Bonnets that Deserve Better: A Dozen Ugly Ducklings in the Met’s Headwear Collection

I love a good bonnet, even if badly photographed. <3

Museum photography has come a long way in the past decade. I remember when the only way to explore a museum’s collection was to physically travel to view an exhibit in person, be buddies with a curator, or read about them in textbooks, sometimes with a blessed-but-grainy black and white picture the size of a domino. Now museums around the world have their collections photographed and available for free online!

We have gone from this:

To this:

Bonnet, circa 1870

Huzzah! Hooray! Oh, happy day!

And believe me, I am infinitely grateful. But, I am also infinitely concerned with systematic forward progression and implementing improved standards of quality (i.e. I am demanding and persnickety). Today, I am picking on the Met because the Met is one of my favorite museums. They seem open and honest about their collections– even candidly blogging about some drawings in their collection were massively mis-attributed! You can even give them feedback about their website, rating it and saying what you liked and what you didn’t. I appreciate their openness and make full use of it. MMoA, you asked for it!

In my many invested hours of research (i.e. PINTEREST), I have discovered many beautiful Met Museum objects with hideous photos, in particular, 19th century bonnets and hats. Granted, there are plenty of hideous objects with lovely pictures as well. There is clearly a miracle-working photographer in the costume department because they made this clunky sunbonnet look so lovely I kind of want it…which is saying something because I LOATHE 19th-century sunbonnets!

Cotton Sunbonnet, circa 1860
This photo makes it look good enough to actually wear!

Now, compare that picture with this one:

Sunbonnet, circa 1838
Ah, there’s the warm, familiar hatred again. If Jedi had to wear sunbonnets, I would instantly become a Sith. No questions! Sunbonnet Crusher duty? SIGN ME UP!

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a little. You see, that second bonnet isn’t terrible at all! In fact, it’s actually way more adorable than the photo lets on. It’s made of a spotted calico that’s kind of polka-dotty from a distance, it’s got pinked trim, a nifty straw brim, and a sweet bow perched on top. But that photo just does not do it justice when you compare it to other bonnet photographs in the collection:

Snedden Designer Bonnet with Pearls, circa 1883
(another bonnet that has benefited from the leap in photography technology)

Velvet Evening Bonnet, 1802

Bonnet, circa 1887

“But, Liz! Those are all fashionable, fancy-lady bonnets! You can’t compare a daytime 1850s sunbonnet to a 1880s millioneress’s bonnet!”

True: there are many bonnets of vastly different styles, decades, price-points and occasions, but being fancier doesn’t make them any less likely to be photographed poorly. The Met does not discriminate based on social class! Case in point:

Which of these two photos looks like a million bucks to you?

I started making note of all the bonnets I found that were begging for a better photo. The list was quite long! However, I narrowed it down to just a few.

MOST of the bonnets are this list were not picked just because I thought they needed a prettier photo–though, confession: some are on the list because they are OMGorgeous! There are so many pretty-but-not-artistically-photographed bonnets in the Met’s collection, like this early 19th century bonnet. However, many of them, despite their flash-blasted, yellow-tinged photographs, still shine through with clear detail. Instead, I chose bonnets that I thought were actively hampered by their photo– those with great texture that was lost, fit that was hard to judge, or colors that weren’t properly portrayed, all details that are actively explored and sought after by costume and textile researchers.

THE TOP 10 BONNETS AT THE MET THAT DESERVE BETTER PHOTOS!

#10: “Ye Old Bonnet?!” circa 1799-1810

Originally #10 was this straw bonnet that I loved the shape of, but there is no view of the front. However, I stumbled upon this bonnet/headdress just before publishing my list. I was so intrigued, I knew it had to be on the list! There is no other “bonnet” like it in the Met’s collection and if that date is correct (question: has anyone seen something like this from the era?), it would make it one of the earliest pieces in the bonnet sub-category. I want to know more!

#9: “Happy Spring Day in a Dust Storm” Bonnet, circa 1860

This is one of those “It’s just so pretty it needs to be shown off!” bonnets. The layers of trimmings are so lovely, but the dingy, grainy photo does its richness a great disservice.

#8: “Black Velvet Mystery” Bonnet, circa 1850

This bonnet already has a beautifully lit, crisp new photo, yet, it’s impossible to tell how it fits! It’s listed as a bonnet, but the shape and fit isn’t obvious. Does it perch on the back of the head? Is it a child-sized cap? Or is it bigger than it looks? This is a piece that would really benefit from a display head.

#7: “Snow Princess” Lace Bonnet, circa 1885-90

Another stunner suffering from bad lighting and graininess! This bonnet is mummified in lovely lace, has a velvet edge, and a feather on top! The interplay of textures and true color are lost, though, and the angle of the two photos almost look like two different hats! Click here to see the second photo of the back. You’ll see what I mean. Also, this hat has a photo of the designer’s label, but it’s not listed in the description (J. Pendlebury / Wigan). This was a very expensive hat during its day! It would be so lovely for a bride.

#6: “Scarlet’s Envy” Promenade Bonnet, circa 1851-1862

The vast majority of the Met’s mid-19th century bonnet collection suffers from small, badly-lit photos. I imagine they must have been doing them all in a  swift batch in order to give us, the demanding costuming community, visual references. The Met has worked hard to get photos for every object’s online catalogue page! They are getting closer to achieving that goal. I am so thankful for their hard work. However, this gal is beautiful, but the silk gathers and layers upon layers of delicate trimming aren’t very well portrayed. I also think it’s later in date than listed. Any bonnet experts have a firmer date for it?

#5: “Autumnal Delight” Bonnet, circa 1864-1867

This bonnet is just fabulous! At first I thought that it was a lovely example of straw work, but then I read the description…can you believe this bonnet is made of horsehair?! I would have never guessed!  Once again, the small, grainy photos erase this bonnet’s main draw: the unique materials and lush interplay of textures. Just look at those woven plumes and tiny tassels! This is probably my personal favorite bonnet on the list. I would wear it in a heartbeat.

