Shades of Victorian Fashion: Crimson, Claret, Scarlet, and Red

Individual Images via Met Museum and MFA Boston.

Individual Images via Met Museum and MFA Boston.

During the nineteenth century, red was considered a vibrant, powerful color, suitable for warm winter cloaks, richly patterned shawls, and dramatic evening dresses.  In shades ranging from soft rose to brilliant crimson, it adorned women of every age and every station, providing a vivid pop of color to ensembles that would otherwise be considered plain or even drab.  In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color red in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

Death at the Needle: The Tragedy of Victorian Seamstress Mary Walkley

The Seamstress by Josef Gisela, 1897.

The Seamstress by Josef Gisela, 1897.

“Sir,—I am a dressmaker, living in a large West-end house of business. I work in a crowded room with twenty-eight others. This morning one of my companions was found dead in her bed, and we all of us think that long hours and close confinement have had a great deal to do with her end.” 

So starts the anonymous letter which brought the death of seamstress Mary Ann Walkley to the forefront of public attention. Originally printed in a June 17, 1863 edition of The Times, the letter—signed simply “A Tired Dressmaker”—details the miserable work and living conditions of seamstresses, not in the East End of London, but in one of the finest dressmaking establishments in London’s West End. Continue reading

Canine Haute Couture: The Paris Salon of the Celebrated Monsieur Vivier

“A dog is more difficult to dress than a lady, however capricious she may be.”
M. Vivier, Pearson’s Magazine, 1898.

The Actress Rejane And Her Dog by Giovanni Boldini, 1885.

The Actress Rejane And Her Dog by Giovanni Boldini, 1885.

Wealthy and aristocratic ladies of the 1890s who desired to dress their dogs in the latest styles travelled from far and wide to visit the Paris salon of fashionable canine tailor Monsieur Vivier.  Located in the Galerie d’Orleans at the Palais Royal, Vivier’s establishment welcomed dog owners from all over the world.  He was famous for his canine haute couture.  So famous that some compared Vivier to legendary fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth—a fact which Vivier proudly acknowledges in an 1898 interview in Pearson’s Magazine, calling himself “the Worth of Dogs.” Continue reading

The 1890s in Fashionable Gowns: A Visual Guide to the Decade

(Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum)

(Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum)

The 1890s ushered in an era of modest, dignified gowns, some of which were almost prudish in appearance.  Necklines were high, skirts were straight, and enormous puffed sleeves—hearkening back to the gigot sleeves of the 1830s—contributed to an overall impression of women who were far more formidable than delicate.  This was the decade of the New Woman, the Suffragette Movement, and the tailor-made dress.  This was also the decade known as the Naughty Nineties in the United Kingdom and the Gay Nineties in the United States. Continue reading

This is Death: A Guest Post on George IV by Catherine Curzon

Today, I am very pleased to welcome royal historian and author Catherine Curzon with a fascinating guest post on the death of King George IV!

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814.

“It has pleased Almighty God to take from this world the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.  His Majesty expired at a quarter past three o’clock this morning, without pain.”[1]

Before I even put pen to paper to write Life in the Georgian Court, I had a soft spot for all things George IV.  I’m fairly uncommon in this, as George is a far from popular fellow thanks to his love of spending, excess and treating the world as though it was his and his alone. Continue reading

The Extraordinary Tale of the 18th Century Shark in the Thames

Sharks by Winslow Homer, 1885.

Sharks by Winslow Homer, 1885.

For centuries, there have been tales of giant aquatic creatures lurking in the depths of the River Thames.  Some of these tales were based on actual fact.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, it was not uncommon to find porpoises in the river.  And once, according to author George Henry Birch in his 1903 book London on Thames Bygone Days, fishermen on the Thames even encountered a small whale.  Perhaps the most famous of these tales—as well as the most extraordinary—is the true story of the killer shark caught in the Thames in 1787.
Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Pretty in 19th Century Pink

Individual Images via Met Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, and MFA Boston.

During the Victorian era, pink was considered a sweet, feminine color, suitable for the gowns of young ladies in their first season.  It was also fashionable for more mature Victorian women, who often wore evening dresses made of fine pink satins and silks.  Most commonly of all, pink was an accent color used for trim and accessories.  Ladies carried pink parasols and pink fans.  They decorated their bonnets with pink ribbons and flowers.  And, in the summer, their light cotton gowns were brightened with pink stripes and pink floral sprigs.  In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color pink in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Lilacs, Lavenders, Plums, and Purples

Victorian Purple Collage

Individual Images via Museum at FIT, MFA Boston, and Victorian and Albert Museum.

Purple was one of the most fashionable—and versatile—colors of the Victorian era.  In fabric shades ranging from pale, delicate lilac to rich, deep plum, it was suitable for day dresses, visiting dresses, riding habits, and evening gowns.  It was also an acceptable color for those in half-mourning, with ladies frequently wearing dresses in shades of mauve-grey or lavender.  The 1856 invention of aniline dyes resulted in even more varieties of color.  Gowns and accessories were produced in violets, magentas, and brilliant berry hues.  In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of purple in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

Boarding Houses for Victorian Cats: Holiday Care for the Family Feline

“It is during the summer months, when house holders leave town for their holidays, that poor pussy is forsaken and forgotten, and no provision being made for her, she is forced to take to the streets, where she seeks in vain to stalk the wily London sparrow or pick up any scraps from the gutter.”  The Book of the Cat, 1903.

Smoke and Orange Persians, Book of the Cat, 1903.

In the late 19th century, Victorian families embarking on their summer holidays often chose to leave their pet cat behind unattended.  This decision—likely motivated by the belief that, when left to their own devices, all cats will hunt for their supper—resulted in a profusion of half-starved cats wandering the streets in search of a handout.  The sight of so many cats in distress compelled some to take drastic action.  One lady in the west of England even went so far as to offer a holiday feline euthanasia service.  As a June 24, 1889 edition of the Gloucester Citizen reports: Continue reading