Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Town dress with chemisette owned by Empress Josephine, First Empire
“This high-waisted dress with its square, low-cut neckline and decorated with white embroidered flowers and leaves is typical of the fashion at the start of the First Empire. To conceal the low neckline, it could be worn with a chemisette which was slipped inside the dress. This one is in white muslin, embroidered with a sprinkling of flowers and embellished with a ruché trim. This outfit comes from the family of Madame Poyard who looked after the Empress’s wardrobe after 1809.”
Miss Eliza O’Neill as Belvidera in Thomas Otway’s ‘Venice Preserved’ by Arthur William Devis, 1816-22, Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich Plume Hat by Joseph Clover, date not given (ca late 1810’s?), Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Portraits by Jacob Maentel and an unknown American artist, ca 1810-25, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
I’m actually kind of baffled by the rooster in the boy’s portrait.
Robe, ca 1797 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Cashmere shawls were prized imports from India during the late 18th century. British manufacturers soon began making shawls in similar styles. Not only were they worn with the newly fashionable Neo-classical gowns, the shawls were also made into gowns. In this example of the late 1790s, the shawl was cut in half and then sewn together to form the front and back of the gown. Sleeves of cream satin and a collar and over-sleeves of green silk fabric were then added. The waistline is very high, sitting just below the bust line.
Mourning evening dress, 1823-25 Scotland, the Victoria & Albert Museum
This black velvet evening dress was worn Jane Johnstone (1803-1847), niece of William Jardine founder of Hong Kong merchants Jardine, Matheson & Co.
The wide neckline and short sleeves of the dress are typical of fashionable evening wear of the mid 1820s. Although it retains remnants of the high-waisted, neo-classical shape popular at the beginning of the century, its construction shows the move towards the lower waists and fuller skirts of the 1850s. The use of velvet demonstrates the trend for more sumptuous fabrics after the dominance of cotton and muslin in the previous two decades.
The death of Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV, in childbirth in 1817 plunged the whole country into mourning and set the high standards for mourning dress of this period. Fabrics such as silk and velvet were too shiny to be worn for the first stages of mourning, however, official mourning guidelines issued by the Lord Chamberlain decreed that black velvets and silks were permissible in the third and final stage. This dress would have been worn with an evening turban, long gloves and a pelisse cloak, often lined with chinchilla fur. It is likely that it was a gift from William Jardine and was worn when mourning the death of Jane Johnstone’s grandmother, Elizabeth Johnstone who died in 1825.
Robe, 1795-1800 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
The cotton weaving and printing industries in Britain expanded greatly during the period 1775-1800. Cotton was a very popular fabric for clothing, from sheer muslins to heavy corduroys. It was part of the wardrobe of all classes. This printed cotton gown of the late 1790s could have been the Sunday best of a working-class woman or the informal morning gown of a wealthy lady. The very high waist and long sleeves are the typical fashion of this period.
Walking dress, 1817-20 UK, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Echoes of military uniform give this walking dress a masculine flourish. The curving satin bands applied to the front of the spencer are reminiscent of the parallel lines of braiding which extended across the breast of many uniforms. Passementerie in the form of crescent-shaped moulds, looped cord and balls covered in floss silk replace the gilt or silver buttons on some regimental coats. The tassels on the collar ends and cuff bands evoke the tassels adorning boots, hats, sashes and cap lines of military accessories. In place of epaulettes, puffed oversleeves composed of linked bows emphasize the shoulder line.
The infusion of military styles into fashionable dress in Britain was largely due to the influence of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). Among other factors, contact with foreign troops had a strong impact on civilian as well as regimental dress, and military ornament was translated into stylish trimmings on women’s hats, bodices, spencers and pelisses. The uniforms worn during this period were some of the most elaborate in the history of military dress, and their bright colours, frogging, braid and tassels fuelled the imagination of fashion for years to come.
Although this walking outfit is not based on any particular uniform, some garments closely followed certain styles. The uniform of the hussars, who were light cavalry, was particularly flamboyant as it was derived from Hungarian national dress. In her memoirs, Elizabeth Grant describes the admiration she received when she ‘walked out like a hussar in a dark cloth pelisse trimmed with fur and braided like the coat of a staff-officer, boots to match, and a fur cap set on one side, and kept on the head by means of a cord with long tassels’.