#4: “The WAT?!” Bonnet, circa 1800-1925

I’m calling this one that “WAT?!” bonnet not because I find it poorly designed (though the display certainly makes it look odd), but because it is in desperate need of a cleaning, some context, and a more accurate date. 125 YEARS, MET?! REALLY?! This bonnet/hat is from around 1900 and would have been paired with a Gibson Girl hairstyle, hence the shallow back (to fit around a chignon) and large forward swoop (to go over the puffy pompadour front). It even has a designer label inside that they photographed, but the cataloger failed to note in the description. It’s not a show-stopping hat by any means, but it certainly deserves better basic cataloguing in addition to a fresh photo!

#3: “Cinderella” Bonnet/Cap, circa 1845-50

Just look at that lace and ribbon! Wow! Even in that terrible lighting, it looks amazing. However, the image is small and grainy, so you can’t see all the wonderful details. This one is just too pretty not to have a better photo!

#2: “Faceplant” Poke Bonnet, circa 1840-69

This bonnet is so sad! It looks like a jellyfish washed up on the shore or a snail trying to crawl away. I suppose if you were a nice “Sunday’s best” bonnet that got labelled as a poke bonnet, you’d be sad, too. This bonnet would be so much happier if its beautiful silk satin shirring and lace were properly photographed on a stand or mannequin!

#1: “Moping Mop” Ribbon Bonnet, circa 1841

The last bonnet  looked sad, but this poor bonnet is actively trying to hide. Perhaps it’s in such poor shape that this is the only way to display it (like this crumbling 1830s straw bonnet), but it’s completely impossible to tell that it’s even a cap/bonnet. What’s even odder is that unlike many of the bonnets in the collection which suffer from dating swathes that range from a generalized 20 year period to the egregious 125 YEAR RANGE OMG MET WTF, this bonnet has been dated precisely to 1841. In addition, it was purchased with donation money in 1982, apparently by choice. Either it was part of a lot that had other pieces in it the Met wanted and the cap just came with, or they purposefully bought it, possibly with provenance granting it such a firm date, like a letter or label. And yet, here it is, just flopped on a table like a mound of seaweed.

The more I looked at these bonnets with less-than-ideal photos, the more I realized how shallow and callous it was to judge a bonnet by its photo. In our massively visual online culture, objects with the prettiest images often get sharing priority, meaning that many perfectly fabulous fashions get ignored! This affects not only personal research, but can affect the quality of conservation, too. Many objects that receive well-made professional photographs often receive special cleaning and repairs in order for them to display and photograph to the object’s best advantage. In a collection like the Met’s–with over 300+ bonnets alone– such a large undertaking would involve not only lots of time, equipment, and effort from the photographer(s), but a large investment from the conservation department– and let’s face it: we may love bonnets, but there are probably more pressing conservation projects than cleaning a common straw sunbonnet, no matter how cute it is.

Interested in seeing more awesome bonnets with horrific pictures?
Click here to view the Met’s bonnet collection online

Let me know which one is your favorite! Is it a delicate straw bonnet from the 1840s? A sky-high feathered stunner from the 1880s? A tubular Regency poke bonnet? Post a link below so I can see it!

Find of the Month: Victorian Quilt Blocks (Part 1)

April 2017

Once again, I found April’s FotM at Maine Barn and Attic Antiques! Seriously….I may have an addiction….

This month’s find is small, not exactly in size, but certainly in price: $8.

 I actually did the official “finding” the very first time I went, but the antique shop only takes cash or check, so when it comes time to decide what to buy and what to leave, I always left these in favor of other treasures. Do you ever leave something behind only to have that nagging feeling of remorse that you can’t shake hours or even weeks later? Boy did this month’s “find” haunt me when I left them behind, languishing in a dusty basket ion the floor in the darkest shop corner all those months ago.

Who knew quilt blocks could nag?!

Yes, I bought a bunch of 19th century quilt squares even though I don’t quilt. Why? Well, I like the bright, happy, wild fabrics– and these are bright like new! Most look like they date to the 1840s-1860s to me, but I am not a calico expert, so any help dating them is welcome.

I made a slide show below of each one, front and back so you can see all of them. There are some great patterns!

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There are also some interesting highlights, including…

An apparently fugitive dye:

This block has three squares of this same fabric. One has all the stripes left, this one is fading, and one has no stripes at all left, just the flowers!

Awesome hand sewing:

All of the blocks are handsewn together. They have tiny seam allowances and use a mix of thread colors, but mostly red.

Lots of creative piecing:

I know quilts are literally pieced, but this quilt is like quilt-ception: it’s got pieced pieces in it’s pieces. This is the most pieced piece of the lot: this little 2X2 square is made up of 4 seperate pieces!

Evidence of a mishap that occurred during a previous incarnation:

One of my favorite fabrics is the “alien flower on a book” print. It is the most stained however, but when I was looking at it, the stains are only on the white fabric, not the surrounding fabrics! So the fabric was stained before it was added to the quilt. I wonder if it was part of a ill-fated dress…and what it’s stained with…

As it turns out, this wasn’t going to be the last brush with quilt blocks I’d have this month. Stay tuned for more!
(If you’re a bit fabric-crazy like me)

Other Find of the Month posts you might like:

Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button

Find of the Month: Gentleman’s Black Silk Stock Collar circa 1840-1844

July 2016

I always seem to write these “Find of the Month” posts when I have otherwise been highly neglectful of this poor blog! I have been working longer hours over the summer which has left little time for costume projects, but has given me a little extra money. For a weekend treat, Christopher took me to a new antique store we’d been trying to visit for a year now: Maine Barn and Attic Antiques on Highway 199 outside of Azle. The only catch is that Christopher and I both work on Saturdays — the only day the shop is open! We finally got to visit and it was WONDERFUL!

Inside is a dreamland. It’s the classic antique store I remember from my childhood before “antique stores” became expensive craft and clothing boutiques with a few overpriced knicknacks scattered about. I have nothing against craftshops or boutiques, but nothing beats a smorgasbord of true antique finds in the rough– dusty, weathered, and crammed in every corner! The Maine Barn and Attic is huge and is packed floor to ceiling with everything imaginable, even a not-so-shiny-but-very-romantic little surrey with the fringe on the top. I wish I’d gotten some interior pictures, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. The place is THAT GOOD. They do have a Facebook page.

