Fashion 1890-1900

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History and Events
Art and Architecture
Fashion in the 1890s

Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, History would have been different. " Oscar Wilde Introduction: 1890s-1900 England was under the reign of Queen Victoria and the industrial revolution was at its prime.
There was a wealthy middle class emerging, and new artistic movements began developing. The 1890s was referred to by a number of names for example in America it was known as the ‘Gay nineties’ as opposed to Britain where it was known as the ‘Naughty nineties’ or the ‘Gilded age’. At this time Britain was the strongest, most stable empire in the world and these years were quiet and peaceful as there was hardly any conflict. This scenario encouraged the speed of the industrial revolution, which encouraged economic growth.
The Bourgeoisie were accumulating wealth, which enabled them to have more spare time for social and recreational interests. In this paper I will be reviewing the events, culture and clothing from the 90s, which was under Queen Victoria’s reign within the context of world history, art, politics, economics and social change. Social, political and the industrial changes influenced the clothing of the decade, and brought forth a dramatic explosion in design of women’s clothing which eventually influenced the future fashion. Historical background of 1890-1900 The Victorian age was drawing to a close.
Queen Victoria had reigned since 1837, and during that period Britain had become the most important global force based on her supreme naval power. Since the death of her beloved husband Albert, Victoria had become a virtual recluse, dressing totally in black for the rest of her life. When Victoria died she left behind an industrial country with a developed network. (a. 1) Conquering colonies During the Victorian period, Britain’s ambition was to extend its control of areas beyond the seas, mainly in establishing colonies and taking over areas in Africa, Asia and the Far East.
The British Empire took control of East Africa, intending to create unity and territorial contiguity between the colonies in Southern Africa. (a. 2) Queen Victoria put an emphasis on ethics and values, which reflected both on society and Government. She had a lack of tolerance for crime, which filtered to other countries outside of the UK due to the influence of the British Empire abroad. Britain in the 1890’s was the most powerful force in the world. Although Britain had been at war for much of the Victorian era, industry and economy had continued to grow, and the 90’s was considerably quieter which only accentuated the growth.
It was a decade of reconciliation and peace in Europe. Meanwhile over ‘the pond’, the USA was beginning to step forward in the international arena as a new powerful leader. Despite a severe economic crisis (1893- 1897), and with a new Republican President, McKinley, the US went to war against Spain concerning the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico in 1898. Industrial Advancement The last decade of the 19th century marked one of the most rapid developments of human history. This industrial revolution dramatically changed the way of life.
At the beginning of the 19th century people depended on their own physical strength, and the use of animal power, which helped them with transport and farming and communication. However with the development of industrial machinery, mass production became the accepted mode. Mass production also resulted in the improvement of the quality of food people ate. Food was distributed quicker thanks to improvements in transportation, and therefore arrived fresh, which in turn improved the health of the people.
Thanks to both advancements in industry and medicine, general health improved, meaning people were fit and well to achieve greater goals inducing a huge advance in economic development, social life, the arts and science. Since the development of industry there were more jobs available, and a newly formed middle class began to emerge, which bridged the existing gap between the rich and the poor. This, in turn, made the members of the higher bourgeoisie feel uneasy about their position in society, and they were constantly searching for new ways to uphold and improve their status.
A major way that they achieved this was by the changes that were made in the world of fashion at these times. (Phillippe, P. 1981. P8) People started to look for a different life other than plowing fields and working in agriculture. They started to move to the cities to work in factories and shops, giving them high hopes for something better than they had previously. Railroads, telephones, bicycles and the beginning of the development of the car encouraged people to enjoy life and mingle and socialize, something that was previously only reserved for the higher class.
They found entertainment outside the home by going to picnics, fairs, parks and restaurants. Thanks to electricity, meaning light in the evenings, nightlife also became popular. Although life seemed brighter for most of the 90s it was far from easy. Salaries were low, hours were long and work was hard. Nevertheless, people enjoyed living beyond their basic needs and were willing to find the time and the money to enjoy the richer things in life. As a result fashion, once only affordable to the wealthy, also became an interest to the middle classes and in turn more affordable.
The Victorian period had seen a rise in the number of gender equality laws being passed and the advancement of the rights of women was in the air. It would not be long before they would win the right to vote, however even without suffrage, the rights of women in the 90’s were advancing. More and more women were entering into the workforce than before. In turn, women were also becoming active in areas once primarily only the territory of men. They started to play sports, ride bikes which can explain how their fashion started to change so dramatically.
