• 1880s fashion: the decline of the bustle

    Lillie Langtry was born as Emily Charlotte Le Breton (13th October 1853), on the island of Jersey. She moved to London in 1876, after marrying Edward Langtry. By 1881 she had become a well-known and respected actress, going on to become a successful producer. But what influence did she have on British fashion? And how might this knowledge help you to date your old photographs?

    Lillie Langtry by Sarony


    1880s Women’s Fashion

    Rigid style with decorations

    In this decade there were two distinct fashions that had a number of features in common:

    • the focus on the design of the clothing was at the back of the body
    • designs heavily restricted a woman’s body and her ability to move
    • there was heavy use of trims and decoration in both day and evening wear.

    The first line of fashion was the continuation of the “princess line”, discussed in our article on the 1870s. This style almost caused the bustle to disappear from the fashion scene, but it re-emerged in 1883. This time it was a much sturdier protrusion from the lower back and became the second style of the 1880s, the “Lillie Langtry” bustle, which remained popular until the 1890s. 

    1880s women's fashions. Lillie Langtry bustle


    The Lillie Langtry Bustle

    This bustle was probably very uncomfortable to wear! It was made from a series of metal bands, giving it a very rigid shape. The saving grace of this style was that these bands were designed to fold up so that the wearer could sit down

    Bodices and dresses were designed to have tight sleeves and stiff collars (often boned, with whale bones), and became narrower at the shoulders. The tight sleeves developed small puffs at the top, which went on to become the ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves of the 1890s. Hemlines were usually only just above the floor and designs often imitated men’s fashion with panels designed to look like jackets and vests.

    To make the distinctive shape of the bustle more obvious, jackets and coats were more often worn, as opposed to cloaks and capes. High-necked (knitted) jerseys also became popular. All of these garments were very heavily embellished. There was a particular liking for dark, sumptuous colours and materials, reminiscent of furniture fabrics. When dating photographs of your ancestors, the colours will be difficult to distinguish, but the silhouette and embellishment should help you to pin this decade down.

    Hairstyles became more elegant, with hair tied up as opposed to falling loose, and hats were worn on top of the head. Millinery became very decadent, using vast numbers of birds' feathers and causing some species to become endangered. This led to the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in 1889!


    The Aesthetic Movement

    As a response to the tight-fitting, extremely uncomfortable bustles and corsets, the tea gown became popular. Tea gowns were looser, with no corset, and much more comfortable to wear. The name comes from being the garment of choice for women to wear at home or when they invited friends for tea.

    This style was developed by the Aesthetic Movement – a movement ridiculed by the press – who wanted to design more humane clothing for women that gave them a simpler beauty based on craftsmanship and styles that had been popular historically. The designs were developed by the Pre-Raphaelite artists for their models.

    1880s Men’s Fashion

    Dinner Jackets, Frock Coats and Morning Coats

    In the 1880s, men’s style aimed to create a slim line that emphasised the height of the man. For formal occasions, a frock coat, with a seam around the waist and a full skirt, was worn. In the evening, this became a tailcoat and double-breasted waistcoat, with a white bow tie.
    A new style for the 1880s was the dinner jacket. This was a less formal version of a lounge jacket and was worn with a black bow tie. It became known as a tuxedo in the USA.

    Two men posing for a portrait, 1880-1890

    Two men posing for a portrait, 1880-1890

    A more casual, adaptable choice was the morning coat. These also had a seam at the waist but were cut away at the front. On formal occasions, a black coat could be worn and on less formal ones, a shorter, tweed version could be worn.

    The most informal choice was still the good old sack coat. By the 1880s, it had become a lounge suit.

    In our next blog, we help you date your photos from the ‘naughty nineties’!

  • 1870s Fashion: The popularity of the bustle

    Following on from theprevious post in our series on dating old photographs from fashions, we have now reached the 1870s. This decade saw an increase in material spending, with mass production in the Industrial Revolution in full swing. Department store displays, advertising and fashion magazines were now consumed more readily and fashion trends became easier to follow, although the style still reflected social standing.