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The prices were all very reasonable and the variety of goods endless. However, they only take cash or check– no credit cards! I did not know that, so I had amassed a small pile before I realized that I didn’t have a lick of cash on me. The proprietors kindly offered to hold my pile (“Happens all the time”) and I returned the following week to pick up treasures…and then some.

In the darkest corner of the shop, I was ecstatic to exhume one piece in particular: a black silk stock collar!

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I found it folded like this in a plastic bin filled with crumbling beaded trim and ric-rac. I literally “squeed” out loud and clutched it to my chest. 

Stocks are such a fascinating piece of clothing. Men had been wearing tall, stiff collars in various forms for centuries, but early 19th century stocks are a very distinctive garment. A brother of the cravat and jabot, stocks are high collars made in one piece, frequently stiffened with horsehair or boning to keep them standing tall. A stock accentuates a man’s neck’s length and *ahem* girth, swathing his face to the jaw and sometimes even to the cheeks! They were common in military uniforms, always a source of inspiration for civilian fashion, and were further popularized by King George the IV, the foremost dandy of the time:

Portrait Miniature of King George the IV by Johann Paul Georg Fischer, circa 1815

Some say that George wore them to distract from his chubby face (he was frequently lampooned for a being a larger fellow), but stock collars also helped military officers and civilians alike maintain a ramrod straight posture, projecting strength and control with a dash of mystique. Usually thought of as a Romantic Era (1825-1840) item, stocks were widely worn into the 1850s until fashions shifted to a more boxy, relaxed day look for men.
The stock I stumbled upon at Maine Barn and Attic Antiques is made of very lustrous black silk with a very stiffly starched linen collar basted inside.

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The stock is 15 inches long not including the tab and is 4 inches tall at the center, 5 inches if you include the linen collar.

The edges close with a three-pronged steel buckle. The prongs of the buckle are very sharp, designed to pierce directly through the fabric tab rather than to fit through pre-made eyelets.

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When I first saw the stock, I was struck by just how tall it is! I wouldn’t say I have a long neck, but I don’t have a stumpy one either. This collar would not fit me comfortably no matter how good my posture is! A gentleman would have to hold his chin tilted quite high in order to accommodate it.

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When you look at the stock laid out, it has a very definite taper. It is wider in the center and smaller at the buckled ends. It would seem, then, that for comfort and ease of dressing, a gentlemen would wear it buckled in front so that the narrower end would tuck under his chin, like this:

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However, this does not seem to be the case. Many extant stocks have both a buckle behind and a decorative bow to adorn the front:

Silk Wedding Stock, circa 1835

Black Silk Stock with long ties, circa 1820

While mine lacks the decorative tie in front, it is shaped the same and is probably designed to buckle in back like so:

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You can see the graceful curve in the center. It’s not boned, but the horsehair/canvas interlining is plenty stiff to keep the shape. The collar inside has what appear to be decorative pressed folds (though they may just be from how it was stored).

The stock forces the wearer to tilt his chin up in a rather proud posture, very different from the modern slumped posture we’ve adopted with our chins tucked back and down. Such tall stocks are usually found in paintings and fashion illustrations from the earlier decades of the 19th century, from about 1810 to 1835.

David Lyon by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1825

Men in Tailcoats and Top Hats (french), circa 1830-34
Cravats and stocks create similar looks. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell in drawings and early photos which is which, but they could be worn together as well.

Portrait Miniature of a Gentleman by John Wood Dodge, circa 1833
For a lovely collection of late Georgian fashion plates showcasing some impressive neckwear, click here.

 Stocks were considered one of the many accessories needed to be a well-dressed respectable gentleman, but the garment also features prominently in satirical cartoons poking fun at the ever-flamboyant dandy whose fashion faux pas often included preposterous proportions and pretentious postures aided by hyperbolic stocks long enough to make a giraffe uncomfortable:

“An Exquisite” Satirical Cartoon of a Dandy from around 1820

Thanks to its size and styling, I thought for certain I had a Georgian stock from around 1825-1835 in my possession. However, when I folded it open and took a closer look, I discovered some damning–albeit awesome–proof that my stock isn’t as old as I originally thought.

The inside is in rough, but not terrible, shape. The collar is still papery crisp from the last time it was starched all those years ago. It is mounted on a neckband that has a pointed dip in the center to somewhat follow the lines of the stock.

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Other than the large basting stitches holding the linen collar on (which are kind of sloppy even for basting. One basting stitch even nipped through the black outer silk. If you look close at the pics of the outside, you might see the tiny white blip) everything is hand sewn with absolutely beautiful, tiny stitches.
Here’s one of my cheap, slightly bent hand needles looking absolutely vulgar next to the dainty stitches that hold the silk lining to the leather piping along the top edge of the stock:

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19 stitches per inch– yes, I counted!

The tiny stitches, beautiful as they are, have split along the bottom edge, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of the pad stitching inside! Once again, the stitches are dense and small enough to make a fairy cry:

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Compare the stitches to the tiny fashion magazine print on the left—each stitch is barely the height of an i!

Inked under the linen collar are a few odd markings, perhaps laundry or ownership marks? They are done in blue ink which has blotted a bit:

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I also discovered the greatest gift any random antique object can possibly give: The original maker’s stamp, clear as day, fabulously green, and perfect!

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“Ward Manufacturer. No. 116 North Fifth Street. Philadelphia. & No. 40 North 4th”

I HAD to look the company up! And I found…..a modern pipe fittings company that started in 1924. Hint: this stock is far older than that.
But the Wards Manufacturer that made my stock did me a huge favor: they included not one, but two addresses in their stamp! So, where would a gentleman need to go in order to buy this stock?
I looked up both addresses and quickly realized that this stock was going to push me down a deeper rabbit hole than I had anticipated.

As it turns out, the old part of North 5th street has been renamed Independence Mall East. You can search for the address in google maps, but it is now part of Independence Mall– mere blocks from Independence Hall and right across from the Philadelphia Mint! The shop is now a parking lot; the building was destroyed in the 1950s to clear the land for Independence Mall. 40 North 4th was also lost to time; it is now near a modern office building.