It is during this time that the trouser, known as “bloomers”, arose. Prior to this time trousers were not acceptable. Many women had adopted the tailored suit, which was a reflection of the change of the status of woman. (We will go further into this point later in the essay. ) Technology and Science: The Industrial Revolution brought many new inventions. The change in basic fundamentals led to a tremendous amount of development and speed of work, Iron, chemicals and recently available electricity helped production enterprises grow, providing raw materials which were used, by the brand new car and aviation industries.
Communication across the nation was increased by the use of the telegraph and telephone, while railways expanded hugely. There was also a science revolution occurring at the same time, which complimented the advancement in industry with regards to “new science” including, chemicals and electricity. In addition there was a huge advancement in medicine, including the production of X-Rays by Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (a. 3) in 1895 and the development of aspirin by the German chemist Felix Hoffmann.
Art and Arcitecture
The end of the 19th century was a period of great prosperity and even complacency. In England in particular, critics and artists were unhappy about the general decline in the craftsmanship caused by the industrial revolution, and hated the very sight of cheap and tardy machine-made imitations of ornaments. Artists dreamed to reform the arts and crafts, and “they longed for a new art” (E. H. GOMBRICH) based on a new feeling for design and possibilities inherent in each material. Art Nouveau was created. It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection. ” Oscar wilde. Impressionism The Impressionist movement, which appeared in Paris in 1867, and continued till the late 19th century, was created by Edouard Manet, and other various artists. The artistic movement looked for a way to discover and represent nature as we see it. They decided that if they would trust their eyes and not their set ideas of what things ought to look like according to academic rules, they would make the most stimulating discoveries.
The well-known painting, Sunrise, painted by Claude Monet was displayed at a Paris art show, and because of the irregular texture, it caused one critic to call the whole exhibition impressionist, which gave the movement its name. The technique that was used was quick, broken brushstrokes, light, vibrant colours and bright, contrasting colours. (E. H. Gombrich p. 392) (a4) fashion was extremely influenced by this movement, bright and vibrant colours and the contrasted colours were used in many different garments. Art nouveau
In the early 90s, a new mass artistic point of view developed in Europe. Based on mood, feeling and abstract form, it was the first European artistic movement since the rococo. Art nouveau was based on abstract and swerving curve shapes. The movement had a very visual language, which reflected in all different areas of design for example furniture, architecture, books, illustration, painting and clothing. The artists of this movement took inspiration from nature with its flowing symmetric and organic elements. They studied the roots, branches and other different forms of nature.
Primarily using nature and harmonization of the environment, they also were inspired by Japanese design and other past inspirations styles such as gothic, rococo and arts and craft style which also incorporated floral elements. We can see a lot of these elements in the fashion of the time for example, Floral embroidery, curvy lines and shapes. Aubrey Beardsley rose to immediate fame all over Europe with his sophisticated black and white illustrations. In France it was the flowers of Degas and Toulouse Lautrec which applied a similar economy of means to the new art of the poster.
Toulouse Lautrec had learned from Japanese prints just how much more striking a picture could become if modeling and other details were sacrificed (E. H. Gombrich p 406) (a. 5). The success of art nouvea¬u had taken hold of architects and designers who were tired of the traditional routines they had been taught, Architects now were experimenting with new types of materials and new types of ornaments. Art nouveau style buildings first appeared in Brussels, however construction sites were relatively small and the laws of the city were harsh with building regulations.
For example construction of balconies and rooms were monitored, and architects had to work within these regulations. One of the first houses designed from nouveau design was the Maison Tassel in Brussels. Its highly innovative plan and its ground breaking use of materials and decoration show the characteristics of Art Nouveau. (a. 6) Other artists that belonged to this movement were Gustav Klemt, and Alphonse Mucha. ¬¬ Symbolism In the late 19th-century there was another movement called symbolism, which expressed mystical or abstract ideas through the symbolic use of images.
It mainly developed in Europe and was a reaction to impressionism (1867-1886 one of the major and most significant arts based on experience of colour, sunlight, shadows and with visible brush strokes). ¬Based on the artistic movement romanticism, this style art was made of shapes and images. Symbolist painters believed that art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than represent the natural world. They felt that the symbolic value or meaning of a work of art stemmed from the recreation of emotional experiences in the viewer through colour, line, and composition.
