Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fashion vs Fashion Plates—the Wild & Crazy 1830s

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Hayter, "The Music Lesson" 1830
Loretta reports:

I know that many of the fashion plates I put up each month make readers wonder what women were thinking. In this regard, the 1830s plates seem to take the cake. Fashions in the first half of the decade were extravagant and exuberant. Gigantic sleeves ruled. Hair reached heights it hadn’t seen since the 18th century, and the styles were like mad sculptures. I love them, but then again, I have a better idea of how they really looked. Even the dresses we see in museums rarely capture the true look of these fashions: Sometimes they’re missing the sleeve puffs or corset, or the color’s faded, or they lack accessories—or a head, for that matter. If you can’t see the hair arrangement, you get only a partial sense of the look.

A good way to get a sense of these fashions is through portrait paintings. Susan has sent me a number of images that show the vast difference between fashion plates and paintings. “The Music Lesson,” by Sir George Hayter, is a fine example. The famous portrait artist, working in oil, had the tools, talent, and financial backing illustrators did not. He could give his paintings depth and texture. He could show the transparency of lace. He could create the illusion of life and three dimensions, in other words. He could bring to painterly life what magazine Illustrators could only hint at it. 
von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna
March 1831 Fashions

While some of the latter were extremely talented, and created quite beautiful plates (more beautiful than many of the abysmal scans we see online lead us to believe), they were not famous artists commissioned by wealthy families to spend as much time as it took to make a splendid painting. It’s all the more impressive, given the limitations, how well these illustrators managed to convey the designers’ ideas.

I do urge you to click on the painting links to get close and personal. You still mayn't love the fashions, and the hair might be an acquired taste—but at least you'll have a truer image.

Sir George Hayter, Portrait of the Hon. Charlotte Stuart (1817-1861) and the Hon. Louisa Stuart (1818-1891) aka "The Music Lesson." (original in Government Art Collection, British Embassy, Paris). Friedrich von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna 1832. Both images via Wikipedia.

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.


Cynthia Lambert said...

I do love the 1830s. The styles were so romantic, feminine, and flattering. The sculptural aspect of the hair was so wonderful, too. Onegin (starring Liv Tyler) is a good example of a film which took place in the 1830s and the art direction did a fairly good job. Also, the Greer Garson version of Pride and Prejudice used 1830s costumes, instead of the usual Regency fare.

Liz said...

The portraits seem to make the clothes look softer and more flowing, but you're right that the hair might be an acquired taste. Just re-watched "Impromptu", the 1990s movie about Chopin and George Sand (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, et al.)--gives a good feel for the fashion of the era. I'm in love with George's white dress with the red posies.

Unknown said...

I don't mean to sound critical but I think you mean "... the first half of the century..." instead of decade.

Loretta Chase said...

Cynthia, another one was "The Horseman on the Roof," set in France. Liz, not sure I saw "Impromptu"—will have to check it out. Miss Susan, I did mean the first half of the decade. The fashions of the early 1800s (Regency/Empire style) were not what I'd call extravagant or exuberant, though they were very beautiful in their own way. The enormous sleeves and extreme hair really got going about 1830 (there's some in the late 1820s) and started to go away about 1836.

Lucy said...

Talk about an ephemeral phase. Then again, the no-petticoat trend right around the turn and opening of that century was about as short.

Thanks for posting the paintings, they really are lovely, if a bit ... I don't know. Idealized, perhaps? The thing I noticed most was the women's dead-white skin. As if somebody had dug out a pot of white lead from the previous century.

KerryQ said...

At first, I thought "she must mean 'plaits,'" but I got it. Crazy plates and plaits.

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