116 and 40 in the same picture modern day

Approximate Locations of 116 North 5th and 40 North 4th in the modern world. Neither of these addresses belong to buildings anymore, so Google only offers approximations.

I refused to resign myself to this unsatisfactory answer. Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network to the rescue! I found this amazing research website through this “How to Research the History of a House” packet. The GeoHistory Network website is chock-full of amazing features for anyone wanting to research historic Philadelphia.
The most fascinating tool is the Interactive Map Viewer which allows you to view, at full scale, antique maps overlayed over modern Google Maps, so you can find exactly where something was even if that street or building doesn’t exist anymore! And guess what: I found 116 North 5th street!

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The most detailed map is the 1875 Atlas map, which even has some lots and businesses labelled. Here, you can see 116 (labelled with only a 16) across from Appletree Alley/Lane, a street which once ran where the Philadelphia Mint is now.

116 north 5th street philadelphia penn 1858

1858 Map of Philadelphia is the earliest map with clearly marked building numbers, proving that 116 N. 5th existed back to at least 1858 in the same location.

These maps don’t have “street view” like Google Maps, but I learned that William H. Rease, a Philadelphia lithographer, did a series of illustrations in the 1840s and 1850s of local businesses. He didn’t makes an illustration of Ward’s shops specifically (darn). However, he did do an illustration of the businesses mere steps away at the corner of N. 5th and Market Streets:

Detailed view of “Bennett & Company, Tower Hall Clothing Bazaar, Number 182 Market Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets, Philadelphia” circa 1853
There’s also a great vintage photograph of this same section taken in 1949. These buildings were also leveled in the Independence Mall project.

I also found 40 North 4th which, despite playing second fiddle, turned out to be the key to dating my silk stock! Here it is on the 1875 and 1858 maps:

40 north fourth street 40 north fourth street 1858

Unlike 116 N. 5th, the 4th street address is labeled with a name on nearly every map: It’s the Merchant’s Hotel!

“Merchant’s Hotel, Number 38, North Fourth Street, Philadelphia” circa 1838

The Merchant Hotel was built in 1837. On the bottom floor were spaces rented out for shops. It was not demolished in the  Independence Mall project, but burned in 1966, so it’s no longer with us either.
Street numbering in Philadelphia was changed a few times throughout its history. So the 1830s illustration above shows shop #38 on the right while the 1857 illustration below shows a different set of numbers:

40 N. 4th street was either in or right next to the hotel, depending on the street numbering that year. No one said doing research was easy!

Since the Merchant’s Hotel wasn’t built until 1837/38, my stock could be no older than that.

The GeoHistory website had another tool to share with me: a digital library of City Directories dating all the way back to 1785! City Directories were the phone book in an era before phones. It listed every tradesperson, their occupation, and their shop’s address. I dove into the directories starting at 1837 and I emerged triumphant!

Ward’s Manufacturing, as it turns out, was owned by one George W. Ward whose business life is chronicled by the annual city directories of the late 1830s to the 1850s:

1837 phil bis directory ward dry goods1837: His first appearance at the address listed on my stock, 116 N. 5th Street. He is listed as a general dry goods seller.

1839 phil bis directory ward stocks1839: George W. Ward decides to specialize in manufacturing gentleman’s stocks. Philadelphia had a large garment manufacturing industry and there were a few other stock makers/manufacturers in the area besides Mr. Ward. 116 North 5th Street placed him right in the midst of the bustling shopping district.

1840 phil bis directory ward stocks1840: He’s still there! Merrily manufacturing stocks on N. 5th Street.

1841 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1841: BINGO! Mr. Ward expands his stock manufacturing business to a shop in the Merchant’s Hotel. This is the first year that both addresses are listed in the directory as they appear in the stamp on my stock.

1842 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1842: Putting his stock in stocks!

1843 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1843: Ditto.

1844 phil bis directory ward stocks both addresses1844: Still merrily manufacturing stocks!

1845 phil bis directory ward gents furnishings1845: Mr. George W. Ward is no longer making stocks, but moves shop to #38 (from the engraving above!) and decides to go back to the dry goods he sold before, but this time with a specific, posh clientele in mind. “Furnishing” in this case is not furniture for a room, but men’s clothing and accessories. As a gentleman’s furnisher, he would have still sold stocks, but he likely outsourced production to a different stockmaker.

An advertisement for a Victorian furnishing store. Mr. Ward’s shop would have sold similar items.

George W. Ward was a very active man, constantly evolving and moving his business, even starting a short-lived weekly newspaper called the “Sunday Ledger” around 1850:

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 george w ward newspaper 1848

Mr. Ward certainly liked to stay busy!

From all this, I know that my stock must have been made between about 1840 and 1845. Less Mr. Darcy and more Charles Dickens, but still very exciting!

Charles Dickens by William Powell Frith, circa 1859

1840s Fashion Plate showing three fashionable gentlemen.

Black Silk Stock, circa 1840

Portrait of Michael Faraday by Antoine Claudet

Daguerreotype of the cutest 1840s couple ever!
If you love daguerreotypes or early Victorian fashion, you’ll love this site: Archive of Fine Daguerreotypes

Even though Mr. George W. Ward’s company only made stocks for about 5 years, the stocks they produced were very well designed. Ward Manufacturing’s stocks even earned a commendation for their quality in the Franklin Institute’s 13th Exhibition of American Manufactures in 1843:

Journal of The Franklin Institute 1843 ward stocks

You’ll notice there are a few other quality stock manufacturers in Philadelphia at the same time, so he might have run in to some fierce competition that prompted him to diversify.

I’m no expert on 19th century stocks, yet I can instantly feel how well-made mine is. I mean, it has survived for over 150 years in very good shape! I am so happy to have found it– and at $9.50, it was an excellent bargain!

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Though that stray little basting stitch is slowly driving me batty! :P

The Genteel Fashionista’s Dialogue: A Humorous Timeline of Fashion

In the Classic Style of Historical Fashion Satire and in the Spirit of Congenial Camaraderie, I Present to You the Product of an Overly-Active Brain in the Form of a Fashion Timeline in which there is much Over-Generalization, a Single Expletive, and a Dearth of Illustrations:

THE GENTEEL FASHIONISTA’S DIALOGUE

The Genteel Fashionista Dialog

1770s – Let’s flaunt how wealthy we are with lots of delicate, expensive fabric and wall-like skirts so wide we need special doors, furniture, and houses built just to accommodate them! Pass the hair powder and Pomeranians!

