Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fashionable Miss Part IV: 1830-1840

Are you ready? We have a lot of fashion ground to cover today!

The clothes of the fashionable miss of the 1830s were influenced heavily by technological advances in dyes and cloth manufacture. As a result, bright colors and printed fabrics were quite popular throughout the decade, as you can see in this cheerful cherry-red dress trimmed with fur from 1830. The exuberance we saw in hats at the end of the 1820s is visible here in hairstyles...but I have to wonder what her hair looked like after an evening of lively dancing.

I see ladies' fashion of this decade also falling into two stages: the horizontal period lasting from 1830 to 1836, and the vertical period which finished off the 1830s and extended into the 1840s. Clothing doesn't get more horizontal than this green dress from 1833! Notice the cape-y, overgrown collar thing she's wearing over her shoulders? That's another distinctive feature of dresses from this period. They went by names like pelerine, canezou, mantelet, and fichu, and hypenated versions signifying their style like pelerine-fichu (what our lady in green is wearing at left). About this time, the amazing hats of the late 1820s gave over in popularity to bonnets, like the one shown here. However, as the decade went on, they too increased in size.

1835 was the height (or width) of horizontal fashion. The costume historian C. Willett Cunningham calls the 1830s a time when women's fashions went from being "exuberantly romantic" to "droopingly sentimental". I don't think you can get more exuberant than this flower-print dress at far right, with ballooning sleeves (sometimes referred to as "imbecile sleeves"!), pelerine covering the shoulders to the elbow plus a lace and cambric collar, and full round skirt. Don't forget that this is before the crinoline of the 1850s and 1860s, so the fullness in her skirt was due in large part to a lot of fabric held up by a lot of fluffy petticoats.

Between that and the enormity of the sleeves, you have to wonder how anyone could move, even to play the piano as these ladies in the print at left seem to want to do.

But in 1836, as you can see from the dress at right, the balloon (sleeve) burst and plummeted out of fashion in the matter of a few short months. In a letter to a friend written in 1837, a young debutante says this: "I hope you who are so fashionable a person have already made all your sleeves quite tight to your arm--but the question is useless for I know you would not think of going out with such an old-fashioned thing as a full sleeve at present..." Instead of being hugely wide, sleeves became snug to the upper arm (though the lower part of the sleeve could be fuller).

The droopy, sloping shoulder look came into fashion, bodices developed even more prominent points in front, and the whole look makes me wonder if the earth's gravitational field didn't sudddenly get stronger. Doesn't this 1839 miss in the picture at left look rather on the limp, languishing side?

I have to confess that after this decade, my interest in nineteenth century clothes drops off rather precipitously (along with my collection of fashion prints) because they stop being quite so much fun. So it may be a while before we continue our clothing series to later decades. However, we promise future posts on "supporting role" aspects of fashion--shoes, millinery, acccesories, and hair.


Sarah Prineas said...

My goodness, it's topiary hair!!

That's really interesting about the horizontal look. Weird, but interesting...

Marissa Doyle said...

Topiary hair...ha!!

I had a great print from this decade that I wanted to use but just didn't have space for it...the young woman in it has bunches of curls clustered on either side of her face, but one bunch seems to be drawn upside down, so that it's defying gravity and pointing up while the other hangs down normally. It makes her look like an early nineteenth century mad scientist.

Jenny Meyerhoff said...

And what do you think was the reason for the trend to superwide clothes. I'm curious to know. More emphasis on a tiny waist? A chance to show how much fabric you could afford to use in a dress?