Twelve Victorian Era Tips on the Etiquette of Ladylike Letter Writing

“The palm of good letter-writing has been universally awarded to the fair sex.”
Etiquette of Good Society, 1893.

Yes or No? by Charles West Cope, 1872.
(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

For Victorian ladies, there was much more to letter writing than simply dashing off a note. There were rules for proper correspondence, encompassing everything from acceptable shades of paper and ink to penmanship, wax seals, and conditions under which a woman must write in the third person. I can’t tackle all of these rules in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twelve quotes from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ladylike letter writing. I present them to you below. Continue reading

Easter Bonnets of the Late 19th Century

“The Easter bonnet has long been recognized as woman’s particular weakness.”
The Illustrated American, 1886.

Spring Bonnets, Der Bazar, 1882.
(Met Museum)

In the nineteenth century, Easter Sunday was an occasion for ladies of all classes to don their most fashionable bonnets.  Some of these bonnets were specially bought for the holiday.  Others were old bonnets made up with new trimmings.  In either circumstance, Easter bonnets were as essential to celebrating Easter as were eggs and bunnies.  An 1889 edition of the Ladies Home Journal even went so far as to declare that it was “an accepted fact that every woman who can buy or make a dainty bonnet for Easter-day must wear it.” Continue reading

A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police on a High Speed Bicycle Chase

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

In September of 1896, British newspapers reported the remarkable use of a bicycle in a New Jersey murder case.  The case involved two men who had both emigrated to America from London in the early 1890s.  One of these men was a farmer named Mr. Haggett who settled down with his family on a farm near Somerville.  The other man was a fellow named Mr. Clossen who Haggett employed as a farm laborer.  Sometime in 1896, Haggett caught Clossen stealing.  In consequence, he not only fired him from his job, but also refused to pay him the thirty dollars in wages that Clossen believed he was owed. Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Cerulean, Mazarine, Navy, and Blue

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum.

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum.

During the nineteenth century, blue was considered a versatile color, as suitable for elegant evening gowns and demure day dresses as it was for fashionable bonnets, slippers, and parasols. In shades ranging from the palest cerulean blue to the deepest navy, it adorned women of every age and every station, harmonizing with a wide range of hair colors and complexions. In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color blue in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

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

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

From Morning Dresses to Evening Gowns: A Day in Victorian Fashion

“One of the great arts of dressing well is to know that what is appropriate to a morning négligé would be out of place in an afternoon, and would not do at all for the evening.”
Beeton’s Young Englishwoman, 1875.

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

During the Victorian era, ladies of the middle and upper classes changed their gowns multiple times each day.  There were morning dresses, walking dresses, visiting dresses, and evening gowns—to name just a few—each suited for a particular time of day and a particular setting.  The fashionable Victorian lady was well aware of these subtle differentiations and would no more wear a morning dress to dinner than a nightgown to a ball.  So, you may ask, what did she where and when?  In today’s article, we look at a few stylish options from the 1870s. Continue reading

The 19th Century Confidence Man

A Confidence Trick by J.M. Staniforth, 1898

A Confidence Trick by J.M. Staniforth, 1898.

Though tricksters and con artists have existed throughout history, the 19th century confidence man was a creature that many Victorians considered to be uniquely American.  Not a thief in the traditional sense, he seduced his prey with silky words and fantastical promises until his victims willingly gave him their trust, their money, and, quite literally, their confidence.  This propensity for slick talk and tall tales does tend to put one in mind of a stereotypical American of that era.  But was the 19th century American confidence man more than just a Victorian stereotype? Continue reading