1780s – Thanks to new technological advances and the start of the Industrial Revolution, I am enjoying my emerging merchant-class lifestyle! However, panniers get in the way when I try to navigate city living. High hats and hair, though, I can do. Also, I am strangely beguiled by these cork rumps….

1790s – The peasants are pissed. Maybe big hair, big hats, and big butts weren’t the way to go. Plus, there’s a bunch of cool Greco-Roman stuff in style. Let’s ditch ridged stays and huge skirts for the more refined Empire look…YIKES! A PIKE!

1800s – What a mess that was! Now that the bloodshed is over, I can safely wear white again. These fine, diaphanous fabrics are really expensive and the white makes my spendy imported shawls really pop! I feel on top of the world again!

1810s – Slim sleeves and silhouettes make me look like every other belle at the ball. Some fancy hem trims and puffier sleeves will make me stand out!

1820s – MORE TRIMS! MORE SLEEVES!
Also, maybe some petticoats to help show off ALL THESE HEM TRIMS better.

1830s – F*ck yeah, giant sleeves! Also, I’ve got a pretty hot bod. Those old Regency sacks hide all my hotness, so let’s go back to natural waistlines and open up the neckline for some shoulder action. I am ready for some romancin’!

1840s – Hmmm…maybe I went a little too crazy with the sleeves, low necklines, and bonnets the size of a serving platter. But I like having a waistline again. Let’s see just how much waistline we can get. Longer! I NEED LOOOOONGER!

1850s – Thanks to my corset, my waist is looking better than ever! However, I’m beginning to miss big sleeves. Every belle needs bell sleeves. I could layer them, like those exotic Asian pagoda roofs I saw in a book once. Speaking of roofs, these stacks of petticoats are getting tough to walk in. Maybe I need some rafters…

1856 – HELLO STEEL HOOPED CAGED CRINOLINE, MY NEW BEST FRIEND.

1860s – These hoops are awesome! Now I can display yards and yards of expensive fabric easily again and everyone has to clear the sidewalk to let me through, like Moses parting the sea. Bonus points for getting the sofa all to myself! Let’s see just how big these hoops can go.

1870s – I’ll admit that I might have gone overboard with the hoops, but now that I’ve turned them into a bustle, I can hug people again and the sidewalks of town are cleaner than ever! The sewing machine makes adding trims to my trim’s trim so easy, too!

1875 – The bustle’s poofs and swags are hiding my hot bod again. :(

1878 – This princess line gown shows off my naturally-enhanced-by-a-corset form perfectly. I’ll never hide my glorious bum under a bustle again! What a folly!

1882 – Well, a little padding back there couldn’t hurt…

1885 – HELLO BUSTLES, MY OLD FRIEND.
I’m sorry I ever doubted you!

1890s – Okay, I’ll admit that the bustle thing got out of hand, but I have learned the error of my ways. Let’s go back to the classic combo of tons of petticoats and huge sleeves.

1900s – I have given up big sleeves in favor of something new: tons of lace and s-bend corsets! They say a puffy breast makes my waist look tinier, but in reality, it makes me look like I am careening forward towards social, industrial, and technological progress, just like a new-fangled motorcar draped in an heirloom tablecloth!

1910s – Rushing towards progress is hard to do in full skirts. A slimmer skirt line is in order. Should I go hobble skirt to display my fashion prowess or skirt suit to further the march towards women’s independence? Either way, it will need more decorative buttons.

1920s – Corsets and curves have been incumbent for too long! I vote for President Bob Haircut and Senator Cloche! Drop waists from the ballot and pass the mascara! The world is ready to finally revel in the glory of my knees!

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Here is 160 years worth of fashion plates!
See if you can spot the trends:

1770s fashion plates

1780s fashion plates

1790s fashion plates

1800s fashion plates

1810s fashion plates

1820s fashion plates

1830s fashion plates

1840s fashion plates

1850s fashion plates

1860s fashion plates

1870s fashion plates

1880s fashion plates

1890s fashion plates

1900s fashion plates

1910s fashion plates

1920s fashion plates

Find of the Month: Child’s Blue and Brown Plaid Silk 1860s Dress

January 2015

I began researching children’s clothes a while back because I had a few peole ask me about them. I don’t have children, so I don’t consider myself a good source of info for those kinds of questions. I did, however, start a Pinterest board for 19th Century (and some Edwardian) children’s clothes for those of you who are curious about how children’s clothes compared to those of adults.

Not long after I began my new branch of research, I went to the Azle Antique Mall with Becky to browse while Chris and Billy did repairs on the truck. The Azle Antique Mall has escaped the recent trend of antique shops being filled with boutiques of antique-looking-but-completely-new stuff instead of real antiques. In Azle, there are still bargains and treasures to be found crammed in every aisle!

I don’t shop for clothing at antique shops, but there is one booth that has great vintage accessories as well. I usually ignore the clothing racks, but there is a rack at eye-level filled with smaller pieces like camisoles and tons of baby christening gowns. Mixed into the sea of white linen, a dark little patch of brown caught my eye.

Lo and behold, it was an antique silk child’s dress!

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A quick snap when I got it home. It looks sort of strange on a hanger since this dress is made to be gathered by the belt and worn off-the-shoulder.

It was only $30, which is a good chunk of change for me, but incredibly inexpensive for an adorable antique silk dress, so I had to have it!
It’s in remarkably good condition for its age and is 100% intact! However, the silk is very fragile and splits easily. I’ve decided to pack it away in acid free tissue along with the rest of my antique clothing collection to help preserve it. Before I packed it away, though, I decided to get a few pictures of it.

1860s Child's Dress

Child’s Dress, circa 1855-65
The silk is mildly slubby and has some areas where the weft threads are poorly woven. It is also stained throughout, though whether by a clumsy child or storage I cannot say.

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Side, showing the faux pocket flaps.

