Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fashion Goes Wild: Fancy Dress in the 1830s

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Los Angeles Public Library
Loretta reports:

Now that Isabella/Susan and I are pinning pins on Pinterest (as TwoNerdyHistoryGirls*** as well as individually), we are encountering some amazing images.

When she first sent me this, we were both scratching our heads, trying to decide what was going on. (Our French is less than exquisite, and it doesn’t help that spelling could be haphazard at the time.) Obviously it wasn’t a caricature. Clearly it wasn’t normal dress. No woman would show her lower limbs in public in 1832.* 

Eventually, we translated.  Fancy dress!  Of course! Masquerades allowed ladies to express their wild side.

Frankly—though I’m not sure what, if anything, it’s supposed to represent—I love this costume:  the jaunty angle of her hat, the plaid, the scarf, her belt . . . her expression. We were especially entranced by the bloomers and what seem to be argyle stockings.  Or were the bloomers & stockings meant to imitate the trews that our friends at Irish Historical Textiles recently showed?

So far, I haven’t turned up a contemporary fashion description, so if there’s more to this than meets the eye, I hope that our historical dress experts will offer enlightenment. 

On the other hand, it could be just for fun.

Examples of pre-Victorian fancy dress are not thick on the ground.  I think the only one I've posted was this 1829 ensemble, with its daring harem pants—daring because they’re trousers—on a woman!—not because she’s showing parts that should otherwise be covered.

Want more examples of how daring 1830s fancy dress could get?  Look here and here.

Illustration © Los Angeles Public Library—from its marvelous collection of fashion prints.

*Note: The same print on Tumblr lists it for 1831. This might be the correct date.  Certain English magazines reprinted directly from French ones; this might have been a December 1831 print in La Mode, which reappeared in February 1832 in The Lady's Magazine, for instance.


Anonymous said...

In 1830s France was there was social movement founded by the Comte of Saint-Simon that included the ideals of equality for women and free love ... not just for men but for women too!

Can't remember the name of the book I came across the movement, anyways, in it is what looks like a fashion plate of a Saint-Simonienne and she's wearing a knee length dress and long pantalettes. I've still to get to the State Library do some research on it as there was a dress code with colours representing ideals, so I'm hoping to find out if they did wear this style of clothing or if it was drawna as a mockery

textilehistorIE said...

Ha, love it! Thank you for the shout out ladies!

Although the plaid makes for an interesting comparison, the Irish trews were known for being pretty skin tight all the way up to the 'underwear' area, where they were baggier (but not as baggy as those bloomers!). That's one reason they were pounced on as immodest. I think it's probably unlikely that this French lady was dressing up as an Irish man (though she's headed in the right direction with the pattern, and the 'all in one' look of the pants). That said, maybe she *was* dressing up as one, and just using what she had to hand!

Very intriguing picture altogether!

textilehistorIE said...

Me Again! You're right that the timing is intriguing though - that the trews were discovered and in the news in the same decade as this lady possibly pounced on it as dress up fodder. Intriguinger and intriguinger! ;)

Gemma said...

Here's two more fancy dress costumes from the 1830s. I remembered this blog post (because I looked up the descriptions of the costumes).

Gemma said...

I struggled to read the font, but the word at the bottom of the print "Travestissement" means "cross dressing" or "transvestism". The illustion on Tumblr has it as "Travestissement Noveau" (new cross-dressing).

I tried to find this print in a British periodical but didn't manage it. It doesn't look like the plates in the Belle Assemblee. I think "La Mode" (fashion) may be the name of the French periodical it was published in. If so, it's a pretty poor name for googling!

LorettaChase said...

Textile HistorIE, thanks for clarifying about the trews. Gemma, according to my French dictionary, "travestissement" means "travesty,disguise". "Travesti(e)" means, as well as "transvestite," fancy costume or disguise. This is why I feel it's safe to say this is a masquerade or fancy dress costume. If you click on the link to the LA Public Library, you'll find this and many other illustrations from La Mode. This is definitely not in the style of La Belle Assemblée, which most usually showed English fashions, predominantly from the shop of Mrs. Bell. The Lady's Magazine and others did print French fashion plates—I've used it to contrast with English fashions for my books.

Anonymous said...

Is it perhaps intended as a satire on the popularity on the Continent at the time of all things Scottish (or 'Northern')?

Anonymous said...
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