Victorian Fashion Tear Sheets

The museum has been given boxes of clippings and tear sheets from various donors over the years. From scrapbooks with favourite dresses cut out of Vogue magazine by an anonymous teenage girl in the 1930s to a filing cabinet of tear sheets accumulated by fashion journalist David Livingstone on topics as varied as Diana Vreeland to Punk.

Some will be kept, filed away for future research, some will be scanned and shared online, but most will be tossed. This article that appeared in the Picture Post on June 10, 1939 about women’s Victorian fashions is too friable to keep, and doesn’t offer any original information not already available in books or online, but many of the images were interesting, so I scanned it to share before recycling:

Women in advertising – literally

From the website Luminous Lint comes these photographs of women dressed in the paraphernalia of products offered by the company they are representing. It seems to have been a popular advertising idea for local parades in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

Literary Fashionista Dolly Varden

I am currently working on a book about fashion in the 1960s (my posts have been a little heavy on that decade lately for a reason.) While pondering fashion leaders of that decade it’s hard not to consider literary figures in the mix, like Holly GoLightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, probably the greatest literary character to affect fashion was Dolly Varden.

Dolly Varden was a character in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge. Published in 1841, the story was set in 1780. Dolly Varden wears the fashions of 1780 – an overdress of chintz with the skirt looped up ‘a la polonaise’ into three puffs over a petticoat, and a wide brimmed ‘shepherdess’ hat tipped over her forehead.

Mainstream fashion of the late 1860s and early 1870s was already looking very much like the fashions of 1780 when Dolly Varden’s name was applied to a more academic revival of 1780 styles. The Dolly Varden look was at it’s height of popularity in 1872 – the same year the Dolly Varden name was used for a popular song with the lyrics:

Have you seen my little girl? She doesn’t wear a bonnet.
She’s got a monstrous flip-flop hat with cherry ribbons on it.
She dresses in bed furniture* just like a flower garden
A blowin’ and a growin’ and they call it Dolly Varden.

Dolly Varden’s name was also used for the name of a popular dance, a species of trout, and a range of mountains in Nevada.

*bed furniture means bed curtains from a canopy


Film Costume Review – The Europeans

I somehow missed this Merchant Ivory classic (and I thought I had seen them all) but this film just played the other night on Turner Classic Movies, and if you haven’t seen it and are a fan of Victorian fashions, I highly recommend taking the time to watch it. From 1979, this film is certainly one of Merchant Ivory’s best productions when it comes to authentic costuming. Judy Moorcroft, who also did the costuming for Passage to India, was nominated for an Oscar for this film, but I suspect that since most of the costumes were from Cosprop in London, her peers voted for someone who created rather than borrowed costumes. Regardless, her styling was impeccable, as were the hairstyles.

The film takes place during the autumn of 1850 in an upper middle class home just outside Boston. Two cousins, who were born and raised in Europe, ‘drop in’ to stay with their American kin. The story is a subtle comedy of manners and morals, perhaps too subtle for today’s audience. I can’t say the story was spellbinding, but the scenery, sets, and costumes were.  I have to give this film a 9/10 – I am removing 1 point for the use of mascara, and the occasional dress and accessory that date from later in the 1850s. However, overall, this film really captures the period and is worth watching.

Book Reviews: Victorian Wedding Dresses and Sunbonnets

(Originally blogged March 10, 2010)

I am often sent books to review and recently two books came in the mail from Texas Tech University Press:

Victorian Wedding Dress in the United States is part of the ‘History through Paper Doll’ series, written by Mei Campbell and illustrated by Norma Lu Meehan. The 32 page book includes 20 dresses and 3 paper dolls and sells for a reasonable $12.95 (or less). My only criticism of the book is that I am not sure who it is intended for. The paper doll gimmick suggests a youth audience was in mind but the libretto, which includes good information about the history of the white wedding gown, is written for a sophisticated reader with a good vocabulary and understanding of dressmaking terms (capacious, polonaise, basque.) Both the illustrations and text are well done but together they create a book that must struggle to find a market.

The Sunbonnet: An American Icon in Texas is written by Rebecca Jumper Matheson. The 256 page book is listed at $29.95 (or less) and includes illustrations from several collections that trace the origins of the sunbonnet from the late 18th century to its last vestiges in the mid 20th century. The greatest difficulty for writing a book about the history of the sunbonnet must have been locating the scant research and period references – everyday non-fashionable garments worn by rural women simply didn’t get a lot of press in their day. The book is an easy read and utilizes a variety of resources and interviews. The only thing I am not convinced of is its specific geographical significance to Texas. Sunbonnets were certainly worn well into the 1930s throughout the agricultural south and mid-west as well as in the Canadian Prairies.

The book is excellent and unique on the topic and should become a part of any library relevant to millinery history.