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Posts from the Art & Architecture Collection

At The Beach

What a short stretch of time before bathing can become swimming! The social mores that prevent women from disrobing or showing their bodies will slowly be overcome by the end of the 1880s. Since the Enlightenment, women were permitted to wear flowing, concealing robes if they wanted to take a dip in the sea, or even a spa pool. The concept of a bathing suit was far from what we know today. In the 1880s, a woman might wear a slightly more relaxed form of dress, but dressed she remained. Contrast such clothing with the adoption of a 

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Artistic Endeavor

“I would venture to warn against too great intimacy with artists as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.” Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901

Women attempted to break through barriers in the arts as well. The Royal Academy of Art in London allowed women to sit in on certain art classes. Where once they could have only aspired to decorative arts—and the Victorian era is full of such efforts—women now sought painting, sculpture, and architectural training 

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Time for Reflection

When would the first flowering of feminism become important for women? Sometimes it would be passed from mother to daughter, a generational questioning that quietly put down roots. In other cases, strong individuals emerged, whose devotion to the arts or social causes ignited feminine interest. Despite the frivolous silhouette of the bustle, women were increasingly caring about more than their clothes.

Historic revivals of dress styles, including a vogue for medieval and Renaissance garment details, would culminate in the 

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Room To Move/Creative Nonfiction Workshop

Women were moving from crinolines to bustles as the 1870s began. One small revolution of sorts crept into what women wore. Clothing became modified to allow women some greater freedom to participate in sports. The 1870s saw more women taking up tennis, golfing, roller skating, and hiking. Skirts were shortened a little without raising shouts of immorality. Trousers, however, were still beyond the pale.

Garments for basketball, bicycling, and swimming were just a few 

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Looking to the Future

“The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak of or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Women’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.” Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1901

I find the pictures for this post rather meaningful in light of the opinion expressed above. Throughout the nineteenth century, men were finding their own social accommodation to dress, while women were weighed down with the 

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Open Spaces

The California Gold Rush of 1848, among other things, created significant changes to occupational dress for men. When enterprising supplier Levi Strauss brought heavy duty canvas cloth for tents to miners, he heard their complaints about the need for durable work pants. The birth of denim fabric and its subsequent usage was a major step in the evolution of sturdy men’s wear.  

The western 

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Perpetual Mourning

“His purity was too great, his aspiration too high for this poor, miserable world! His great soul is now only enjoying that for which it was worthy!”

— Queen Victoria after her husband’s death

Victoria was breathlessly in love with her husband, Prince Albert, the Germanic butt of modern-day tobacco can jokes. She was known to describe him as “my all in all.” A sober, conscientious prince, Albert composed formal diplomatic correspondence even on his death bed. Victoria’s grief was boundless when he 

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Mourning Becomes Her

Because I’m going to a funeral at the end of this week, I thought I’d take a look at the nineteenth century’s special affection for mourning dress. Black mourning survived over the centuries in various forms. It took the mid-nineteenth century, however, to give the fashion for mourning an added fillip. The Victorian era is awash with ornaments and details affiliated with mourning, from jet and onyx jewelry to lacy veils and black tippets. Women, of course, carried the particular

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Civil War Blues

Fashion held an uneasy place in the war years of the North-South conflict in America. The Union and Confederate armies, uninterested in flashy uniforms, chose practical wear, while women remained ensconced in thick petticoats and triangular-shaped gowns. Some fashion textbooks call this the “crinoline period”. Hoops, or the cage crinoline, made women’s dresses billow as they did, and also made mobility more problematic.

Since the North controlled ports and shipping, and therefore received 

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Military Trim Mid-Century

 Masculine tailoring had always been affected in some degree by military uniforms. In the 1850s, an important element crept into this form of dress: increased comfort. Such an impulse would be more than revolutionary—it would be downright inspirational.

Against such practicality, the occasional flare-up of dandyism had no traction. In fact, the onus was now on the would-be dandy to prove his character wasn’t in question. 

