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The Mainspring of Fashion

This slideshow contains 26 items
1
Louis A. Godey, New York, 1850

Louis A. Godey, New York, 1850

Item 11574 info
Brick Store Museum

Godey's Lady's Book, a magazine aimed at women, was a leading influence in the cultural and intellectual lives -- including fashion -- of 19th-century American women.

Louis Antoine Godey (1804-1878), whose family fled France during the French Revolution, was the joint founder of the magazine in 1830.

Full of energy and enthusiasm, he demonstrated great self-confidence. In his popular "Arm Chair" chats he shared with his devoted readers his problems and his successes.

In the early years, the magazine contained only reprinted English works. When Godey hired Sarah Josepha Hale as editor, that changed and the magazine began its climb to influence.


2
Sarah Josepha Hale, ca. 1850

Sarah Josepha Hale, ca. 1850

Item 11544 info
Brick Store Museum

Under Sarah Josepha Hale's direction, Godey's Lady's Book brought American authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Horace Greeley, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes into thousands of American homes.

The magazine also carried articles of current interest; beauty hints, advice on homemaking, needlework, music, and a host of other features.

Circulation reached 150,000, an astounding number at the time, made possible perhaps by the low price of 25 cents per copy.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), who grew up in New Hampshire, earned the equivalent of a college degree by reading and being tutored by her brother, who went to Dartmouth College.

In 1813 she married David Hale, a young lawyer who had opened an office in Newport. With his encouragement, Sarah began to write articles for the newspaper and established a local literary club.

David Hale died in 1822, leaving Sarah on her own with five children.

She turned to writing, publishing her first novel, Northwood, in 1827. Its success led to her magazine-editing career.


3
Ladies' Magazine fashion plate, 1830

Ladies' Magazine fashion plate, 1830

Item 11573 info
Brick Store Museum

Hale fought vigorously against the use of fashion illustrations to increase the sales of American periodicals because she thought they had an air of frivolous absurdity, exaggerating already excessive fads of fashion.

In 1830, she published the first fashion plate in her Ladies' Magazine. She deliberately chose a ridiculous example by Boston lithographers, Pendleton Brothers.

In her accompanying comment, she criticized the gullibility of American women and even suggested that the courtly ladies in France invented the exaggerated styles to conceal some deformity.

Louis Godey did not want to give up the popular and profitable fashion prints, but allowed Hale to employ American illustrators.

She qualified the fashion plates with the following statement: "Our engraving of the 'Fashions'... is not given as a pattern for imitation, but as a study for each reader to examine and decide how far this costume is appropriate to her own figure, face and circumstance."

The first of Godey's "improved" fashion plates appeared in 1843. It showed conservative but elegantly dressed models in front of the Lady's Book offices at 211 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.


4
Five dresses, c. 1835

Five dresses, c. 1835

Item 11553 info
Brick Store Museum

Women's fashions of the 19th century, with their sumptuous fabrics and graceful silhouettes, conjure romantic images, but they also represent a deeper cultural meaning and changing attitudes toward women.

Eighteenth century American clothing, except for that worn by the most genteel ladies, was far more practical and reflected the active life of women who were involved in providing the needs of their family.

With the decline of agriculture, especially in New England, the workplace shifted away from the home, at least for many men, leaving some women free to wear less practical clothing.


5
Three dresses, child's dress from the 1840s

Three dresses, child's dress from the 1840s

Item 11558 info
Brick Store Museum

The layers of petticoats, corsets, and crinolines worn during the 19th century make it clear that movement was difficult for the wearer.

Such restriction was a conspicuous reminder that a woman dressed in elegant fashion did not have to endure the demanding physical labor of farm chores and housework. Her social and economic status allowed her to be decorous.

Women were expected to be guardians of the home, carrying out educational and cultural responsibilities in childrearing and maintaining the home's spiritual sanctity.


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One-piece pink faille dress, York, ca. 1835

One-piece pink faille dress, York, ca. 1835

Item 11572 info
Brick Store Museum

In addition to attending church and local functions, women could show off their fashionable attire in "calling" on one's relatives and friends.

The tradition of afternoon tea allowed not only the opportunity to wear one's finery, but to view and comment on the interiors and material possessions of one's friends as well.


7
Brown print cotton dress, ca. 1830

Brown print cotton dress, ca. 1830

Item 11545 info
Brick Store Museum

1830 marked a turning point in women's fashions. From 1800 to 1825 the silhouette of dresses had been predominantly classical with a high waist and skirts, which hung loosely to the floor.

