Fashion on display- new images at Chelsea Library

Reference Librarian, Gillian Nunns, writes:

Chelsea Reference Library had a bit of space on the wall above our costume collection, and what better way to fill it than with some beautiful images from our fashion and costume periodicals?

Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images
Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images

Staff at the library were asked to pick their favourite images from a shortlist, and choosing was tricky! The images, depicting costume spanning the Regency and Victorian eras, were all picked from our own magazine archives of La Belle Assemblee, The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine and Les Modes Parisiennes. We like the fact that the winners show how the shapes and styles of fashionable dress changed over 5 decades:

La Belle Assemblee November 1808
La Belle Assemblee November 1808

Classical Greece influenced dress was at the height of fashion in 1808, featuring a high empire waist line and long straight skirts. Woman dampened the muslin draperies so that they clung to their figure!

 

La Belle Assemblee November 1812
La Belle Assemblee November 1812

This evening dress from 1812 features a great turban – indoor caps for daywear weren’t that fashionable in this era but essential for evening wear and turbans were a very popular choice.

 

La Belle Assemblee 1828
La Belle Assemblee 1828

By 1928 a very different silhouette was in fashion –with so called leg-o’-mutton sleeves and skirts with tiny waists and wide bases. Check out the elaborate trimmings and hats!

 

Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852

By the 1850’s ladies skirts were so domed that they had to be supported by hoped cages called crinolines and lots of petticoats.

 

 English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872

And then by the 1870’s the fashion was to have a flat front of the skirt, with lots of fabric pushed to the back… called a bustle. This image features a popular style called the Dolly Varden (Charles Dickens fans will get the reference) – where you have an overskirt which is shorter at the front with the sides and back bunched up.

Here are a few other images that were on the shortlist but didn’t make the final cut. We hope you like our choices!

Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
La Belle Assemblee 1828.
La Belle Assemblee 1828.

 

The colours of these prints are really vibrant even after all these years, but we also loved seeing some amazing pictures of the actual fabrics in one of the books that we have in our collection – Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston published by Victoria & Albert Museum:

Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton.  British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton. British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered.  British, about 1810
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered. British, about 1810
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole.  British, 1830s-40
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole. British, 1830s-40
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen  British, 1870-75
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen, British, 1870-75

To find out a bit about costume in this era we also read History of Women’s Costume by Marion Sichel. Come along to Chelsea Library to find lots more about the world of Costume and Fashion, or log on to Berg Online with your library card!

 

What lies beneath part 2: the corset and beyond

We have a fantastic costume collection at Chelsea Reference Library and Gillian Nunns, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has been taking a look….

In What lies beneath part 1′ I had a look at the bizarre story of the crinoline in the context of the changing tides of fashion.  Which brings us to the corset, which also has something of a bizarre, if not more sinister history than the crinoline.

The corset had gone out of fashion in the Regency period of the early 19th Century, when a natural figure and light muslin dresses were in fashion.  Although they still existed in various guises, it was in the 1870s when bustles meant that clothes were moulded to the body at the front of the skirt and around the hips that the corset came back into its own.  The corset industry received a lot of impetus, leading to a great variety of types of corset, and different inventions around their design were advocated.   Also, ladies’ magazines of the time began giving more descriptions of corsets and advertised them frequently, such as this one from the Giraud Company in the 1880s.

Corset advert from Giraud Company
Corset advert from Giraud Company

And here is an image that I found in Support and Seduction by Beatrice Fontanel, advertising the “Thylda” corset.

"Thylda" corset from 'Support and Seduction by Beatrice Fontanel
“Thylda” corset from ‘Support and Seduction by Beatrice Fontanel

The corset also became hugely controversial as it brought with it a trend for smaller and smaller waists, and the controversial practice of “tight-lacing” – a practice which involved systematically reducing a woman’s waist by means of lacing the corset as tightly as possible over a period of time.  The controversy is very well documented as readers of the time could now write to publications with their views, which make interesting (if not painful) reading as I discovered from looking through our Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine issues.  In 1867 one lady described the practice of “tight-lacing” at her school and described girls competing to have waists of 13 inches (which I hope was an exaggeration!)