The dress is only very lightly stuffed with polyfill and a bit of batting to give you an idea of the shape, so it paunches and poofs rather than hangs as it would on a child. It’s not a professional display by any means, but it does give a better impression of fit than a hanger. I had purchased a tiny vintage mannequin a while ago to display antique jewelry on and I was excited that it might work for this dress, but the form is about a 2T and this dress is much larger. It is meant to fit loosely and the fullness controlled with the belt, bringing the waist measure to about 24.” It would sit off the shoulder which, without a dress form, is hard to show, but here are two pictures of little girls in similar-fitting dress paired with pantalettes:

This dress isn’t necessarily for a little girl. Little boys also wore dresses until they were about 5 or 6 years old. They even wore their hair longer and curled, but there are some clues you can look for in old photographs to tell the gender of a young child. Girl’s hair is generally parted in the middle (as you can see in the photos above) and their dresses are worn with lace-edged pantelettes. Boy’s hair was often parted to the side and their shorter dresses are sometimes paired with loose trousers/breeches, like in this photo:

Young boy 1860s

Young Boy, 1860s

Another hallmark of boy’s clothing is a front button closure rather than a back button closure. Historically, children’s clothing closed in the back. In the 1850s and 1860s, boy’s short dresses often buttoned in front instead. My child’s dress has a very decorative button closure:

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Back of the dress (taken laying flat since the picture of it supported turned out too blurry)

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The glass buttons imitate the popular agate jewelry in fashion at the time. They are 19mm in diameter and have gilt brass settings. This is also a good detail shot of the tiny lace edging.

The glass and gilt buttons on this dress are so fancy I wonder if they actually belong in front, like in this photograph of a young lad:

Young boy, 1860s

The fancy buttons on my dress are purely for show. Underneath them, the functional closure is made of a strip of twill tape sewn with buttonholes, 3 calico buttons, and a brass hook paired with a thread bar:

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The calico buttons appear to be style “124” according to the NBS’s Calico Button chart.

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The dress’s belt is attached at the side seams, and therefore always closes on the side with the buttons. It has one button to close it, but two placed in the center on the opposite side, which leads me to believe that it functioned as a girl’s dress. It’s very possible this dress served double duty for two generations: one male and one female. The construction of the dress is fairly symmetrical front and back, so it could easily be worn either way.
The front and back are each one piece and are jointed at the side only. The skirt is gathered under the pocket flaps at the sides under the sleeves. The dress is flatlined with plain brown polished cotton and is handsewn throughout with backstitching while the velvet ribbon trim is tacked with typical long running stitches:

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Inside back

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The pocket flap seam inside

I’m still learning about this area of costuming, so I’m not an expert. There may be some details I missed, so if you have more information or would like me to add more photos of certain construction details, just let me know!

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Self Fabric Piping on Sleeve

From Cup to Curl: How to Get Fabulous Historical Hair Using Straws

Big Hair was a Big Deal Long Before Dallas and Dolly Parton!

Those of you that browse my rambling frequently are well aware that I am hair illiterate. Indeed, I know next to nothing about taming my crispy, unruly mane. Yet, I am slowly teaching myself a few tricks here and there, and the internet has been a boon for my boring locks.

As a strong adherent to the old cliche that “every curly-haired girl wants straight hair and every straight-haired girl wants curls,” I have dreamed of lovely curls since childhood. When I was very young, my mother had tightly permed 1980s poodle hair (her words, not mine!), and I remember playing with her pink plastic hair pick, pretending I had a perm that needed fluffing, too. I am infinitely envious of those glamorous 1980s superstars like Bernadette Peters and Whitney Houston who had curls so luscious no scrunchie could contain them! A perm is still on my wish list (even though everyone who survived the 80s or who has naturally curly hair tries their best to talk me out of it).

Besides wanting crazy amounts of day-to-day curls, my historical costuming adventures have reenforced just how important curls have been throughout the ages. The 1980s do not hold the monopoly on excessive amounts of curl! Indeed, many eras require spiral curls to achieve the right look:

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An Unknown Nobelwoman painted by the wonderful Jacob Ferdinand Voet modelling a 1670s hairstyle.

This lovely Portrait of a Lady by François Henri Mulard displays the shorter spiral curls popular during the Regency era.

This mid-19th century teenage girl has possibly the most enviable set of sausage curls in the history of mankind! I found her photo (and the one below) while I was researching Victorian haircare and have been obsessed ever since!

This unknown beauty from the 1870s perfectly demonstrates the decade’s fashion for intricately curled and mounded hair.

Other eras benefit from the volume brushed-out curls can give, especially late 18th century and early 20th century hairstyles:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, late 18th century, demonstrating the infamous “hedgehog” hairstyle.

Miss Carlyle and Miss Clarke enjoy tea Gibson Girl style while attempting to balance the hair piled fashionably high on their foreheads.

Many of these looks were achieved through wigs and hair extensions. Buying and selling human hair has been big business for centuries and one of the greatest criticisms of hair fashions was the fact that many styles often meant that the majority of the hair on a woman’s head was not her own, but that of a complete stranger! Much of the hair used to make switches and wigs came from peasant girls in rural areas, so a princess might literally have the hair of a pauper.

Fancy hairstyles and the hair switches required to complete them, circa 1867

 Unless you are lucky enough to be gifted by nature with thick, voluminous locks, hairpieces, rats, rolls, and wigs are all part of a modern historical costumer’s hair arsenal. There are plenty of awesome tutorials with tricks to boost the volume of your natural hair with socks and hair rats or make yourself a completely new hairdo using a wig. Jen of Festive Attyre always has beautiful big Georgian hair thanks to a combination of curling her own hair and adding in a hairpiece:

 I can barely handle my own hair, so rats and hairpieces escape me and wigs are a whole ‘nother beast entirely. I do have a squishy net doughnut that I use to help me make buns, but otherwise, I have very few hair-boosting tools (indeed, I didn’t have a hairdryer until my sister bought me one for my birthday this year). My go-to to get the volume I crave has long been braiding. I used a single braid to get fluffy 1890s “New Woman” hair:

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How to Get No-Fuss Fluff for the New Woman

I have been known to wander around the apartment complex looking like this:

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To get to 1890s/1980s worthy fluff, you must first re-live the 1990s.