During the 1820s waists dropped to a more normal level and began to be cinched. Skirts became fuller and shorter, revealing dainty shoes and embroidered stockings.


8
Brown silk dress, ca. 1830

Brown silk dress, ca. 1830

Item 11571 info
Brick Store Museum

By 1837, the year the young Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in England, women's dress had begun to take on a rather prim sentimentality.

Fabrics were heavier in design and weight and bright colors gave way to more somber tones. Brocaded silks were particularly popular.

In spite of whalebone supports, hoops and swans' down padding, the enormous sleeves of the 1830s reached such an extreme that they began to droop.

Many variations of sleeve style were seen from 1837 to 1843 when fullness was caught down from the shoulder with ruching, pleating, and gathering.

Bonnets became less exaggerated in size and, after about 1840, hemlines began to drop back down to the floor.


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Four dresses, ca. 1840s

Four dresses, ca. 1840s

Item 11546 info
Brick Store Museum

The 1840s often are characterized as a period of sentimental melancholy. The lines of dresses and bonnets seem designed to reinforce a subdued modesty and frailty in women.

Pleats drawn down to an exaggerated and pointed long waist accentuated bodices, which were often padded.

Sleeves were cut tightly and shoulder seams dropped so low that it was almost impossible to raise the arms. A little jockey cap over the top of the sleeve was popular from 1840-45 and sometimes allowed the removal of a longer sleeve for summer wear. The lower part of the sleeve was gradually widened to reveal a white cotton undersleeve.

Skirts became wider making the waist appear even smaller, and women wore a vast number of petticoats underneath.

The shawl became a popular accessory for daytime dresses and capes or "pardessus" added warmth in winter.


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Silk dress, ca. 1860

Silk dress, ca. 1860

Item 11570 info
Brick Store Museum

Even though America was intent on breaking away from England politically, in matters of cultural refinement, America was still under the spell of the motherland.

England in turn received its inspiration in fashion from France.

Fashion styles spread throughout Europe during the 19th century at such a rapid rate as to be indistinguishable from one country to another.

Most of the ideas came from a romantic preoccupation with earlier times. Immediately following the French Revolution. French women adopted clothing with fluid classical lines as an expression of democratic ideals inspired by Greece and Rome, with men adopting the informal dress of the English country gentleman.

Then in an effort to revive French nationalism, sentiment turned toward medieval dress, Renaissance opulence, and the ruffs and puffs of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Historic styles merged and new romantic images from the literature of the time added to the rage for period dress.


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Green and silk brocade dress, ca. 1860

Green and silk brocade dress, ca. 1860

Item 11547 info
Brick Store Museum

Officers in Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign of 1798 brought home Far Eastern articles as gifts, creating a fashion for exotic items during the Romantic Period.

Indian shawls, especially those from Kashmir, made of the wool of the Tibetan goat, were the most highly prized.

European weavers tried to imitate the intricate hand loomed and embroidered patterns that were the secrets of only a few Indian families. In France, shawls were made of silk and wool blends.

Shawls provided warmth without bulk and were more convenient in changeable weather. They also solved a problem of tailoring coats to fit the voluminous skirts of the 1850s and 60s.

Skirts had swelled in circumference to an enormous dome shape made possible by numerous petticoats and the addition of "crinoline," stiff fabric made of horsehair.

The jacket bodice was developed as an alternative to back fastenings and sleeves widened into a "pagoda" shape.

Taffetas, moiré silks, faille, and velvets were all immensely popular and Queen Victoria's passion for Scotch plaids spread quickly even to America.

Elaborate silk fringes, ruching, and braid were added to emphasize the bodice and sleeves. A starched white cotton or lace cuff was worn inside the wide sleeve and could be removed separately.

The 1850s "cage" crinoline, supported by steel hoops, made for difficult passage on train aisles and in most doorways. By the end of the 1850s skirts were so enormous that two women were unable to sit on the same sofa.


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Dresses, 1860s

Dresses, 1860s

Item 11569 info
Brick Store Museum

From 1840 on, home dressmaking and millinery gained in popularity. Books of the period gave diagrams of patterns and information on the construction of dresses and bonnets.

Old dresses could be "made over," reversing materials, relining skirts, replacing trimmings and combining salvageable parts of two dresses into one.