The term “Broadway Brummell” or “Bowery Brummell” 

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Fashion Across the Atlantic

Americans still kept a close eye on fashion in Europe. Fashion periodicals found their way to those who could afford them, or appeared in circulating libraries. Later, Godey’s Ladies Book would offer homegrown interpretations of the latest fashions. Waistcoats for men changed in cut according to what was seen in newspapers from abroad. The stovepipe hat began its popular run. In fact, the 1840s mark a turning point in the fortunes of men’s jackets.

At the same time, America’s more egalitarian society meant 

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A Woman's Rights

Perhaps the truly telling factor in women's lives in the 1830s was how little civil rights they possessed. The women of the later Enlightenment years were more brazen in their demands for personal and legal freedoms. Even the French Revolution had done nothing real for women's liberty. Someone like the late Mary Wollstonecraft would be derided in this century' all her thoughtful writings now criticized in terms of her dubious morality.

Her daughter, the future Mary 

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Feminine Display

Fashions of the Napoleonic era for women had been dashing. However, larger social forces were at work that now placed a disapproving stamp on this look. While the daintily-shod foot could still peep out from under voluminous skirts, necklines rose and the feminine figure was concealed beneath jaunty collars, puffed sleeves, and other additions.

Another indicator can be seen in the hats - frothy and a harbinger of mroe to come during this century. Rackety King George IV was long dead, and his old sea dog brother would sit 

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Clothes Make the Man

The 1830s were a time when men’s clothing was affected by the tug and pull of Brummell’s austere dandy elegance and the more ornate flair of D’Orsay’s early dandyism. Men in general didn’t think of themselves as dandies, but the philosophy of men’s dress was heading for an identity crisis. Tailors still reigned supreme at this time, but fashion cycles made for conflicting modes of wear. Men were more and more inclined to move away from the frills and furbelows of earlier phases of 

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Manly Proportions

I want to offer one last example of the state of men’s tailoring in the 1830s. We can see in these two illustrations the effects of military tailoring on civilian jackets and trousers. In both cases, a nipped-in waist is regarded as necessary. The models are quite robust in proportions, excepting this convention—something we’d more readily expect in feminine dress. Clearly, well-fashioned men from this time were expected to display the kind of body type utilized in these illustrations. The reaction I feel is one of tyranny. How many longed to emulate this look but 

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Oh, That Easter Bunny!

Historical postcards are among the many images that the Library’s Digital Gallery collects. And I’ve found a gold mine of Easter Bunny cards. How easily does this secular holiday figure fit into our pop culture – you can see just by the types of scenes depicted on these cards. Fertility is one obvious clue to the pagan origins of the Easter Bunny, since rabbits generally have large litters. But why are these furry mammals hauling around chicken eggs? Another fertility symbol, a harbinger of new 

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Rabbit Day

At this point, I find myself taking another strategic break. We’re a little over one-third of the way through the nineteenth century. A holiday is coming up, undeniably the most important event of the Christian calendar. But it’s not religion I want to talk about. No, there’s a secular element to this holiday that weighs greatly with me. You see, I am a rabbit owner, and the Easter Bunny lives with me 24/7.

Popular culture has a way of imprinting itself on us. All my life, I’ve looked forward to Easter because of the delight its furry patron creates. How 

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Masculine Contrasts

The new era of Victorianism affected masculine dress as well. Whether in Europe or America, men found themselves more mistrustful of dandyism. This isn’t to say that dandies didn’t continue to emerge from time to time, often in artistic circles, but the general air was one of cynicism. The illustrations I’ve used for this post are indicative of what two American men from different cultures would wear in the 1830s. An even greater impulse for change would affect men’s clothing. Scholars still argue today over the 

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Yards of Fabric

How did women fare in the 1830s? European society was growing more conservative, and the lusty days of the Regency were now looked back on with a shudder. Popular culture might admire the dash of a Count d’Orsay, but, for women, only courtesans and actresses were permitted the same license.

As one consequence, a trend was building for a greater envelopment of the feminine form in fabric. A new age was coming—one with powerful consequences for the future.

It began on the morning of June 20, 1837, when an 

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