In painting, Symbolism represents a synthesis of form and feeling, of reality and the artist's inner subjectivity. Artists from the symbolism movement are Paul Gauguin, Gustav klimt, Edvard Munch and Gustave Moreau. (a. 7) Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) In the late 19th century Britain finally found the time to embrace literature and poetry. Oscar Wilde became the most popular play writer of his day writing many short stories, plays and poems that had a lot to do with society, fashion, and art at the time. He was a major influence in society and some people even said he was born before his time. (Holland, v. p9) (a. ) “ I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly. ” Oscar Wilde. Costumes of 1890 – 1900’s Introduction The fashions of the 19th century can explain a lot about the era of the time with regards to society and the situation it was in. With the introduction of new inventions such as machinery and most importantly the sewing machine, fashions were able to evolve and progress. This century shows many reforms in fashions for women some more successful than others. These clothing types did not purely change with regards to the shape of the silhouette, but also the fabrics and colours being used were evolving too.
The clothing and designs for women took priority at these times over men’s fashions. Although men’s fashions were not involved in great change, Europe saw clothing for men designed to suit their ‘passion for riding’. (Brooke, I. ) Materials in the 1890’s went through a change, because of the availability of new machinery it was possible to experiment and use different materials for different garments. Suits were made of either tweed or stiff cloth whereas dresses were made from silk and satin type materials. Decoration such as bows, lace, jabot and frilling became a major theme for this period of time. (Waugh, N. 1968. 231) Another benefit of the new machinery was the introduction of Haute Couture which was made by a number of fashion houses such as, Charles Fredrick Worth and Jacques Doucet. (DeMarly, D. 1980. ) (a. 9) Change in costume The 1890’s saw a major change in the silhouette of women. The hourglass shape was introduced in the late 19th century. The most dramatic feature of the change in costume in this period of time was the exaggerated waistline, which was made so tiny that it is seen as the most minute waist in history. It became so small that it gave the impression that the woman’s figure was split into two parts that met in the middle.
The term given to the figure of this time was the “Wasp Waist” (a. 10). The shape consisted of a ballooning sleeve(a. 11), slim waist and widened skirt with the main aim to accentuate the womanly figure (Laver, J. 1929. P82). The sharp contrast in shapes was a deliberate ploy to make the waist seem smaller than it actually was. Previous to the 1890’s, gowns were seen as much simpler in design and instead of using the idea of a fuller skirt the emphasis was put on the sleeves. The bigger sleeves came into place in the middle of the decade. This idea of voluminous sleeves led to a further change in clothing, more specifically the outerwear.
Coats were of great difficulty when it came to putting them on over the exaggerated sleeves therefore capes and shawls came in place of the typical coat style (a. 12). They were made in a variety of lengths, shapes and collars (Boucher, F. ). Towards the end of the century the silhouette reverted back to a more natural shape and the “Wasp Waist” gradually changed into the “S Shape”. Sleeves became tight with a slight puff at the shoulder. Eveningwear tended to include “small bouffant sleeves” (Boucher, F. ), whereas daywear portrayed “semi gigot sleeves” (Boucher, F).
The era of the 1890’s was known in the United States as the era of the ‘Gibson Girl’ (a. 13). The Gibson Girl was a modern portrayal of the ideal women of the time, created by the artist Charles Dana Gibson. This girl was known as the ‘new woman’ of the time. This ideal woman was not purely based on her looks, but for the first time on her personality and abilities too. The Gibson Girl was seen as a symbol of thousands of American women. She was tall and petite, with a heavier bosom and fuller hips and bottom. This figure was achieved by the use of a ‘Swan Bill Corset’.
This was the first time the idea of a corset was used to give a woman an ‘S Curve’ figure, which was not generally seen until the 1900’s. However, this perfect figure was not all the ideal woman in America had to have. The Gibson Girl not only portrayed beauty, but also a strong personality where education was just as important as the way she looked. Having said that, although education was becoming increasingly more common for the new woman, the idea of women being as equal to men when it came to decisions being made in society had not yet been accepted (Gordon, L.D. 1987. P211). Fashions of the time Costumes in the nineteenth century, as in most eras inevitably changed and evolved. Garments came in and out of fashion and were constantly being evolved and adapted. Different layers of clothing increased the number of changes to the ideal woman’s silhouette. In addition to this, society was adapting its attire to the increase in extra and new activities. For every occasion an expected costume was worn. For each event or occasion at the different times of the day and season there were various acceptable outfits.
