So, I’m a sucker for makeover shows, and I love wearing my rummage sale designer outfits. But I’m pretty good about looking at a fashion and ruling it out if it doesn’t fit my style. In the early nineteenth century, I think I’d have had a very hard time. Quite simply, I would have froze.
I came across this illustration while doing research this week. The title is “A Timid Pupil.” Look at that girl. She’s wearing muslin with a red shawl and a swan’s down tippet, barely covering her upper half in weather that was cold enough to turn a decent-sized body of water into a skating rink. She’s not hesitating with maidenly virtue. She’s frozen stiff!
Even in winter, the style early in the century was for sheer fabrics, low necks and cap sleeves, and little underneath (comparatively). And this was at a time when every room had to have a fire of some kind to warm it in winter. Even then the heat was often very uneven. Snuggle up to it, and you may have to use a fire screen like this one to keep from roasting. Sit too far away, and once again you’re shivering!
Teens then and now seem to require less clothing to function. A shame I was never that way. Layers, you say? Ah, that’s the ticket. Flannel petticoats, merino wool gowns with cashmere shawls, fine kid gloves. To my elbows. Yeah, maybe. I think I might have been able to get by with something like this February 1814 dinner dress: tightly woven fabric, long sleeves and higher neck, and enough room to stuff a petticoat or two.
Of course the farther you go into the century, the more layers you get. Who knows? By 1880, I might have been warm!
So, how much would you shiver to be considered fashionable?