Discovering Victorian Fashions in Antique Valentines

January 25, 2012

Be my Valentine?

Postcards are a great place to look for fashion inspiration! Their benefit is two fold:

1) Many Postcards are stamped and dated by the post office, giving you an almost exact date for the fashion.

The post office is one of the oldest public dating systems. They are reliable and not only date things, but let you know where the card was send from as well.

2) Postcards are easy to find, relatively cheap, and fun to collect.

Holiday postcards are especially fund to find and they often feature creative fashions to draw inspiration from! Antique Valentines are some of my favorites because they’re often humorous or ornately decorated, but especially because they provide clever glimpses into life and fashion at the time.


Valentines reveal unique color trends

For example, here’s an exceptional early postcard from the 1850s or 1860s that has a secret feature–her skirt swings aside to reveal her bright red petticoats!

The great thing about postcards is that they are often sentimental or satirical. This particular one is poking fun at ladies who were scrambling to wear red petticoats, which were extremely fashionable, under their enormous new dresses. It’s absolutely superb! This little valentine just gave you a little insiders note on being a fashionable mid-Victorian lady. Also, notice the magenta color of the girl’s gown. The dye has somewhat faded on her dress, but it was probably rather brilliant and garish when it was first printed. During the Industrial Revolution, new petroleum-based dyes and chemical colorants were discovered, allowing manufacturers to produce vivid, rich colors at a fraction of the cost of “natural” dyes. A chemistry student named William Perkin discovered a bright mauve and soon Europe was bathed in mauve fever! Queen Victoria wore it to her daughter’s wedding in 1858, and the highly influential Empress Eugénie adored the color because it matched her eyes. The very fashionable young lady in this postcard would have been quite a sight indeed with her stunning Perkin’s Mauve silk skirts and vermillion petticoats–a great color combo if you’re looking for something special to wear to your next Victorian Tea!

Fashion has always loved contrast. Victorian Valentines play on color contrasts, too, like blue with red or green with pink. Most cards contain as many rainbow colors as possible. Here’s another great Valentine from a few decades later featuring a very handsome couple:

The marigold color of her dress is supremely gorgeous! Yellow isn’t a color you see very often at 19th century events, especially this shade of buttery orange. Though probably done more for design unity of the card itself (the orange pairs so perfectly with the blushing roses and sage green), the cut and color look amazing and are certainly unique! The card’s aesthetic unity is also a good jumping off point for a color palette of your own: sorbet orange with accents of rose, sage, and crimson. I particularly love the gold ink stripes accenting her dainty, corseted waist, the cascading ruffled sleeves, and the fun circle pattern “embroidered” on her skirt. Her companion is looking quite dapper himself in a classic long suit coat, creamy waistcoat with bold brass buttons, and a pop of fashionable turquoise at his tie!


Valentines reveal changing styles and modes

Here’s a beautiful postcard Valentine from the Art Nouveau period (about 1890s-WWI):

The highlight of this this Valentine is the girl’s exotic hairstyle of gold-tinged auburn waves, the favored hair color during the Art Nouveau era, that is partially tamed by a ruched pink snood/turban accented with chains and a large filigree dangle. I love this postcard because it also helped me figure out some period make-up styling. The girl in this postcard is wearing very smoky make-up– dark, lined eyes with a brown shadow, rosy rouged cheeks, and dark red lips– precursors to the outrageous makeup of the Flapper era. Just like today, strong brows were a trend at the turn of the 20th century.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly a “Valentine,” but it’s super cute and scathingly cheeky! The little poem lets the flapper girls know they look like men in too much make-up. Personally, I think she looks adorable by my modern standards, even though my Edwardian self should be righteously scandalized by her menswear get-up. :)

For more Valentine’s Day postcards, check out The Stock Solutions Vintage Valentine Art Collection. It’s full of even more great cards and designs, including plenty of photograph cabinet cards with lovely pigeon-pouf gowns, adorable children in costume, and more fabulous hairstyles than you can count!

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