From Crinolines to Cross-Dressing Balls: A Two Year Anniversary Digest

Euphemia White Van Rensselear by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1842.

It’s my blogiversary!  Today, MimiMatthews.com is two years old.  I have no idea what the two year mark of a successful blog looks like, but I feel incredibly fortunate that my site continues to receive such a positive response.  I am especially grateful to all of my wonderful subscribers and to everyone who takes the time to comment on my articles.  Your readership means the world! 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: Butter, Lemon, Gold, and Yellow

Individual Images via Philadelphia Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Met Museum.

During the Victorian era, yellow was believed to be the color most similar to light. With shades ranging from the palest butter to the liveliest lemon, it was suitable for morning dresses, day dresses, evening gowns, and seaside wear. Fashion magazines and color experts of the day recommended restricting clear, bright yellows to spring and summer. However, shades of yellow could be seen in fashionable dress throughout the year, often in the form of gloves, a decorative fan, a frilly parasol, or a stylish hat. In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color yellow in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

“The MANNER of DRESSING the HAIR calls for much attention at the present day, and many are the inquiries addressed to us on this important subject.”
Peterson’s Magazine, 1863.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

The Reluctant Bride by Auguste Toulmouche 1865.

Hairstyles of the 1860s are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful of the nineteenth century.  Hair was arranged in enormous rolls or plaited into intricately woven patterns.  Women donned crowns of flowers or bound their hair up into silken nets or velvet hoods.  These were soft, feminine styles, lacking the Gothic severity of the 1830s and 1840s while, at the same time, still far more conservative than the long, draped curls that would come into fashion in the 1870s and 1880s.  These were also the hairstyles that most of us recognize from the American Civil War era (1861-1865).  Popular coiffures changed from year to year, and often from month to month.  Today, we look at a few of the most fashionable styles of 1863. Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Orange, Pumpkin, and Peach

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum and National Gallery of Victoria.

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum and National Gallery of Victoria.

Unlike popular autumnal shades, such as golds, browns, and burnished reds, the Victorians generally regarded the color orange with disfavor.  Fashion magazines of the day advised against wearing orange dresses, calling the color ugly and claiming that it was unflattering to every complexion.  Even worse, as fashion historian C. Willett Cunnington reports, some believed that the color orange implied “a degree of animal passion which the pure ought not to possess.”  I had not intended to give orange an article of its own, but it’s Halloween today and I can think of no better occasion to showcase a selection of this much maligned—but nonetheless striking—shade of Victorian fashion.  Continue reading

Emblems of the Soul: Butterflies in Victorian Fashion and Folklore

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things by Sophie Gengembre Anderson, (1823-1903)

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things
by Sophie Gengembre Anderson, (1823-1903).

Victorians had a fascination with natural history.  This manifested itself in various ways, not the least of which was in fashionable clothing and décor.  A Victorian parlour, for example, might feature a scientific display of pinned butterflies.  While insects, such as butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, and grasshoppers, were often depicted in Victorian jewellery, with some insect brooches and hairpins set en tremblant (on a spring) so that the jewelled insect would tremble and shake as if it were actually alive. Continue reading

James Tissot’s Fashion Plates (1864-1878):  A Guest Post by Lucy Paquette

Today, I am very pleased to welcome art historian and author Lucy Paquette  with a fascinating guest post on fashion in the paintings of Victorian era artist James Tissot!

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 by 20 1/8 in. (38.4 by 51.1 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot.
Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 by 20 1/8 in. (38.4 by 51.1 cm). Private Collection.
(Photo: Wikiart.org)

No one captured the rapidly-changing fashion trends of the 1860s and 1870s like French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902).  Tissot was more than merely a painter of fashionable women.  His mother and her sister were partners in a successful millinery company.  Tissot’s father established a booming business as a wholesale linen draper – a trader in fabrics and dress trimmings to retailers and exporters.  At 19, Tissot moved to Paris to study painting, and he gained the technical skills to record the fashionable female form of this period – tall, slim figures heightened by high chignons, hats, and heels, with silhouettes changing every few years. Continue reading

A Century of Sartorial Style: A Visual Guide to 19th Century Menswear

Individual Collage Images Courtesy of LACMA, Met Museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Individual Collage Images Courtesy of LACMA, Met Museum, and the Kyoto Costume Institute.

Men’s fashion changed very little during the nineteenth century, especially when compared to women’s fashion of the same period. For this reason, I thought it better to provide a general overview of the century, looking at changes decade-by-decade as opposed to year-by-year. In this manner, you can see the slow evolution of nineteenth century menswear, from the Regency dandyism of Beau Brummell to the matched three-piece suits of the late Victorian era. Changes were subtle, but significant, each of them moving men’s fashion one step closer to the elegant silhouettes still evidenced in fashionable menswear of today. 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

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