Interesting and Over-Enthusiastic Victorian Fashion
There are many beautiful Victorian dresses out there, especially in museums (who, of course, strive to collect the best pieces). However, not every Victorian dress was magically perfect, tasteful, or even made out of cloth. Some are beautiful, but are made with unusual materials. Others blossom with an entire upholstery store’s worth of trim. Here are some of my favorite unusual, strange, and downright amusing gowns from the 19th century:
The “Bouncy Bobble Dress,” circa 1879
Why am I suddenly craving caramel popcorn…
Machine Knitted Wool Vest, mid-19th century
I had to include this vest not because it’s strange or ugly, but because it is genius! It has been carefully knitted to perfectly hug every curve, right down to the individual breasts. It reminds me of something from a 1980s fashion show. I’ve never seen a sweater made like this before.
“Hot Mess” Dress, circa 1878
This dress has more trims than my entire collection of detash combined (detash or destash means all the little bits, pieces, and leftovers from crafting something)! On the outside alone I spot: black lace, bi-colored sandy-brown/cornflower-blue ruffles, tawny velvet, cream silk, beaded netting, cream lace, ribbon bows, ribbon rosettes, cornflower-blue buttons, and that fluffy lace collar. For even more trim-tastic fun and draping pandemonium, here’s a shot of the back:
Back of the “Hot Mess” dress, circa 1878
It’s magnificent! Trims were all the rage in the mid 1870s and 1880s, and this dress is raging harder, faster, and more extravagantly than most.
Afternoon Dress by the House of Worth, circa 1872
This big blue bubble bustle reminds me of a 19th century Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate trying to keep her skirts from poofing up around her!
“The Echo” Dress, circa 1893
This is an advertising/costume dress. I highly recommend clicking on the pic above so you can use the Met’s zoom feature for a close-up look at all the advertisements covering this fabulous piece! The base for this dress is plain white cotton, but glued to the outside are paper clippings. There have been plenty of newspapers titled “The Echo” through the years, so pinpointing the exact publisher is tough, but there are a few possibilities. If you know more about this dress, be sure to share it in the comments.
The Amelia Beard Hollenback Dress, circa 1885
This is, quite possibly, my favorite 1880s dress of all time. Truly. Even with all the lovely silk satin ball gowns, this fascinating dress still takes the cake. I’m going to let the museum description do the talking on this one:
“This dress belonged to Amelia Beard Hollenback (1844-1918), wife of the prominent financier and philanthropist John Welles Hollenback (1835-1927). In 1874, the Hollenback family settled in the neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. In the 19th century, Brooklyn became a metropolitan center with numerous affluent neighborhoods and a thriving downtown shopping district. Like many of the garments in Hollenback gift, this dress was most likely custom-made by a Brooklyn-based dressmaker. The unusual color and intriguing use of solid and striped wool fabric in this day dress has a folkloric aesthetic, which may have been inspired by an Amelia Hollenback’s travels through the Southwest. The inventive asymmetrical draping shows a high level of sophistication and design sensibility that was atypical for a day dress.” – The Met
These ensembles are excellent proof that eccentricity and quirkiness are not modern inventions. If you want to add a Hobby Lobby’s worth of ball-fringe to your costume, do it! Use unusual fabric, materials, or decor to make your outfits uniquely yours.
It’s the Victorian thing to do. :)