    1870s Women’s Fashion

    The early 1870s saw the popularity of the bustle continue. These were set high and attached to crinolines, but lowered as the decade progressed. Bustles were often elaborate items of clothing, with ruffles, gathers and embroidery.

    They began to lose their popularity in the mid-late 1870s with the advent of the ‘princess line’. A new style named after Alexandra, Princess of Wales. This favoured an incredibly slim and body-conscious look, with severe corsetry. Skirts became narrower, hoops were out and bustles were smaller. Embellished trains became the new trend. 

    For upper-class women, the top of the body was stiff and tight. Stiff bodices and huge bustles gave the wearer limited mobility. Upper-class and elite women did not work, so their rigid clothing would separate them from the more practical clothing of the lower classes. A long, slim silhouette was replacing the hourglass figure of decades past. Bodices could be just as decorated as the skirts, but necklines changed into v-necks or a square neckline. With a more revealing neckline, pendants and velvet chokers became fashionable. 

    In the privacy of homes, tea gowns were introduced. These allowed the wearer to go without the stricter clothing worn outside, although these were only worn in the house and in the company of other females. As the decade progressed, they became more elaborate in style, with frills and lace.

    Continuing on from the previous decade, hair continued to be parted in the centre with an emphasis on height and elaborate coiling. The back of the head usually mirrored the back of the skirt, with some women wearing false hairpieces to gather more height. In the mid-1870s, fringes began to make an appearance. These hairstyles brought attention to the face, along with bows and lacy collars on the necklines of clothing.  

    Shoes and boots had high heels and pointed toes, with stockings to match. These stockings could sometimes be little works of art in themselves, with embroidery or tiny designs.

    Capes and cloaks were replaced by coats and jackets, with some coats designed to accommodate the bustle skirts.


    1870s Men’s Fashion

    The 1870s saw a move to simpler and more sober styles for men with an aim to look respectable and industrious. 

    Mens Coats 1872 Fashion Plate


    The silhouette became slimmer and shirts plainer. Cropped frock coats were popular in the first half of the decade. The popularity of the lounge (sack) suit continued to increase, especially amongst the lower classes. Usually paired with matching trousers and a waistcoat, it's believed that this style formed the beginnings of the three-piece suit. This style was often topped with a bowler hat.

    Hair was cropped and parted neatly. Facial hair was still the norm but was tidied up. Think trimmed moustaches and tidy ‘muttonchops’. 

    We will be exploring the fashion of the 1880s in our next post.

  • How to date COLOUR photographs using fashion

    In this series of blogs about ‘dating photography from fashion’, we have now arrived at the 1860s.

    This was a decade where women’s fashion was characterised by full skirts which relied on crinolines and hoops; but also, conversely, by the influence of the ‘Artistic Dress’ movement which rejected Victorian trends in favour of beautiful materials and simplicity of design.

    In men's fashion, the three-piece ditto suit of sack coat, waistcoat, and trousers in the same fabric, emerged as a novelty.

    And by this decade, some huge advances had also been made in photography, including improved processes and the creation of the world’s first portable camera (although a commercial version did not appear for a further three decades).

    However, the race was still on to produce the first colour photograph – a quest that involved many scientists, inventors and businessmen! There was high demand for portraiture among our middle-class ancestors – a demand which could not be met in volume and in cost by oil paintings – so the first person to produce a colour photograph could expect to reap the rewards.

    But – spoiler alert! – despite several attempts, colour photography as we know it did not begin to appear until the 1890s.

    ‘Colour’ photography in the 1860s

    So, if the advent of colour photography was still 30 years away, how come there are ‘colour’ photographs dating back to the 1860s? I have one of these myself: a picture of my great, great grandmother, which I know was taken around the time of her wedding in 1868 (see below).

    There is a fascinating explanation. Photographers were eager to give their customers what they wanted, and they had given up waiting for the scientists and experimenters. They took the matter into their own hands (literally) and began to add colour to their monochrome images. They employed artists who, with their skill and colour, were able to give the subject a more life-like and natural appearance.

