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?
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:
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!
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.
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!
By the 1850’s ladies skirts were so domed that they had to be supported by hoped cages called crinolines and lots of petticoats.
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!
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:
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!
As it’s World Book Day, we thought we’d take the chance to show off some of our latest aquisitions from the Chelsea Library fashion collection…any excuse really!
From Vogue: the Editor’s Eye,(edited by Eva MacSweeney, 2012), a glossy new purchase full of fantastic images. This photograph is by Annie Leibovitz, from December 2003.
This image is from Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! (edited by Alistair O’Neill, 2013), a publication that accompanied her fabulous collection, photographed by Nick Knight at Blow’s ancestral home.
Another new purchase… Avedon Fashion, 1944-2000, a book encompassing seven decades of extraordinary images by phographer Richard Avedon. This black-and-white shot was taken in 1959.
Naomi Campbell races a cheetah in Hair: Fashion and Fantasy by Laurent Philippon, 2013. Photographed by Jean Paul Goude, another striking image found on our shelves.
Looking through the large scale images in these books is a great way to appreciate some amazing work. As well as our shiny new books, our costume collection also contains some treasures from a bygone age… fashion from before the birth of photography even. The contrast between fashion images then and now is astonishing.
These old volumes are really tactile things that we love to pore over. Do come along to the library to have a look! Happy World Book Day!
Hair: Fashion and Fantasy by Laurent Philippon, 2013
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale delved into Chelsea Library’s Costume Collection to bring us some more Regency gems.
La Belle Assemblée was a ladies magazine published between 1806-1837, founded by John Bell (1745-1831) who ran Bell’s Circulating Library. Holdings at Chelsea Library covers most of the period.
The magazine has fashion plates, celebrity profiles, sheet music, poetry, fiction, news items and some scientific articles. It was almost a cross between the modern day Vogue, Hello! and a broadsheet Sunday supplement.
Fanny Austen Knight, a relative of Jane Austen had a copy of the magazine, so Jane Austen would be likely to have been familiar with the title.
A chapter in Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkin is called ‘A society of grace and manners’
‘Though she was not especially fond of listening to music, Jane Austen, like many of her female characters, took her piano playing seriously, and made time to practice every day. It was into these music books that she copied much of her music by hand.’
The close proximity and physical contact of the dancers shocked many when the Waltz first came into fashion. However, La Belle Assemblée published this sheet music for a Waltz, Fly Away Care in January 1812.
Each month the magazine published a Biographical sketch of Illustrious Ladies. This article was published in August 1811 refers to an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Lavinia Countess of Spencer (née Bingham) was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Lucan. She is described as
‘a lady no less distinguished for the family she has married into than for that which she is descended’
She married George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer. His sister Lady Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire and became a famed Whig hostess. The story of this difficult marriage was made into a film released in 2008, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.
In Autumn 1811, La Belle Assemblée printed picture of the Prince of Wales conservatory at Carlton house, with brief description. Very Homes and Gardens!
La Belle Assemblée also wrote about the Drury Lane Theatre which opened in 1812.
Not only were there suggestions of fashionable places to see and be seen, but also what to wear.
So, if you fancy whiling away and hour or two as a Regency lady of leisure, pop into Chelsea Reference Library and sit in one our comfy chairs and ask for La Belle Assemblée (or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) They are fragile, so are kept in our store. Regrettably, tea and cucumber sandwiches without the crusts are not supplied!
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale has found some Austen connections with Chelsea as well as some amazing Regency fashion images.
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was the Rector of Steventon and Deane. At the age of thirty-six she emerged from relatively sequestered existence to becoming a published novelist. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. In 1809 the Austen sisters and their mother settled in Chawton and Jane Austen’s career as a published author began.
In Chelsea Past, Barbara Dennydescribes Jane Austen’s association with Chelsea as transitory, but letters to her sister Cassandra describes a musical evening. She lived with her brother Henry and his wife at 654 Sloane Street from Spring 1811 for two years. Between 1813 – 1815 she visited him when he moved to 23 Hans Place.
Chelsea by Thea Holme describes from Jane’s letters a party at Sloane Street with 66 guests and musicians arriving in two Hackney coaches.
Regency fashion was governed by a strict social etiquette. For women, there were outfits for every activity. Ladies might change several times a day to suit the hour or the occasion. Magazines such as Belle Assemble (La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) had fashion plates which were a guide to suitable attire for every circumstance.
Jane Austen was a prolific letter-writer and these letters give an interesting insight into her life. One activity suitable for a lady was walking. More promenade than serious hiking, there is a reference in one of her letters.
Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr.Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.
Jane Austen to Cassandra 25 April, 1811
These pictures from Chelsea Library’s costume collection give an idea of the style Jane or her characters, might have worn, or aspired to wear. They are from the magazine La Belle Assemblée which Chelsea Library has more or less a complete archive.
Kensington Garden Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811 A round robe of jacconot muslin, with a bodice of violet sarsnet, trimmed with rich silk Brandeburgs of Austrian green, a half pelisse of fine transparent muslin, with Bishop’s sleeves, fancifully tied with green riband. A Hyman hat of purple brocaded ribband and lace, ornamented with a green military plume; a Chinese parasol of purple sarsnet, shot with green; gloves and shoes of York tan.
Walking Dress, June 1811 A pelisse of pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat,; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.
Promenade, or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811 A fawn colour of amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented around the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet and faced down the waist, shoulders and half way down the side of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple, terminating with a tassel; a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat; the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine blue lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of aiguillettes, but without tags, are sometimes introduce when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet.
Promenade Dress, August 1811 A round robe of India jaconot, trimmed around the bottom with ribband; a mantle of fine India muslin, or white crape, with ficher front, ornamented with drawn ribband and tassel, and confined to the waist on the same side. A village hat of white chip, with a crown of blended crape and sarsnet, bound and tied under the chin with ribband, over a lace cawl, and raised form the face by a short wreath of French roses. Parasol and ridicule of purple and green shot silk; gloves of York tan; Roman boots of white morocco.
Regency Walking Dress, February 1811 A pelisse of scarlet Merino cloth, buttoned down the front and up the arm with small gold buttons; the collar and cuffs of purple velvet; but during the mourning, of black, striped with scarlet; an ermine tippet pointed in the back, and muffet of the same. A bonnet of scarlet cloth, turned up with velvet, and formed to come over the face; the veil passed through the front and brought round the neck. Boots of scarlet cloth trimmed with velvet.