 “Every morning one of the maids used to come to assist us to dress, and a governess superintended, to see that our corsets were drawn as tight as possible.  After the first few minutes every morning I felt no pain, and the only ill effects apparently were occasional headaches and loss of appetite. Though I have always heard tight-lacing condemned, I have never suffered any ill effects myself, and, as a rule, our school was singularly free from illness”  

(From Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1868)

But many thought otherwise, and The Lancet was one publication that regularly voiced concerns, here is one comment quoted in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1968:

 “The mischief produced by such a practice can hardly be overestimated.  It tends gradually to misplace organs of the body, while, by compressing them, it must from the first interfere with their functions.  The grounds upon which Tight-lacing has been recommended are diametrically opposed to the teachings of anatomy and physiology, not to say common sense”

Despite many speaking out against the practice of tight-lacing corsets, the practice continued, although alternatives were invented, such as this orthopaedic corset that we found an illustration of in a book called The Corset; A Cultural History by Valerie Steele.

Orthodpaedic corset from 'The Corset; A Cultural History' by Valerie Steele
Orthopaedic corset from ‘The Corset; A Cultural History’ by Valerie Steele

Fashion only turned away from the corset apparently of its own accord in the early 20th Century, and almost overnight the hobble skirt and a more natural figure was all the rage, as depicted in this postcard of around 1911.

Hobble skirt
Hobble skirt

And here an advert for what might have been underneath, which I found in The Story of Women’s Underwear by Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher.

An advert from 'The Story of Women's Underwear' by Barbier and Boucher
An advert from ‘The Story of Women’s Underwear’ by Barbier and Boucher

And when the First World War broke out practical concerns played a crucial role in women’s fashion which perhaps hadn’t in earlier times.  No longer could women take up any fashion despite their practical drawbacks, and the sometimes bizarre undergarments that they entailed.   I was  interested in seeing illustrations of typical fashion in different decades of the 20th Century in a book called Changing Trends in Fashion by Anne Tyrrell, including this one from the time of the First World War.

Wartime dress image from 'Changing Trends in Fashion' by Anne Tyrell
Wartime dress image from ‘Changing Trends in Fashion’ by Anne Tyrell

I also had a look at the future of the undergarment in our issues of Vogue from the 1920s and 30s, and noted the peculiar names given to types of undergarments using new materials that allowed for greater freedom of movement.

From Vogue 1923
From Vogue 1923
From Vogue 1936
From Vogue 1936

And how about this now-not-so-sensational shape advertised in Vogue 1978.

From Vogue 1978
From Vogue 1978

And a French advertisement from 1984 that I found in The Story of Women’s Underwear by Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher.

French advert, 1984
French advert, 1984

Perhaps we could say that the laws of fashion are not as strict as they used to be.  Here is a picture of a Lacroix evening dress in 1997 taken by Roxanne Lowit, which we found in The Corset; A Cultural History by Valerie Steele.

Lacroix evening dress
Lacroix evening dress

I hope you’ve enjoyed these two posts and if you like to find out more do pop into to see the collection at Chelsea Library.

Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian
Gillian Nunns

Gillian Nunns

Triborough Reference Librarian, Chelsea Reference Library

Further information

The sources used for this post are all available at Chelsea Reference Library.

  •  Changing Trends in Fashion by Anne Tyrrell, 1986
  •  The Corset; A Cultural History by Valerie Steele, 2003
  •  Support and Seduction by Beatrice Fontanel, 1998
  •  The Story of Women’s Underwear by Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher, 2010
  • Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1868
  • Vogue, September 1923
  • Vogue, March 1936
  • Vogue, February 1978

What lies beneath part 1: from crinolines to bustles

We have a fantastic costume collection at Chelsea Reference Library and Gillian Nunns, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has been taking a look….