Dressmakers, almost always married women needing extra money for their families, went to customers' homes to help them cut out and stitch garments, charging about $1 a day.

The sewing machine, although invented in England in the 1840s, did not gain acceptance in America until after the Civil War.

Sarah Hale was quick to recommend the new laborsaving device and suggested that women form neighborhood clubs to buy one.


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Jane Lord Stone and Alice Durrell Smith dresses, ca. 1860

Jane Lord Stone and Alice Durrell Smith dresses, ca. 1860

Item 11548 info
Brick Store Museum

When George IV of England died in 1830, most English fashion magazines simply colored their fashion plates in shades of black and gray.

By the time Prince Albert died in 1861, leaving Queen Victoria a young widow, the cult of mourning in Europe was well established. Americans adopted official periods of mourning, following practices observed by the courts of Europe.

Queen Victoria wore black until her death in 1901, and Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's, is said to have followed the same practice after her husband died in 1822.

Not all widows carried the custom to such an extreme, but family members were expected to wear black garments devoid of decoration in their first year of bereavement.

Shades of purple and gray or combinations of black and white were acceptable during the second.


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Five dresses, ca. 1860s

Five dresses, ca. 1860s

Item 11568 info
Brick Store Museum

Godey's Lady's Book contained special advice on the intricacies of mourning etiquette and carried information on the latest styles, fabrics and accessories of mourning.

Some women dyed their dresses, and many continued to pack away mourning clothes to take out when needed, but most articles encouraged the belief that it was bad luck to keep such clothes on hand.

The wealthy chose the most elegant and socially correct styles, causing every new fashion detail to be reflected in mourning dress. Many women made their own costumes, and even the less fortunate could rent the proper mourning attire from exploitive entrepreneurs.

In another mourning ritual, jewelry made of woven human hair became immensely popular in the 1860s and 70s. Instruction on hair weaving was found in Godey's and ready-made hair jewelry was commercially available.

The idea of incorporating one's handicraft skills into the process of mourning demonstrated further devotion to the deceased.

Such overwhelming preoccupation with death and dying was encouraged by the prevailing spiritualism and sentimental melancholy of the mid-19th century. But literature and poetry also carried messages of reassurance of the heavenly rewards of paradise.


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Two dresses, one worn by Mary B. Hunt, c. 1865

Two dresses, one worn by Mary B. Hunt, c. 1865

Item 11549 info
Brick Store Museum

The Civil War diverted the attention of American women away from fashion as seamstresses on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line turned to knitting and sewing for their men at war.

After the war, as Americans attempted to recover from the physical and emotional scars of war, industries flourished and cities, especially in the Northeast, enjoyed prosperity and a building boom. Fashion revived.

Through most of the 1860s skirts remained large. Gores were devised as a way to shape the skirt and add extra width at the hem without excessive material at the waist. The greatest fullness of material was gathered at the back. As the mountainous skirts retreated rearwards they were often caught up in swoops and flounces.

American women were predictably tentative about the new styles, but by 1870 the idea of pulling the fullness of the skirt backward had clearly caught on.

As skirts were bunched toward the rear, hairstyles followed a similar change. Hats tipped forward to accommodate the elaborate twists and braids.


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Five dresses, c. 1870-1890

Five dresses, c. 1870-1890

Item 11550 info
Brick Store Museum

Before the Civil War, in the 1830s, hairstyles had featured side curls or loops in front of the ears. The hair was parted in the middle with a bun or twisted braid at the back.

Older women wore a lace cap indoors, and even a young fashionable woman was supposed to wear a cap as soon as she had children.

During the 1840s bonnets became smaller. The large scoop bonnet of the late 1830s gave way to a rounded outline with the crown and brim still having a joining seam.

After 1845 bonnets were made in one piece in a shape somewhat resembling a coalscuttle. The "poke" bonnet added to the effect of extreme modesty as faces could only be seen from directly in front.


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Two dresses, ca. 1870s

Two dresses, ca. 1870s

Item 11566 info
Brick Store Museum

Bonnets during the 1850s began to slip backward on the head and grow smaller. Side curls disappeared and hair was pulled toward the back with a waved effect at either side of a central part.

The retreat of the bonnet allowed the addition of material or flowers that, together with ribbons tied under the chin, made a charming frame for the face.


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Two-piece wedding dress, 1872

Two-piece wedding dress, 1872

Item 11565 info
Brick Store Museum

The early 1860s saw the introduction of bonnets with a slight depression in the front and a ruffle or bavolet gathered at the back.

