Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fashions for May 1842

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
1842 Fashions
Loretta reports:

Let me just say at the outset that finding good images for the 1840s is a bear. While I’ve located a number of magazines online, color plates are not abundant, and the scan quality of many is less than ideal. And I do wish the women didn’t wear such simpering expressions.

The poor quality may be the fault of the paper used in the magazines. There was a shift from rag paper to paper paper at some point in the Victorian era, and rag doesn’t deteriorate as easily as paper. As to the simpering expressions, I can come up with a couple of explanations: (1) the artists weren’t good with faces or (2) this is the way the ideal woman was supposed to look: sweet and not too intelligent.

In any case, I think this plate will explain why I refer to the early-to-mid Victorian look as droopy. Remember those wild and crazy hairdos of the 1820s and 1830s? Gone.

Hair is now  slicked down on top, with the curls and braids and other artistic inventions relegated to the back of the neck. But that’s a sexy place, especially when the lady is wearing evening dress, with shoulders bared and bosom exposed in a way that seems not at all prudishly Victorian.
1842 Fashion Description

In any case, I think these dresses are very pretty. Notice that while the skirts are full, they haven’t yet yet attained the room-filling, knocking-over-tables-and-small-children width of the 1860s.

Images from The Magazine of the Beau Monde for May 1842

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Claire Hadleigh said...

Loretta -- Love these illustrations and your commentary about 'simpering expressions' and the 1860s 'knocking over tables and small children!' I have a German portfolio from Clothilde, published in the early 1900s. If I interpret the title correctly, it's "100 Years of Fashion," with each 9x12 plate dedicated to one year. I'll try to scan 1842 and post online, as well as other years. I also enjoyed your workshop at NECRWA this past weekend -- I was the librarian with the cool silver necklace! Thanks again for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I think the controlled hair and simpering expressions have everything to do with Victoria's recent accession to the throne, and her determination to make herself seem accessible, wholesome, even ordinary--far from the excesses of the later Georges. As for the rest--these are the very image of the sort of woman who made Charlotte Bronte's teeth itch--I see Blanche Ingram everywhere here.

witness2fashion said...

The Casey Collection of fashion plates at the Los Angeles Public Library is online and searchable. Just type a year -- e.g., 1842 -- in the search box, and you'll see over 6000 plates from many sources -- enlarge them, and enjoy them at

witness2fashion said...

Addendum: To clarify, there are over 6000 fashion plates online from the Casey collection -- not 6000 from 1842! (about 140 from 1842, though.)

LorettaChase said...

Susan G., I love the Casey Collection. Many of the plates are sharper images than what's online in magazines. The trouble is, this is one of those horrible cases of somebody cutting fashion plates out of magazines, so there are no descriptions of the fashions. I have had to hunt for the descriptions online, often in other magazines than what Casey lists--luckily for us, the magazines stole from one another all the time. Unless you know a secret way at LAPL to find the matching descriptions? I admit I'm not the world's best online searcher, so I might have overlooked something there. But you have jogged a brilliant idea: I can look for plates at CC, and then hunt for copies in magazines online, e.g, with a black & white image I might otherwise overlook. Thank you!

Marion said...

I have also found that the Rijksmuseum have a nice collection of fashion plates from all eras, including the 1840s.
Be sure when you search to refine the search to "images only" so you only have to sort through the ones that are actually online.

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