Fashion in the 1800’s was less a palette
for self- expression than a means of ostentatiously displaying your
wealth and social status.
What were ladies wearing around the time of the 1841 census?
Illustrated, above, are the latest London and Paris fashions
The advent of the sewing machine in 1851, invented by Isaac Merrit
Singer, enabled women’s fashion to move faster than ever before.
The illustration below of London Christmas fashions for 1878 shows
this change; advertising numerous dresses, materials and patterns,
they are clearly set up for mass production on a scale that would
have been impossible before Singer’s machine arrived.
The dresses most women wore were dictated by the latest styles
produced by couturiers like Charles Worth, an Englishman who worked
in Paris. As with fashion today, these styles, seen on royalty and
members of the aristocracy, were copied and cheaper versions of
them worn by the less wealthy and the working class. The originals
though were beautifully made in luxurious combinations of silks,
taffetas, velvets and brocades.
Magazines produced illustrations (such as these seen here) to inspire
their readers. Victorian codes of public morality meant that women
had to cover up; and they certainly took this advice, wearing layer
upon layer of clothing, and creating dramatic silhouettes with enormous
bustles and corsets so tight that they endangered their health!
By the time of the 1881 census, your female ancestors may
have dressed like this:
Christmas and New Year’s
Party Fashion 1878-9
No 53 of the New Extra Enlarged Fasion Plates of 20 Figures
Comprising 13 Ladies' and 7 Children's Dresses of The Latest
The poster, above, was published in the Young Ladies’
Journal and advertises the latest dresses available from D
Nicholson & Company of 50-53 St Paul’s Churchyard and
Paternoster Row, Corner of Cheapside, London. They describe themselves
‘as silk mercers to the Queen and outfitters to all parts
of the World’, stating that ‘all the goods represented
in the above illlustrations as well as prices and particulars may
be had gratis upon application’. They offered ‘1,000
patterns of newest silks and dress materials sent post free’.