I blogged about the beauty of this era – I thought I may as well mention the fashion!
I am lucky enough to volunteer at a local museum – as a shop assistant in a range of replica Victorian shops. In this role I get to wear a range of different Victorian outfits – representing different class and workplace.
Like today, the Victorian society had numerous styles of fashion, however all fashions were adapted and based on a generic style. This is the idea of long sleeved blouses or shirts and hats and for women, ankle length skirts.
Different patterns were developed and exchanged by some members of society. For example the writer ‘Mrs Beeton’ put together a book named ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ which gives an overview of many aspects of Victorian life, including fashion and a series of patterns for one to make clothes.
There is a common assumption that Victorians had dark clothing, monochrome and grey shades. This is certainly true in the later days of Queen Victoria who after the death of her husband in 1861 spent the rest of her days in mourning wear. However unlike the photographs of the era which reflect all light and figures as black and white the Victorian fashions were actually a colourful array of patterns and ‘brave’ clashing ensembles. This excluded schoolchildren and those in house service (servants) who were expected to wear black accompanied by a white pinafore or apron.
Prior to the mid-1800s shopping was not a leisure activity we know today. Shopping for clothes involved going to a dress makers, also known as a Draper’s Shop. (A draper is an individual who trades in cloth and later other materials)
One would be measured for a bespoke suit or dress by the Draper, if a man, or a draper’s assistant if a woman. Lower classes would either purchase fabric or gain hand downs from other relatives or employers (if a good employer of course) and make their own clothes in their own time.
Browsing for fabrics or accessories was limited, and most products were actually hidden under the counter with the Draper choosing possible patterns or material for the customer.
1849 was the year where department stores began to surface, starting with a Newcastle company named Bainbridge’s. This was a shock to me, as I had always had in mind the department store originated from either the States or Paris (I watched too much Mr Selfridge). Bainbridge had the evolutionary thought to give each product its own department alongside visible price tags. This began the leisure activity of shopping we know today. (Bainbridge’s still exists, under the name John Lewis)
‘Quick’ facts about Victorian fashion
The 1851 Great Exhibition in London inspired department stores to flourish and develop in France. (By develop, one Frenchmen made department store shopping more applicable to everyone, but creating separate reading and leisure rooms for men and children)
Hat etiquette gets very All Victorian men would wear hats outdoors. Those who did not would be the centre of contrasting gossip. When it came to indoor spaces, it depended on the place. Public places recommended keeping the hat on, with the exception of restaurants where part of one’s routine would be to remove the hat before sitting at the table. Public speakers also took off hats, and this was to divert the attention from the hat to the words and expressions of
that one speaking.
Contrasting, women wore hats as nothing more than keeping their hair out of their face and complimenting an outfit. Their hats were normally not removed due to the carefully placed hat
Some employers were good, others were not. If the latter young girls and apprenti
ces may not receive any wage whatsoever for their work –
especially in the clothes
industry. Good employers would support other issues (however this may be to advertise and promote their business) – for example some Draper’s would set change their window displays to the outfits of Suffragettes – promoting their cause while stocking the relevant coloured fabrics (Purple and Green)
Corsets automatically bring to mind their purpose in gaining that perfect silhouette shape in the waist. As ‘beauty’ developed into a war of personal vanity this became the main reason for a corset. However the original purpose of a corset was to take the weight of the top of the heavy and durable skirts. Victorian skirts were usually made of a wool or felt type material, which, along with the lining made the item extremely heavy. Corsets would take part of this weight and forcing the woman to having a strong straight back to keep upright.
The top two images represent the fashions of the middle class. In an attempt to look the part and present oneself as a having a high social standard working class women who had jobs such as Drapers Assistants would wear similar styles. On one hand it was used as advertisement of that working establishment, on the other women had more confident and given more respect dressing in this way.
The bottom images are a reflection of the working class or casual wear in society. White blouses were a must for all workplaces along with small straw hats which for women were worn at all times.