    Photograph taken 1868 (the image on the right is the original black & white; the image on the left has been painted).

    Clothes, hair, colours

    That answers the question about my ‘colour’ photograph – but, if I didn’t already know when it was taken, could I date it from her appearance? Yes! The V&A website tells me that dresses in the 1860s featured tight bodices with high necks and buttoned fronts, and that white lace was popular for collars and cuffs. Towards the end of the decade, hair was dressed high at the back with complicated twists and rolls.

    Wikipedia tells me that the shape of the dress had changed from bell-shaped to flat at the front and more projected out behind – and, while dress colours were generally ‘delicate shades’ in the first half of the decade, 'greens… and darker colours’ appeared in the latter part.

    So, I think it’s safe to say my great, great grandmother’s photograph was taken in the late 1860s.


    Male 1860s Fashion

    But, what if you needed to date a similar ‘colour’ photograph of a man? The V&A website tells us that the fashion was for men's coats and jackets to be single-breasted and semi-fitted, extending to the mid-thigh. Waistcoats were often collarless and single-breasted, and trousers were occasionally cut from a narrow check cloth. High, starched collars were worn with cravats and neck-ties.

    Hair was parted from the centre and moderately waved. A particular hairstyle, known as 'Dundreary whiskers' or 'Piccadilly weepers', was in vogue, which comprised long, pendant side-whiskers worn with a full beard and drooping moustache.

    Look out for our next article on fashion in the 1870s: the decade in which we finally said farewell to the full-skirted fashions. If you're interested in the fashions of the 1850s, read our previous blog.

  • 1850’s Style: Prince Albert's Influence on Fashion

    The previous blog post in this series looked at the influence of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress on 1840’s fashion. Following on from this, we’re now focusing on Prince Albert’s influence on men’s Fashion in the 1950’s.

    1850’s Men’s fashion

    In the 1850s men’s fashion became bolder and more stylised. This was evidenced by wider lapels on the frock coats, which also started to become more loosely fitted. The waistcoats became more boldly patterned with metal buttons. 

    A Princely Fashion

    In fact, the style of men’s fashion still very much followed that set by Prince Albert the decade before. He made the large, distinct, mutton-chops and moustache fashionable. Men also tended to have a side-parting to their hair with an elaborate, high wave at the front. High upstanding collars on shirts and large, asymmetric bow ties, tied at the neck, also followed Prince Albert’s style (shown in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below).

    Coats were mainly in the style of tight-fitting frock coats that fastened high up to the neck, but sack coats were also becoming more fashionable. These were loose-fitting jackets that reached down to the mid-thigh (shown by the man on the right in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below left and the picture of the working-class men to the right). They would later become the modern suit coat.

    This was also the decade the Bowler Hat was invented (around 1850), but it was seen as a working man’s hat and so not worn by members of the middle- and upper-class, who favoured Top Hats.


    1850’s Women’s Fashion

    In contrast to men’s style, women generally parted their hair in the centre and tied it back in a bun or side coils, with deep bonnets. The indoor cap, commonly worn at home to cover the hair, decreased to ribbons or lace worn at the back of the head. Generally, the style was conservative and not as elaborate as in the coming decades.

    Feminist Intentions

    The main changes in fashion were Bloomers (introduced in 1851) and Hoop skirts (1856). Bloomers, often trimmed with lace, were taken up as part of the feminist movement against masculine ideas about what constituted appropriate fashion for women. Prominent Women’s Rights advocates of the time, Libby Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer (writer of the groundbreaking reform paper The Lily) were pioneers of the fashion, Amelia sharing her name with the liberating garment. Bloomers became popular in the early 1850s but fell out of fashion after failing to take off in America - because of a feeling that they lacked decorum!

    The hoop skirt was more successful and greatly altered the shape of women’s skirts. It was often worn over a crinoline petticoat and had three-tiers or deep flounces in it to increase fullness. Paisley patterned shawls also became fashionable at this time. The fabrics were mainly linen or cotton, with silk or wool less common.


    In our next blog, we'll take a look at the fashions of the 1860s, helping you to date those old family photographs by the clothing.