In my last post we went through the glory years of Regency fashion (and the first years of the Darcys’ marriage!). But while the dresses of the later half of the 1810s were quite lovely, they signaled a transition into fashion that was going to go to extremes, first with sleeves and then with skirts.
This dress from the fashion museum at Bath shows the transition still underway. It features lots of trim, puffier sleeves, and a lower waistline with ruching at the bosom. The ruched area tapers towards the waist, a trend that will evolve to eventually form a point, for the next few decades will be all about accentuating the waist in various ways.
At the beginning of the decade, undergarments were still very similar to what had been worn in the previous two decades. As this 1824-25 portrait below shows very clearly, it was still the fashion to separate the breasts, and stays were still constructed in order to do that.
Petticoats and pantalettes continued to provide additional layers below the outer dress, although as you can see we’re moving away from those more transparent fabrics so they become less necessary for that purpose.
As the decade continued, the petticoat took on a new purpose: to help provide shape for the dress. As the example below shows, sleeves on the petticoat helped provide volume for the increasingly puffier sleeves of the outer dress.
Aside from the other trends I’ve noted, you may have noticed some geometric patterns in the trim of some of the later gowns I’ve shown, and this continued to extremes. These zigzag designs were called “vandykes,” a misspelling of the Dutch portrait painter whose subjects sometimes wore similarly geometric lace collars. The gown below shows an extreme example of this.
The dress below shows a bit of vandyke trim, as well as the increasing sleeve size and extreme emphasis on a narrow waist that was coming in by the end of the decade.
Sleeves would go to even greater extremes, though, for this was the era of leg of mutton sleeves.
To support these sleeves, the petticoat was not enough, and so ladies wore “sleeve plumpers” as part of their undergarments.
As these examples show, stays continued to separate the breasts into the 1830s. As waistlines moved down, however, short stays were no longer an option. Long stays helped maintain a smooth line and a slim waist, and they’re going to get even more uncomfortable shortly.
I’ll leave you with one last dress, of Queen Victoria’s. It shows a couple of things: first, that although we might think of her as a thick-waisted old widow dressed in black, she was actually quite tiny before she had all of those children; and second, tartan plaid was popularised by her as a pattern (now far enough away from the Jacobite rebellion, Victoria and others like Sir Walter Scott led a more romantic view of Scotland). As this and previous dresses have shown, materials have changed from the lightweight muslin and lace net to always be quite solid. Cotton is still used but wool and silk appear in greater proportion, and the latter comes into daytime use more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s installment of my little fashion series. Brace yourselves, for next month we’ll be hitting maximum discomfort: corsets and crinolines.