If I braid my whole head like this, I am rewarded with glorious poofy hair that looks like it was crimped:

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Enjoying the irony as Mother Nature wearing faux foliage in the middle of a Taco Bell.

However, it’s not curls. I’d attempted pin curls a few times over the years, but I never got them to work satisfactorily, so for Georgian Picnic this year, I decided to try something new. I had been stumbling around Pinterest as one is wont to do at 3am when I started seeing all these pins about straw curlers and the photos made my jaw drop:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAA! SO GORGEOUS!

Most the the tutorials I found were for African American hair and I worried that my pale, limp locks wouldn’t be able to support the curls thanks to their lack of texture, but I decided to try it anyway. Anything for those spirals!

I found this tutorial and when I saw the curls she got at 6:06, I freaked out!
CURLS! SAUSAGE CURLS! JUST LIKE 1860s GIRL’S SAUSAGE CURLS!

 I think I would have fallen out of the chair if there wasn’t a cat in my lap digging her claws into my thigh for dear life. The day before Georgian Picnic, I bought a cheap pack of 100 straws for about $1.50 at Walmart and commenced experimenting. I was aiming for a hairstyle like this:

Portrait of Jane Horley by Rolinda Sharples, circa 1815-20

So I separated the front half of my hair and curled it, leaving the back uncurled (I put it up in a bun). I didn’t use any products in my hair before, during, or after. I did have slightly damp hair when I began.

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My hair in its natural state.

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I bent the straws and held them in place with bobbie pins, murdering quite a few in the process. Long metal hair clips would probably work better. You might even have some and not know it! Check your sewing kit. Fabric clips and hair clips are quite similar.

I will admit that I had a little trouble rolling the hair onto the straws. Most of that just springs from my inability to roll hair (hence why curlers, pin curls, and any other type of curl had thus far been unattainable). I rolled my hair over itself instead of all along the straw like in the video. This worked for my purposes in the end, however, because Regency curls are short anyway.

I slept on my straw-filled hair, but as I would later find out, the straws work their magic in only a few hours. When I took out all the straws, this is what I ended up with:

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My hair is much longer in front than a Regency woman’s would have been, so my curls hang lower than most portraits show.

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After phutzing with the ringlets a bit.

This is the hair I attended Georgian Picnic with. Since it was my first attempt, it was a bit messy, but it did suit the romantic aura of the era pretty well.

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

When I got home, I separated the ringlets with my fingers just to see what they looked like looser and I was rewarded with light, fluffy, fairly natural-looking curls:

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I lost about 1/2 of my hair’s length to the curls, mostly due to the way I wrapped them around the straws. If you wrap the hair more evenly over the straws, you won’t lose as much length.

The curls had good volume and made a nice Gibson Girl pouf pretty easy. I wish I’d taken a photo! Since I’d gone this far, might as well go the extra mile and brush everything out!

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Helloooooooooo giant hair of my dreams!

I’m only a few hairpins, some hair powder, and one fabulous hat away from this:

Portrait of Catherine Clemens by George Romney, circa 1788

I am so excited to have finally found a curling method that works for my hair! The curls held well until I had to wash my hair the next day, so they are perfect for long events. They survived wind, rain, and my hat in great condition. I tried them a second time for my dress photoshoot and only left the straws in my hair for about two hours. The final curls were a bit looser, but still held up to outdoor photography. Plus, I’d gotten a bit better at winding the hair around the straws, so the results were much smoother:

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I also did fewer curls to save time and ended up liking the look much better.

So  my straw curler experiment was a complete success! There are skinny wired-foam curlers that work similarly, but I never got them to work as well as these good ol’ Wally World drinking straws– a cheap and effective solution!

Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors valued its ability to hide skin just as much as it reveals the shape of the leg. Stockings in the historical sense are more akin to what we consider modern dress socks, and they aren’t just for ladies. Even while men were busy showing off sexy gams in tight-fitting stockings it was unseemly to show leg skin, so stockings were a necessary part of everybody’s wardrobe. Historical stockings ranged from thin silk to heavy wool, midcalf to thigh high, and plain white to wildly patterned. They’re a great way to add extra personality to any historical outfit!

The most basic of historical stockings is plain white. They were worn by men and women alike and generally reached the knee or just above it. A good pair of modern knee-high trouser socks will work nicely for almost any era from 1600-1900. I wear a pair of finely knit knee-highs I found at Dollar Tree and I love them!

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Dressed for the 1960s…

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..and 100 years “earlier” with my 1850s slippers!

To fit larger feet and calves, like Christopher’s, I purchased some “thigh high” knit tube socks. Since his legs are so massive, the stockings only reach his knees, but they still work.

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I don’t remember his calf measurement, but his thighs are 27 inches around (same size as my waist in a corset!) and those are size 15 EEEE feet, if that’s any indication. In contrast, these stockings fit my scrawny legs at thigh level, as you can see in my garter tutorial. Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of spandex, so they used garters to hold their stockings in place. If you use modern stockings, you don’t need to worry as much about “losing your legs,” but some tall stockings still work best with garters, plus they look so pretty!

Historical stockings also came in many solid, natural colors. My go-to historical stockings are O-Basics from Sock Dreams. They come in a variety of nice colors and are great for keeping warm in winter:

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BAM! My beloved O-Basics in Rust.

Colored stockings were fairly common, especially reds and blues. The color of your stockings can be an important clue to your historical persona. For example, the Blue Stockings Society was an 18th century organization that promoted women’s education and intellectual hobbies. While Bluestockings did not necessarily wear blue stockings, the name indicated the informality and progressiveness of the club. Proper, fashionable, rich folks at the time often wore black or other expensively-colored silk stockings. Worsted wool stockings, in this case blue stockings, were considered to be informal and unfashionable. The term “bluestocking” indicated that a woman (or man) was more concerned with personal intellectual pursuits than the whims of fashion, but it was also used pejoratively around the turn of the 19th century to mean an ugly, frumpy woman (much like the word “feminist” is twisted today, sadly. It’s amazing how little things have changed in 200 years).

