; how the Archduchess Mathilde, discovered smoking, attempted to hide the surreptitious cigarette in her petticoat and went up in flames; how a French actress was incinerated on stage; and how Queen Victoria’s daughter, the Princess Royal, narrowly escaped death by the same agency.

Source: Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell

Further reading:

Visit the richly illustrated Crinoline Review 1850-1859

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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.

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