I was very interested to read our Local Studies Librarian’s post about the seemingly bizarre story of crinolines, which had me looking through our costume collection in search of stories of undergarments and their place in history and fashion.

As the crinoline fashion gradually subsided in the early half of the 1860s, the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine reported as early as 1860 that

‘The iron reign of the “Crinoline” is undoubtedly, but gradually, coming to and end.’

And as it did so skirts morphed into into a narrower skirt but with a bustle at the back.  Here is an illustration from Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, October 1869.

Illustration from 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' October 1869
Illustration from ‘Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ October 1869

 Which of course required different support. This became known as the ‘tournure”, involving different kinds of heavy support for each layer – steel, horsehair and whalebone were used, for example.  Here are some images that we found on a page of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine also from 1869.

Panier tournure from 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' 1869
Panier tournure from ‘Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ 1869
Horsehair tournure from 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' 1869
Horsehair tournure from ‘Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ 1869
Petticoat worn over a tonure from 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' 1869
Petticoat worn over a tonure from ‘Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ 1869
Crinoline from 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine' 1869
Crinoline from ‘Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ 1869

The last is a sort of cinoline, but altered to emphasise the new bustle fashion, allowing for a straight front of the skirt with a big bustle at the back. 

We can always count on Punch to satirise such trends in fashion.  The first appearance of a crinoline in Punch is in 1856, and the fashion is described as “Crinolineomania”.

Crinoline cartoon in Punch, 1856
Crinoline cartoon in Punch, 1856

And another from the same year.

Another crinoline cartoon in Punch, 1856
Another crinoline cartoon in Punch, 1856

In 1857 Dr. Punch considers of the crinoline that

‘If he were called upon to fix the spot precisely where the malady broke out, without hesitation he would point to Paris’.

Although I doubt that Dr Punch would have done, considering the amount of fun that the crinoline afforded him.  And in fact, I found out that many undergarment fashions might have been lost to history completely if it were not for publications that satirized them. 

The crinoline is described in Punch as a “depopulating influence[…]”

 “The mode now prevailing is one of such extravagance that it is continually demanding fresh sacrifices, and ladies have to choose between a fine dress and a family, for no income but a Rothchild’s can provide for both.”

 As I read more and found about later and earlier eras in fashion, I was interested in how the history of Western fashion is ruled by an obsession with the silhouette; so that when a desired shape comes into fashion, its boundaries end up being pushed to the extremes.  Norah Waugh makes an interesting point about this in her book Corsets and Crinolines.

 “This over-emphasis of line has given a curious underlying rhythm to women’s clothes and become an almost unwritten law of design.  A longer slender silhouette gradually begins to widen at the base, emphasis shifts from length to breadth, and when the greatest circumference has been reached, there is a collapse, a folding up, and a return to the long straight line”

This point was not lost in the pages of Punch in an article called “Philosophy of Fashion”

 “When hoops went out of vogue nigh on a Century ago, the ladies vowed that scanty petticoats were infinitely prettier; and they vied with one another in reducing their dimensions, until their skirts became so shrunken that they could hardly move their feet with the limited circumference.  So doubtless, will it be again, now Crinoline is doomed […] Already we see signs of the change approaching.  Ladies fresh from Paris startle our eyes now-a-days by appearing in what at first sight we may fancy are their night dresses.  Of course, when one tide sets in, all the female world will swim with it”
 
And in my next post we will see what happened next…..
Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian
Gillian Nunns

Gillian Nunns

Triborough Reference Librarian, Chelsea Reference Library

Further information

The sources used for this post are all available at Chelsea Reference Library except Punch which is available at Kensington Central Reference Library.

  • Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh, 1954
  • Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, October 1869
  • Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, September 1867
  • Punch,  August 1856
  • Punch, October 1856