Monday, April 23, 2018

Fashions for Mature Women in the 1800s

Monday, April 23, 2018
Lady Anne Hamilton at age 49
Loretta reports:

A reader asked, “Do you have any fashion plates of older women?”
The answer is no. Whether it’s the 1800s or the 1900s or the 2000s, fashion is most usually displayed on younger women.

The fashions I post monthly seem to be mainly for married women. In France, for instance, unmarried young women were expected to dress with almost nunlike simplicity; and it’s my sense that young English women, while not dressing as severely as their French counterparts, generally did dress more demurely than matrons, at least through the Regency.

Still, there’s nothing matronly about the fashion prints. The images are always of young, slender women with, depending on the era, ridiculously tiny waists. I’ve yet to see older faces or plumper bodies. The fashion plates always show the idealized youthful image of the time.

Then as now, that is the way fashion is sold. A style blog focused on the over-forty woman offers an explanation that I believe is applicable to previous centuries of fashion merchandising.

Today, we do see the occasional exception. A few brands will feature 40+ models and/or fuller-figured women in their advertising. But these are rare. Rarer still are mature and/or fuller-figured models on the runways. This always seems to be the case, even though older women are buying the clothing.

To get an idea of what older women wore in earlier eras, we need to turn to portraits. It's possible that the subject isn’t necessarily wearing the latest fashion. Then as now, a woman might have stuck with a style she found comfortable and believed becoming. However, when it comes to royals and aristocrats, the portraits are generally very stylish, which makes sense: Since they could afford to buy new things all the time, and they weren't shy about showing off their wealth, they were more likely to wear the current fashion when they had their portrait painted.
Maria Amalia of Naples & Sicily about age 57

Let’s also not forget that well-off people were not buying their clothing ready-made. The fashion plate would be no more than a possible starting point. A lady would have her favorite dressmaker, who would adapt styles or create a distinctive look. Though the fashion plates featured young women, I suspect older women then would have had a better chance than we do of getting clothes that fit and flattered them. Dressmakers were far from rare, labor was cheap, and the competition for customers was fierce: It was simply good business to make the customer look great, no matter what her age or figure.

James Lonsdale, 1815 Portrait of Lady Anne Hamilton (1766–1846), lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline1815
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Louis-Édouard Rioult after Louis Hersent, Portrait of Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily (1782-1866) about 1839
Current location Palace of Versailles 

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.


Marti said...

Thank you. I asked because I wanted to know what was worn by "women of a certain age."

Regencyresearcher said...

I disagree. I know that is heresy but I think many of the fashions illustrated in the magazines are shown on mature women. Many have children with them.Perhaps different magazines have different aged models but so many look as though they have on breast plates and are tightly corseted. The colors are also those of mature women and not those of debutantes. yes, there are many fashion illustrations of ladies who look to be in their late teens or early twenties but I would say quite a few were thirty or forty.
The mature married woman or widow was the one who could afford the clothes. Young things couldn't. Girls bought new clothes to wear after they were married because the fashionable styles were all for older women.

I have several examples of fashion pictures of women with children and woman who were definitely beyond the first blush of youth. My impression has been that there were fewer illustrations featuring young women than older.

I can't upload examples of the many I have found on line.

Unknown said...

My issue here is that a 'common woman' would not have had a portrait made. One should also consider artwork depicting groups of common folk.
Yes, a lady of means would likely still keep up with fashion, especially in a portrait. But a farmer's wife?

Loretta Chase said...

Nancy, I did point out that the clothes were for matrons. As to the age of the women in the fashion prints, though, we must be seeing different images, because none look older than 30 to me, if that, and when shown with children, are shown with very young children, conveying a youthful image. I don't doubt that older women bought the clothes, just as today older women buy the clothes displayed on fashion models of 14. As is explained in the link, older women might want to be fashionable and might be the ones spending the most money on their clothes, but youth and idealized bodies are what's used to market the goods.

Su, as I understand it, the "common folk" tended to wear clothing appropriate to their work, rather than according to fashion. The fashion plates were aimed at those who were well off and could afford to be fashionable. Most working folk couldn't. Labor was very, very cheap, and working people generally focused on getting enough to eat and a roof over their heads. Farmer's wives' attire varied according to their means. Some were quite well off and dressed fashionably--and satirists mocked them (and others) for "dressing above their station" or "aping their betters." Whether working class or not, you find exceptions everywhere. Maids, for instance, might wear their mistress's castoffs. Clerks were mocked for trying to dress like "gentlemen." One thing I've learned is that clothing offered symbolism in the early 19th C that has largely but not entirely disappeared.

KarenAnne said...

I think that the presence of children doesn't necessarily mean the mother is an older woman. Remember they got married at really young ages. Plus kids are wearing. I have a picture of my great grandmother (I forget at the moment how many greats) with nine of her children and she looks about thirty years older, no joke, than her husband who is about her age.

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