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Posts Tagged ‘victorian fashion’

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Much has been written here about Victorian women’s fashion, and the difficulties of wearing it, especially the notorious crinoline. The male counterparts, pictured in the previous post How to Look Like a Victorian Gentleman, need a closer inspection to show that their fashionable life was no less complicated.

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We’ll start with the underpants. Poor men did not need to wear them at all. Men’s shirts used to be longer than our modern ones, and one simply tucked the shirt’s ends between the legs like a diaper. This also kept the garment from riding up. For the moneyed, there were natural fiber underpants, usually linen or cotton. The ones on the Metropolitan Museum photo (above) are made of silk. Four pieces of men’s vintage underwear, seen below, were recently sold at an auction.

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How do we know that this man is an American? Jersey bodysuits were common in the United States while Europeans stuck to their two pieces.

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Let’s turn our attention to the fashionable silhouette:

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The inflated chests and flat stomachs are not the fancy of the artist’s brush nor were Victorian men shaped differently by nature. They owed their looks to the corset.

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While civilians did not always wear them, corsets were indispensable for army officers. The tight uniforms of that era could not be worn without one:

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It starts to get complicated, doesn’t it? Next comes the shirt, and things will turn scientific. The term white-collar was probably invented in appreciation of the effort needed in donning a shirt with all the accessories that came with it.

This needs an explanation. Collars and cuffs were the most visible parts of shirts and the most likely to get dirty. Today, we throw a dirty garment into the washing machine without a thought. In old times, dirty linen meant wife’s hard labor or, for single men, money spent on a laundress. Working men solved the problem by wearing a collarless shirt. Collars appeared on rare occasions such as weddings or funerals. However, middle- and upper-class men were obliged to look their best every day, and they felt incomplete without a stiffly-starched collar and cuffs.

The detachable collar appeared around 1830 and this practical solution turned into a tool of torture. Detached from the shirt, collars and cuffs could be starched stiff and shaped to suit the fashion’s demand. Men had no choice. They had to keep their heads up.

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Starching and ironing collars became a science. This chaffing accessory also required a set of tools. A Victorian gentleman’s drawers contained a collection of collars, cuffs, and studs:

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Ties needed to be firmly secured as well. This drawing explains the procedure:

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Even the cuffs deserved patented inventions:

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Celluloid collars and cuffs needed only a wipe with a wet sponge. Cuffs often served as writing pads for a quick memo. The phrase “off the cuff” comes from there.

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We are still not done with the shirt. There was also the detachable bib, stiff as a plank:

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Are you getting tired just reading this? Alas, this is not the end of all the attaching and pinning. The Victorian man’s socks, too, needed a complicated approach. They were suspended from patented garters:

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A pair of Victorian playboy’s garters with inspiring art:

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On this note, we’ll end today’s exploration of Victorian gentleman’s private wardrobe. All considered, wearing a crinoline was not all that hard.

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The above picture shows fashionable men in the Victorian era. Below are fashionable men walking the street today. The second picture appeared with words of approval in a men’s fashion magazine so we know without a doubt that this is what fashion dictates in the 2020s. If you still think those outfits were thrown on in a hurry, you may be wrong. With all probability, great care was taken to choose the right purses.

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So what is the difference between the two pictures? Something is missing in the second one, and the answer is elegance. One can be fashionable but to be elegant, one needs to make an effort. Today’s fashion asks for little or no apparent effort. In fact, if effort is needed, it is to achieve effortlessness. We don’t just dress in jeans. We dress in ripped jeans.

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jeans

YouTube videos dedicated to ripped jeans show the latest creative tips to achieve a truly personalized look of utter misery

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When truly miserable people walked the streets, the attitude toward personal appearance was different. No one wanted to look like a looser and be treated as such.  Success started with a good wardrobe. So what did elegant Victorian men wear? Let’s look at the items that composed the image of a gentleman.

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A tailored three-piece suit. As the century progressed, colors of jackets and pants dimmed. The vest became the only fancy part of the outfit. It was made of rich brocade or patterned silk. Toward the end of the century, even the vest’s appeareance got gradually tamed until it merged into the suit as all three pieces were made of the same fabric.

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A top hat. Although other shapes went in and out of fashion, the pipe hat remained the steady item in a gentleman’s wardrobe well into the next century. It made men look taller and more important. You can still see top hats today at the Queen’s Garden Party or other stylish functions. Top hats can be made collapsible for better transportation.

pipe hat

A pipe hat was essential to man’s dignity. Photo circa 1850

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Other essential accessories:

  1. A silk tie. Fancy or conservative, it was an expresion of the man’s personality.
  2. A watch secured to the vest pocket with a heavy gold or silver chain advertised the man’s prosperity.
  3. A pair of gloves. No gentleman would be seen without.
  4. A walking stick. A whole industry went extinct when walking sticks went out of fashion. Yet they were useful accessories as they also served as defensive weapons. Some contained a hidden blade.

Should the guys from the 2020s photos be wearing a similar outfit, wouldn’t it elevate their dignity a few notches? What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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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:

FREE FOUNTAINS OF SPARKLING WATER IN THE STREETS OF PARIS!

 

 

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chaleur

You would not want to experience a sultry summer in the 19th century, of that I’m sure. Look at the picture of suffering Parisians. No tank tops for the women, no short pants or sandals for the men. The fashion did not allow for such a relief. The only human being happy with the situation is the lemonade vendor, who is doing brisk business while carrying a pack of ice on his back.

Our ancestors fought back without air conditioning. Some  ways of staying cool are described in Mrs Daffodil’s post How to Keep Cool: 1860 – 1902. The post is an amalgam of heat remedies of the past: some efficient, others humorous if useless, and some downright ingenious. Who would have thought of serving ice cream inside a hollowed out rose? Do read the post and see whether you can find something useful should modern technology fail us.

 

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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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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.

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 Related article:

All About Corsets

 

 

 

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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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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

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Manufacture of crinolines circa 1860

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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 1830s, 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 discomfort while the cartoonists were delighted with the situation.

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“Madame can live in one room and the crinoline in the other one.” Le Journal Illustré, 1867

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Related article:

The Fashion Empire of Charles Worth

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