With the explosion of bourgeoisie throughout Europe more and more women of different social classes were wanting to feel accepted into different societies by having a number of alternative costumes for each individual occasion. The creation of dresses such as, ‘tea dresses’ which were worn predominantly for afternoon teas with a group of women, were extremely common, as well as ‘house dresses’ which also became a staple part of a higher class woman’s wardrobe. (Phillippe. P. 1981. P8) Skirts This era saw the rise of the fuller and more extravagant skirts.
This rise was due to the crinolines and the bustles from the previous decade, which had gradually been reduced by the time this decade arrived. The skirt was fairly straight at the front whereas generally in evening wear, the back consisted of a more exaggerated train with a larger amount of material being used to make it. This shape created an almost ‘flower shape’ skirt and because of the style and shape of the skirt it was custom for women to hold the train with one hand as they walked which revealed the petticoats frills that was made out of taffeta or lace.
In the middle of the decade the sleeves widened this can be reflected to the skirt that also went through this adaptation. Due to this change it aided the portrayal of a smaller waist. Compared to the last decade these skirts were less decorative than the previous ones as well as being easier to wear in order for women to be able to partake in the newer activities of the time. This ease of skirts enabled women to follow the changes of women of the period of time. Towards the end of the decade the skirts became tighter around the thigh and narrow along the legs. (a. 4) Tailored Suits The tailored suit had been introduced to men many years prior to the 1890’s however by the time the Industrial Revolution had begun more and more women had become increasingly more in need of alternate costumes for the different and newly available jobs to them. In addition, with the introduction of new machinery for the first time ready-made shirts, blouses, skirts and tailored jackets were easily available from a shop shelf, unlike previously where every garment was tailor made. This modernized idea made it available to almost all classes of women (Renrolds, C. 989. p45) The suit was seen as a suitable and appropriate outfit for any daytime activity and any time of year. The three pieced tailored suit, which included a skirt, jacket and shirt-blouse was first introduced and worn by women in England (a. 15). The shirt-blouse influenced the bodice of the dresses. The suit was created by a “very tight jacket – bodice, with small basques forming a postilion at the back, and a double skirt, the upper part of which was slightly caught up. ” (Boucher, F. 1987. P401).
Previous to these times shirts were seen as a very masculine piece of clothing, however with the changes of the women’s role in society it had become more acceptable and common for women to wear their own version of the male shirt, known as the ‘blouse’ (a. 16). The blouse was fully feminine with excessive decoration made from lace, high collars, sleeves and if the blouse was a more simple style it would often be worn with a male-styled necktie. It was seen as an extremely important fashion statement of the time, and was mostly made from light coloured fabric in contrast to the darker coloured skirts and jackets.
Bloomers The first bloomers were introduced in 1849 by the renowned feminist Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer. She created them as a solution to the problem for the unladylike issues with women riding on penny-farthings (bicycles) however the idea did not catch on. Although a year after Amelia Bloomer’s death in 1894 her ideas began to become increasingly more popular. (Gersheim, A. 1963. p80) Bicycling had become one of the most popular activities for women to take part in. This in turn resulted in yet another important costume for which women needed.
The costume included the newly divided skirt or knickerbockers (baggy trousers), which came down to just over the heel. This enabled the women to have more freedom in partaking of their new sport (a. 17) (a. 18). The undergarments Although clothing was becoming more masculine, undergarments were becoming increasing more popular for women. Undergarments were starting to resemble more of today’s underclothing with the introduction of new materials such as lace, taffeta, silk and lavish colourful ribbons. Even though these undergarments were invisible they were seen as a luxury to women, and they were considered particularly erotic.
