Women Dress for Other Women, Part 2

Where were we? Oh, right, the Regency Era, predominantly England. I’ll look at the Victorian Era, the late 1890s, Edwardian, The Twenties, and see what we have time for after that. The first blog on this topic can be found here.

I love this article about the misconceptions we have about Victorian Women. My mind brings up Louisa May Alcott when I think of Victorian families, yet her life was very different from the norm. She challenged society and gathered with other women writers to encourage each other. If she could have gotten a fragment of the fame and fortune her books have earned in the years since her death, Louisa would have achieved one of her dreams, to be rich. Poverty was her nemesis for her whole life. She didn’t actually set fashions as far as dress, but more as to behavior and careers.

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Queen Victoria, for whom the whole era is named, was not big on fashion until she became queen. Then she had to think about the image she presented. And the world certainly was watching her. She loved lace and flounces, she insisted in local fabrics for herself and her court, and she readily adopted any ideas the love of her life, Prince Albert, proposed. Victoria lavished jewelry on herself and did not care much about the way her overdecorated gowns looked on her small figure. When Albert died in 1861, the queen became the model widow, wearing only black for the last 40 years of her life.

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A note about the queen that is not well known and is often questioned when I write about Regency weddings, but white was not the normal color for brides before the wedding of Albert and Victoria. With the lack of sewing machines and the expense of fabrics, sensible brides would wear a dress in a bright color that they could wear at another time. So yes, my heroine may have worn a green dress for her nuptials.

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Most people associate the bustle with the Wild West, an American era that captured the imagination of many thanks to dime novels and penny dreadfuls. But the fashions for women still came from England, in part due to Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lilly. After making her way under the patronage of the Prince of Wales who became King Edward the VII, she turned to acting as a way to earn her living and get the chance to travel through America. Fresh from the horrors of the War Against the South, audiences flocked to see her for her talent, her fashion sense, and the rumors of scandals from her past. She never publicly denied any of them.

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She said once, when in her seventies at the end of WWI, “What looks attractive on someone else might be hideous if I wear it, and vice versa. Every woman is entitled to her independence. It is her right to dress conspicuously or modestly, as she chooses. it is her right to ignore the dictates of fashion and dress in a manner that is most becoming to her own character and personality.”

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Coco Chanel rose from poverty to create a fashion house that started as a small hat shop in Deauville, France in 1913. Her designs were focused on making women look good while fostering comfort. She believed luxury was not really luxury if it was uncomfortable. Her influence lasted six decades and by the late 1920s, Chanel had an empire including a couture house, a perfume laboratory, a textile mill, and a jewelry workshop. While she did have several high-profile love affairs, hinting that she attracted men, the focus of her career was women. ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.’ Coco Chanel

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The Roaring Twenties, of course, saw a huge change in dress, probably jumping off of Coco’s relaxed styles to the “boyish” silhouette of the Flappers. Hemlines rose and hair bobs were the style. Clara Bow and Marlene Dietrich were icons on the Silver Screen. The news of the day included Al Capone, Prohibition, bootleggers, and making a quick fortune on the stock market.

I’ll finish this up in a couple weeks with a look at modern influences on women’s fashions. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

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