Looking Ahead: 1870 Imagines the Fashions of the Future

I’ve not done much this past year, or at least it feels that way. I am looking forward to the New Year, making plans and imagining where life will take me.

I was going through old digitized Harper Bazaar magazines from 1870 when I found this gem in the March 19th issue:

harpers-1870s-does-1890

Text:
A LOOK AHEAD
Scene – A Costumer’s   Time – 1890
LADY. “I want a Costume for a Private Fancy Dress Party I am to attend. Something Absurd or Ridiculous.”
COSTUMER. “How do you like That One?”
LADY. “That will do. But is it possible that People ever made such Frights of Themselves!”

There’s nothing like poking fun at the now through the eyes of tomorrow! For the curious, here’s two decadent, fluffy, fashionable dresses and hairstyles…published by the very same magazine only a few days before and after the cartoon lampooning them:

harpers-bazaar-1870

Ball Gown, March 12th, 1870

april-2-1870-harpers-bazaar-house-dress

House Dress, April 2nd, 1870

Oh, the delicious, delicious irony! We still do it today (just look for “Trends we need to ditch in 2017” videos on YouTube posted by beauty gurus who were touting the same things only a few weeks ago to see what I mean). What’s really wonderful about this cartoon, though, isn’t the Punch-style biting commentary or even hypocrisy of it, but how close they got the fashion forecast! They were just a little early in their predictions, though. Here’s a dress from Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar in 1890:

harpers-1890-2

Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890harpers-october-1890

Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890

There’s a hint of a similarity, but these don’t really look much like the cartoon’s facetious forecast, does it?

But skip forward a bit into the 20th century and…

1903-harpers harpers-1903 harpers-1904Select plates from 1903 issues of Harper’s Bazar

Just to refresh our memory:

harpers-1870s-does-1890

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Tightly fitted, flared-bottom skirts?
Check!

Fashion Plate, 1902

How about some more exciting hemlines?
As you wish…

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1901

But those big, puffy cuffs? Surely nobody would…
Like meringues for your wrists!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Paired with cape-like Sailor collars?!
Mmmmmhmmmmm! Classic.

Fashion Plate 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Cute little empire waist jackets with asymmetrical detailing?
You know I could never deny you!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Mounds of hair topped with hats?
Oh, honey, that hat is FAR too tiny, but if you insist….

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1905

But what about the raised waist, short skirt, fluffy hemline, and cute little hats?
Well, I suppose you could wait another decade…

Fashion Plate, 1915

…of course, you’ll sacrifice the fantastic pastry puff sleeves, but, hey, we can’t all be as fabulous as an Edwardian lady fancy dress shopping for vintage 1870s clothes in 1890!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!

Find amazing FREE digitized copies of 19th and early 20th century Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar magazines here: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000641436/Home

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

Mary Darby Robinson: The Regency Fashion Police!

This is, I admit, a slight “fluff” post, but I had to share this fabulous poem about early Regency fashion as seen through the eyes of a woman alive at the time: Mary Darby Robinson. Mary’s quite a fascinating character herself with pretty impressive resume. From acting to writing to distracting royalty, she was never idle (nor without opinion)! Her humorous poem passes judgement on the latest fashions as ugly and immodest, but she herself was well known for her own scandalous fashion choices. Oh, how old age mellows you and “those darn kids” keep doing crazy things that, of course, you NEVER did when you were young!

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1799

Fashion Plate for April, 1799

Female Fashions for 1799
by Mary Darby Robinson

A FORM, as any taper, fine;
A head like half-pint bason ;
Where golden cords, and bands entwine,
As rich as fleece of JASON.

A pair of shoulders strong and wide,
Like country clown enlisting ;
Bare arms long dangling by the side,
And shoes of ragged listing !

Cravats like towels, thick and broad,
Long tippets made of bear-skin,
Muffs that a RUSSIAN might applaud,
And rouge to spoil a fair skin.

Long petticoats to hide the feet,
Silk hose with clocks of scarlet ;
A load of perfume, sick’ning sweet,
Bought of PARISIAN VARLET.

A bush of hair, the brow to shade,
Sometimes the eyes to cover ;
A necklace that might be display’d
By OTAHEITEAN lover !

A bowl of straw to deck the head,
Like porringer unmeaning ;
A bunch of POPPIES flaming red,
With motly ribands streaming.

Bare ears on either side the head,
Like wood-wild savage SATYR ;
Tinted with deep vermilion red,
To shame the blush of nature.