  If you’re looking for stockings with character, there are plenty of stunning stocking options to consider! This isn’t a complete list of hosiery types by any means, just  some of my favorite styles of fancy historical stockings and a few modern options that closely match.

Open Work Stockings – 19th Century

For an extra pretty pair of stockings, consider the texture as well as color. Victorian stockings are often knitted with lacy openwork designs that stretched open, revealing tiny peeks at the flesh beneath. A tad scandalous? Maybe to the ultra-conservative, but during this era of long skirts and ladies’ boots, openwork stockings offered some cool relief during warmer months.

Kitted Cotton Stocking with Double Zigzag Pattern, circa 1830

These stockings in the MFA Boston collections are very similar to this pair, dated nearly 50 years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Linen Stockings with Triple Zigzag Pattern, circa 1875-1900 (“last quarter the 19th century”)

While it’s possible that one or the other is mis-dated, the similarity is indicative of the popularity of this style throughout the era. This homemade pair of knitted socks from the middle of the century has a similar openwork style, but this time horizontally;

Cotton Stockings with Scallop Pattern, circa 1860-69
Mid-19th century stocking are often shorter than stockings found earlier and later in the century. These hit mid-calf rather than over the knee. Others hit right below the knee.

There are TONS of modern stockings that feature openwork knit patterns in every color of the rainbow! The most common colors during the mid-Victorian era were black and white. But don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. There were some pretty wild stockings out there! Colors like plum, navy, and mustard are the perfect accompaniment for a ballgown in the 1850s or a walking dress from the color-crazy 1890s . Dainty, repeating open work patterns that are more geometric and abstract rather than floral are perfect for just about any costume from 1825 to 1900!

Super Stripes! – 1850s to 1890s

The 1890s were the heyday of wild stockings!  Bold colors and bolder designs were in vogue, especially the iconic striped stockings we know and love.

Cotton Stockings, circa 1890-99

Silk Stockings, circa 1880-99
The 1970s…is that you?!

The fashion wasn’t just for can-can dancers and other “ladies of the night” (who are, in fact, depicted wearing plain black stockings more often than patterned ones). Fancy stockings went well with fancy opera boots, reflecting the indulgent, candid attitude of the era– the more fancy you could squeeze onto your person, the better!

Another era that might surprise you with its hosiery is the 1850s:

Cotton Stockings, circa 1850-70

While considered a somewhat dowdy era, the 1850s saw a whole plethora of underwear trends emerge. Indeed, you almost call it the Era of Underthings! Lots of revolutionary supporting garments emerged during the era, including the pin and loop busk which allowed women to easily put on and tighten their own corsets (and marked the beginning of modern corsetry) and the iconic hoop skirt. Alongside these fashion innovations were some entertaining undergarment trends, bright red petticoats and cheerfully colored socks among them! Children’s socks were commonly patterned, showing candy stripes from under adorable little dresses throughout the Victorian era:

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Tintype of Two Children, circa 1880
Source: eBay

Modern horizontally striped stocking are easy to find anywhere, especially around Halloween. Many stores like Walmart carry them, though often they are toe socks. Athletic tube socks with a banded top are also a good option, plus they come in a wide variety of colors and heights, are easy to launder, and look ridiculously cute with a Victorian bathing or cycling outfit!

Back and White Over the Knee Striped Athletic Socks from Sock Broker

Stockings with Contrasting Clocks – 1600 to 1820

One of the most iconic historical style of stocking is the clocked stocking. Clocked stockings have decorative bands and flourishes ascending from the heel or decorating the ankle. Earlier clocked stockings have a contrasting wedge shape that begins at the ankle and goes up the outside of the leg, sometimes nearly to the top of the stocking. Clocked stockings of this sort were in style for over 200 years until about 1820:

Silk, Silver Gilt, and Cotton Stockings, circa 1610

Spanish Embroidered Silk Stockings, circa 1750-70

Italian Silk Clocked Stockings, circa 1780-1825

If you are looking for a classic, upper-class 18th century or Regency stocking, American Duchess offers fine modern reproductions of classic contrast clocked stockings:

A.D. Clocked Stockings in White and Black

Victorian Floral Stockings, circa 1830-1900

From the wedge-shaped clocked design came the flourish of the Victorian years. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle. Contrary to popular myth, ankles weren’t strictly taboo during the Victorian era, so long as they were covered with stockings. In fact, dancing and walking frequently provided glimpses of a lady’s ankles, especially when ladies wore slippers.

Cotton Stockings with Embroidered Embellishment, circa 1860
These stockings are dated to the 1860s, but are more 1870s in style.

Finding modern socks with the design localized like this at the ankle is a bit tough, but once again, American Duchess swoops to the rescue:

A.D. Edwardian Silk Stockings
Though dated as Edwardian, these stocking will work well for late 19th century, too. American Duchess also has other styles with flourishes at the ankle.

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These fancy Floral Chain over the knee socks are a new from Sock Dreams! I love all the rich color choices, but this pretty beige is my fave.

If you feeling super crafty, you can make your own pair of embellished Victorian stockings! For example, the Dreamstress made a pair of silk stockings then used a bit of applique to accent her ankles:

Click here for her blog post.

For all the pretty without having to sew your own stockings, you could applique, embroider, or paint your chosen design onto a pair of pre-made stockings of your choice. However, if you’re feeling REALLY sassy, you can use one of the many stocking knitting patterns available online. The Antique Pattern Library, for example, has numerous Victorian instruction booklets that detail how to knit your own pair of stockings, including several editions of the Nonotuck Silk Company’s “How to Use Florence Knitting Silk” booklets from the 1880s.

Early Patterned Stockings – 17th Century

While most portraits from the 17th century show people wearing solid-colored stocking (usually in white, black, or shades of red), there are surviving examples of livelier stockings, like these:

Knitted Silk and Silver Gilt Stockings, circa 1600-1670

Child’s Silk and Gilt Stockings, 17th century

These pretties are usually child sized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little inspiration from them! Combine the knitted design with the embroidered motif from these luxurious adult-sized stockings of the same era, and you get these gorgeous stockings:

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S.D. Dreamer Jacquard Flowing Vine Stockings in Dijon and Navy

Can you imagine how fabulous these stockings would look with some American Duchess Stratfords or Virginias?!