The corset as in previous decades was an important factor of women’s costume, however it was now worn over the petticoat and was made into a more shortened form with tighter lacing. The corset was boned and aimed to create the desired ‘Wasp Waist’(a. 19). The petticoat also took an evolutionary change in these times, as they were made from coloured silk and pleated or trimmed with lace. In 1891, the standard petticoat was made with ‘drawing strings’ behind and trimmed with one or two frills of scalloped embroidery (a. 20). Drawers were a type of under trouser that was as wide as the petticoat (a. 1). They were made with frills and were and often in different colours. In addition an alternative style was produced in the style of an overall. However it was only worn occasionally depending on the over-garments being worn. (Cunnington, C. W. 1992. p196) Accessories A huge emphasis of this era was accessories, more specifically, the hat which was known for its excessive decoration. Fur, velvet, ribbons and flowers were just a few of the different decorations that could be seen on hats at this time. It was a sign of the new independent woman of the time.
Hats came in all shapes and sizes, and as with clothing there were different styles for different occasions (a. 22). Gloves were also vital accessory at this time too. It was especially seen as proper etiquette to wear long gloves to the elbow in the evenings (a. 23) as well as a fur muff (a. 24), whereas during the day more casual gloves were worn made of materials such as leather. Other accessories seen at these times were fur or feather scarves as well as sun umbrellas made from lace. Handbags were also seen at these times however they were not used for the same purposes as we use them today.
They were extremely small and either knitted or embroidered. Shoes were often seen in a number of styles 9(a. 25). Leather ankle boots, with a small round heel, were worn during the day and were accessorized with buttons, laces or elastic Evening shoes were in the form of ballerina pumps, and were embroidered or with ribbons around the ankle. Eveningwear A big part of costumes in the 19th century was the eveningwear. Eveningwear was extravagant from the dress to the accessories. The dresses consisted of a lower bodice than the daytime wear, They were cut in a square V shape, rounded V or a round shape neck(a. 6). Dresses also could be seen with shoulder straps, and over exaggerated sleeves could be seen during the middle of this decade. However towards the end of the decade sleeves became tighter fitting. Trains were not so common in ball gown dresses however, but for other evening dress styles they were commonly seen(a. 27). evening gowns were genaraly made from velvet, muslin, satin. They were also embroidered. (a28) Accessories that could be seen in the evenings were jewels, diamonds, tiaras, hair ornaments, broaches, necklaces and fans (a. 29. 30). This added o the effect of luxury to any outfit. Hairstyles in the evening were usually pinned up into a bun shape; waves and curs were also common. (Waugh, N. 1968. P229) Conclusion This era can be seen as a major influence to the history of clothing and accessories. The changes of this decade can be seen to be an influence not only on these times but also today’s fashions too (a. 31,32). Pieces of clothing such as puff sleeves and high waited skirts have slowly crept back into our wardrobes along with muffs and smaller evening bags, which have become one of the 21st century’s staple items for women.
The influence of the industrial revolution brought about many changes to styles and materials. It aided the creation of ‘off the shelf’ clothing and was a symbol for diversity between different classes of people. For the first time the middle class society were able to keep up to date with the latest trends not just in the evening but also whilst they worked. “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. ” Oscar Wilde.
Appendix 1.

Queen Victoria, c. 1890.
Map of british Empire in 1890.
Mrs.Rontgen's hand, the first X-ray picture of the human body ever taken. photos courtesy of NASA
claude monet Impression, soleil levant 1872
Alphonse Mucha-F. Champenois Imprimeur-Editeur, lithograph, 1897.
Stairway of Tassel House, Brussels
Edvard Munch The Scream 1893
Napoleon Sarony Oscar Wilde 1882
Jaque Doucete, womans suit costume, 1894
Standart Desugner 1897 April.
Mora-83 Rundle street Adelaide at Port Adelaide 1895
Delineator, November 1897
circa, Gibson Girl, 1900
Delineator, Afternoon Dress, October 1896
Charlles Frederick Worth, walking suit, 1895
Illistration of the Gibson Girl wearing The Blouse
Harper's Bazar, April 1894
T. de Thulatrup, New York 1890s
Matropoline museum, New York 1890’s
Harper’s Bazar, November 1892
Standart Designer, April 1898
Delineator, 1898
Harper’s Bazar November 1893
Metropoline Museum New York 1989
harper’s Bezar Febuary 1894
Harper’s Bazar, 1894
Mertopolin Museum, Fabrics from the 1890s
Harper’s Bazar January1897
John Singer Sargent, Ada Rehan, 1894
Dolce & Gabbana w/f , 09
Alexander McQueen, s/s 2007.


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