Red elbows, gauzy gloves, that add
An icy cov’ring merely ;
A wadded coat, the shape to pad,
Like Dutch-women — or nearly.

Such is CAPRICE ! but, lovely kind !
Oh ! let each mental feature
Proclaim the labour of the mind,
And leave your charms to NATURE.

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In her poem, Mary is obviously a bit bitter, but she certainly had good reason to be. Abandoned by her former lovers, left partially paralyzed, and impoverished on her old age, Mary turned to writing as an escape. Her poem, while not very kind to the current fashion, ultimately laments the fact that women are expected to value their looks and “trendiness” more than their intellect–an issue we continue to struggle with over 200 years later.

It struck a cord with me, reminding me of all the horrible personal abuses many women go through each day, but unlike Mary, I don’t agree that it’s right to be so harsh on someone for the way they dress just because I think it’s ugly. Women get enough of that from the people who judge us only for our physical attractiveness. Why should those trying to help women be recognized as intellectual beings add to that abuse? Even as costumers, we are not immune. We can be judged by outsiders for our old fashioned style, choosing to “mutilate” ourselves with corsets, or just our general weirdness. Women get bullied all the time at conventions and events by people who think a superhero costume is an excuse for sexual harassment or who think only skinny girls can cosplay skinny characters. Even our fellow costumers can be a source of unnecessarily harsh judgements about our choice of costume– too sexy, too historically inaccurate, too cliche. We are not just our clothes, even if the costume is taking center stage. There is still a person inside!

Unflattering Fashion Plates

A Brief History of Political and Satirical Fashion Cartoons

1760-1820

Fashion prints are a staple for costumers. They’re the Vogue magazines of the past– maybe a bit high-brow and out of reach for most people, but definitely beautiful examples of how trends developed and morphed. Though they don’t necessarily portray the everyday fashions being worn at the time, fashion plates are invaluable. I love collecting them, and just like fashion-conscious ladies before me, I dream of owning all those fabulous gowns and accessories!

Usually when I think of fashion plates, I think about something like the plate above: an illustration from a Victorian women’s magazine. Though the fashion plate reached it’s heyday in the 19th century, they are much older than that! Fashion plates traditionally depict fashion extremes or popular delights among the wealthy– both focuses of heavy scrutiny during the revolutionary 18th century– and the plates developed into a political tool of sorts.

This is a Rose Bertin fashion plate. Rose Bertin, “The Minister of Fashion” brokered Marie Antoinette’s fashions to the rest of France and Europe. She had the queen’s ear on all matters of fashion and collaborated with the extravagant monarch to create some of the late 18th century’s most iconic fashions. By using fashion plates, Rose Bertin accomplished two things: She made sure Marie Antoinette stayed the queen of fashion and Rose made sure that her fashion prowess remained indispensable. You can read more about Madame Bertin by clicking on the picture which is linked to a wonderful article by Ingrid Mira.

The fashion plates of the 18th century are often rooted in satire and social commentary as much as they are rooted in style.  Some fashion plates began their lives as a means to broadcast new fashions, but their excessive, sometimes ridiculous, and often radical depictions of upper-class life opened them to the scorn of political cartoonists and disgruntled masses. Considering how grand rococo fashion became by the middle of the century, many fashion plates gained political scorn with no cartoonist or scathingly twisted illustration necessary. No doubt you remember this infamous plate, which is one of the most widely recognized images from the 1700s:

I think it’s gorgeous, but then again, I am not a starving peasant forced to fight my way through life wondering when my next meal would be while the aristocracy floated around in rafts of silk satin and lace. Wigs bore a huge chunk of the ridicule and were the favorite subject of fashion satirists in England, France, and America.

It’s rather ironic that after the French revolution, the satire turned from condemning 18th century fashion as frivolous and unbelievably vain to considering them frumpy and overwrought while the Neoclassical Regency fashions took a beating for being far too see-through and revealing, especially for those blustery, cold European winters!

It’s quite entertaining when you realize that “kids these days” aren’t dressing any more ridiculously than before, they just have a different kind of rediculous. It’s all about culture and perception. What is popular one year is passe ten years later. Think of your old 1970s pointed collars, 1980s bangs, or your 1990s prom outfit. Would you wear them again anywhere except to a costume party?

We’re making fashion history right now, so who knows how we’ll be viewed 50 or 100 years down the road. We love to make fun of avant garde people like Lady Gaga, but wasn’t Marie Antoinette made fun of in her time? Guess who has a whole fan-base 250 years later wearing panniers, bows and her much-ridiculed wigs!

Fashion is the Eternal Masquerade