While late Victorian fashion is definitely unfamiliar territory for me, I’m drawn to its silhouette and complex construction—as in this 1880 dress. Part of the Strawbery Banke Museum exhibition, Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012,* it appears in a house interpreted for the time period. I wasn’t able to get a profile photograph, but it's safe to assume a bustle was in use.
A farmer’s daughter married in June 1880 to the Assistant Post Master of Portsmouth wore this on the day after the wedding. “Her complicated ensemble is made from silk, including a removable gathered train.”
The 1880 day ensembles in my 80 Godey’s full-Color Fashion Plates 1828-1880 show a tightly encased upper body and hips. Jackets fasten snugly from hips up to neck, and the neckline is high, with either a mandarin style collar like this one or ruffles above a fold-over collar.
While trying to learn about this fashion development, I came upon an interesting comment regarding the tiny waists of the 19th century. The author of Victorian and Edwardian Fashion quotes Doris Langley Moore’s The Woman in Fashion: “‘A distinction should be made between actual and corset measurements, because stays, as ordinarily worn, do not meet at the back. Young girls, especially, derive intense satisfaction from proclaiming the diminutive size of their corset. Many purchase 18 and 19 inch stays, who must leave them open 2, 3, and 4 inches.’” Moore is quoted again in Valerie Steele’s** more recent The Corset: A Cultural History, which adds: “‘Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen inch waists are glibly chattered about, as though they were common enough . . . [yet] we question whether it is a physical possibility for women to reduce their natural waist measure below seventeen or eighteen inches.’” Ms. Steele notes that a Guiness Book of Records winner proved it’s physically possible—but it’s not necessarily common, except among fetishists. Since I can’t do justice to the topic in a short post, interested Nerdy History Persons might want to peruse Chapter 4 of Ms. Steele’s book.
*Previous posts are here, here, and here.
**Late-breaking news: Ms Steele will be speaking at the Designers and Books Fair at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC on 27 October.