It was considered indecent to see the back of a lady's neck.

But as hairstyles became more elaborate, bonnets began to get smaller until ribbon ties almost disappeared. By the 1870s and 80s bonnets were largely replaced by hats that were worn higher to accommodate rising hairstyles.


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Dresses worn by Frances Jewell Morse and Mary Getchell, 1875

Dresses worn by Frances Jewell Morse and Mary Getchell, 1875

Item 11552 info
Brick Store Museum

During the mid-19th century, American women's physical energies seemed to be declining noticeably.

Whether real or inspired by the romantic literature of the time, women displayed frailty.

Sarah Hale detested the notion that pallor was an essential element of beauty. She advocated a healthful diet, plenty of exercise, and at least one bath a week.

She also spoke out vehemently against injurious waist lacing that she felt was "the cause of the vapors and frequent swooning."


20
Blue silk dress, ca. 1870

Blue silk dress, ca. 1870

Item 11543 info
Brick Store Museum

The outcry against corsets by dress reformers and physicians continued into the 1880s. Feminists attacked corseting because of potential harm to internal organs and the obvious restriction of movement.

Most authors agreed that rather than assail fashion it was better to teach hygiene. Godey's Lady's Book often featured articles by doctors on various topics of health and personal care.

In England a counter-current in the form of aesthetic dress gained popularity in the 1870s and 80s.

Encouraged by the romantic paintings of Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a looser, simpler form of dress, vaguely Medieval inspired, became the vogue with artists and writers.

It was not until the end of the century, however, that the popularity of new active sports such as bicycling, skating, tennis, and croquet encouraged special styles of clothing designed for active wear.

During the 19th century American women never developed an indigenous fashion of their own.

Stubbornly fixed on the high styles of Paris and London, they went on to adopt the next and even more exaggerated phase of the bustle.


21
Four dresses, ca. 1870

Four dresses, ca. 1870

Item 11564 info
Brick Store Museum

During the second half of the 1870s it seemed as though women were growing taller and slimmer.

Whether they wore a "cuirass" bodice or a princess sheath dress, the effect was figure fitting to below the hips.

The skirt was tied back tightly by ribbons inside so that the front was stretched f1at with flounces of pleats at the bottom.

In back the skirt was draped and decorated in a variety of ways usually ending in a train for afternoon and evening wear.


22
Two piece brown satin dress worn by Mrs. Henry G. Thayer, 1880

Two piece brown satin dress worn by Mrs. Henry G. Thayer, 1880

Item 11554 info
Brick Store Museum

This two-piece brown satin dress with a long, tight fitted bodice, high neck, and pleat down the front enclosure was worn by Mrs. Henry G. Thayer, the daughter of Capt. John Oxnard of Freeport in 1880.

The dress includes a full skirt, pleated flounce at hem and trim-draped attached overskirt, a bustle in back and pearl buttons on its bodice.


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Two piece wedding dress, 1885

Two piece wedding dress, 1885

Item 11556 info
Brick Store Museum

The effect of the new style was something like a mermaid and movement on land must have been about as difficult.

Much was written about the absurd unseemliness of a train, which swept the floor and streets.


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Two piece brown satin dress, 1882

Two piece brown satin dress, 1882

Item 11561 info
Brick Store Museum

The smooth bodice and a very fancy skirt were striking. The style was one of stiffness and almost military posture.

One dress in this group even has side "panniers," a brief throwback to an 18th century fashion.


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Three dresses, ca. 1870s

Three dresses, ca. 1870s

Item 11557 info
Brick Store Museum

In France during the 1840s certain young aristocratic women flaunted their independence and coquettishness by riding horseback and wielding a whip and pistol as well as any man. Such was their rebellion against the frail helpless look of the period.

Later in England the passion for horsemanship was furthered by Queen Victoria who was often depicted in equestrian portraits and statues seated in a stylish lady's side saddle.


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Two-piece dark suit worn by Helen Gammon Patrick, York, ca. 1877

Two-piece dark suit worn by Helen Gammon Patrick, York, ca. 1877

Item 11560 info
Brick Store Museum

By the 1860s hardly an issue of the popular ladies' magazines was without a "redingote" or riding outfit.

Masculine down to the waist, the jacket was often worn with a man's collar and tie. The skirt was designed to open into voluminous folds and the outfit was crowned by a man's top hat and veil.


This slideshow contains 26 items