Fitting like a glove: Fashion.



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Victorian Costume - Fashions


How did dress in the Victorian era reflected the inequalities between and different role expections for men and women both within the family and in public life?
During the Victorian era of 1837 - 1901 there were many changes in fashion styles and the social and economic structure of Australia. There was the end of the convict era, pastoral expansion of the 1840s, the influx of free settlers due to the gold rush of the 1850s along with the growth of urbanisation in all states. ‘By 1890 approximately two-thirds of Australians lived in areas which, for census purposes, were classified as urban.’ Clothing has always been the ‘ever apparent symbol of personality and for ‘recognition amongst fellows’. Victorian fashions revealed the distinction between men and women, as well as between the classes, subculture,occupational, moral and regional structure of the Australian society.

In the leisure and upper classes, men and women ‘dwelled in luxuriously appointed houses, overdressed,entertained to excess, kept dressmakers and tailors and gardeners on hand.’ The gentry ‘demanded appropriate recognition and respect from the lower orders’ and the more humble people of the working and poorer classes. There were endless ways in which a person could advertise to the world that he or she belonged to a superior class. Both men and women wore entirely different clothes from the working class, making it obvious on sight to which group they belonged.

The most vogue fashions were seen in the cities as urban fashions were ‘essentially the same as those in any part of the developed world’. The only clothing that could be described as ‘typically Australia’ was worn by country people. Both men and women made known their status and role in society by the style of their clothing. This was a ‘continuing and constantly shifting aspect of colonial life’. There was more contrast between everyday dress of the upper classes and some subcultures than that of the working class.

Women’s role was that of wife, mother and homemaker. Some women were involved in the traditional areas of nursing, domestic servants, teaching and volunteer work for charity. Those in rural areas and the bush worked the farm as well as attending to child rearing. During the Victorian era the role of women ‘was defined largely on the basis of their appearance, and not on intellectual or occupational grounds. The ideal Victorian women was expected to be ‘childlike, pale and indeterminate, passive, submissive, mindless, genteel and nice.’ One testimonial from the Victorian press reflects this same attitude and view towards women, ‘if you want a girl to grow up gentle and womanly in her ways and her feelings, lace her tight (!)’.

Clothing was an impression of status reflecting society’s attitude to different classes both social and sexual divisions and the anticipated etiquette of the person.When visiting Melbourne in 1886, Mark Kershaw wrote on his dismay of seeing ‘nice - looking, stylishly dressed creatures, talking and walking with ill-dressed young larrikins’. The social and cultural structure of the Victorian society did not approve of socialising with other classes. Does Kershaw’s comments labelling women as ‘creatures’ reflects his and many other attitudes towards women? Girls of the more noble classes dressed themselves in the exaggerated fashions of the day, attending suitable functions, and prattling to any eligible men without restraint.’

Dressing in modern styles and attending social functions was a indication and display of a new phase of their life, as they now were available to be courted and suitable to be wives, mothers and homemakers. It was expected of women to present themselves as blissful, especially on social occasions, both in fashion and composure. ‘Victorian modesty expressed itself in the multiplicity of petticoats’. The style of women’s clothing during the Victorian era began with the crinoline skirt, next the impracticality of the bustle, which was eventually replaced by the corsets of wasp waist and the S-bend silhouette. Girls as young as three and four years of age were also made to wear crinolines skirt and petticoats. The women of the lower and working classes followed the same trends in fashions but wore toned-down versions, showing their ability to be resourceful. They ‘distended the (crinoline) skirts with plain unwired petticoats’, whilst for bustle they inserted a horsehair pad into a pocket which was ‘concealed in the folds of the gown at the back’.

Towards the late 1890s women began to realise the problems of dressing in the extremity of the days fashions: Corset are just as unnecessary as they are injurious, at any rate to the average stamina, and of an average symmetry...On the contrary, if any honest reasoning women sincerely believes that it is better to reduce the breathing capacity of her lungs, to crowd her internal organs into unnatural and often dangerous positions...let her do so. Women of Sydney’s upper class had been wearing tight corsets since the early years of the Victorian Age (1837 - 1860).18 Many believed and took for granted that they lacked the ability and the right to be treated as equals thus: When we reflect that women has constricted her body for centuries we believe that to this fashion alone is due much to her failure to realise her best opportunities for development, and through natural heritage, to advance the mental and physical progress of the race.

Still women continually wearing figure distorting corsets, unpractical skirt hoops and the magnitude of petticoats or ‘risk being considered unworthy of their class’. In the late Victorian era there was a change in the social life of women as they became involved with some active sports, such as cycling and tennis. This increased the desire for ‘garments suitable for participation in sports’ and the need for modification of clothing to allow easier movement. But still for everyday wear many women still wore the traditional styles, which even though they now had fewer petticoats, the heavily boned corsets for the wasp waist and S-bend silhouettes were still being worn.

‘Men’s dress during the Victorian era settled into the ‘stereotype’ from which the prototypes of today have evolved, especially those of the late Victorian era (1880 - 1891).22 Middle class men especially in the cities were easily identified as they always dressed formally in the emblems of their rank - ‘top hats and morning suits’ in line with their place in society. The working man in contrast to women ‘took no notice of city fashions’ and choose clothes more practical to his occupation and life style. Even though Australia men did lose their ‘image as a bushranger frontier’ and evolved into ‘a predominately urban society’, rural clothing and lifestyle still exhibited the bushranger image. Men too like women had to adapt the trends and influences of dress to be more suitable for the Australian climate, considering: How is it that Englishman can be so stupid as to wear, in a climate where the glass is commonly at 90 in the shade, and sometimes even as high as 120, the black cloth frock and dress coat of the home country (England) the heavy boots, the misshapen, unbecomming [sic] waistcoats, and trowsers [sic] ...?

One subculture of the Victorian era was the Larrikins who had ‘a language, manners and dress peculiarly his own...’. The Larrakins were easily recognised by the short jackets, short and tight bell bottom trousers worn with high-heeled pointed boots. The activities, dress sense and life styles of the Larrikins and their girlfriends (donah) earned them ‘the anger and disgust of all respectable folk’. The donah was described as ‘gaudily dressed’ wearing boots, violent coloured dresses and flaunting their feather boas. Maybe gaudy could be also used to describe their presumed and display of character.

During the Victorian era both men and women made known their or desired status and role in society by the style choice of their clothing, the ‘rules regarding appearance and etiquette were clearly defined’ for both sexes.30 The Victorian cultural and social system of society was very quick to judge people by their apparel and treated each other according to their appearance. When observing the fashions of the Victorian era in Australia, in line with sexual differences one must also take into account the contrast between the classes, social, subculture, occupational, moral and regional structure of the Australian society.


FASHION IN THE 1900s
In first decade of the 1900s, fashionable women needed morning dresses, afternoon dresses, evening gowns, and simpler dresses that were less occasion-specific. Social rituals, especially the custom of formal visiting, dictated the use of each of these dresses, or gowns, as the fancier garments were called. Women also wore suits, with shirtwaists (blouses), and had sporting clothes for their more active pursuits like skating, cycling, and tennis. The suits were coordinated jackets and long skirts, and were made by ladies’ tailors rather than by dressmakers. Shops like A. & L. Tirocchi often made the blouses or waists, as they were known in slang.
No matter what type of garment, women’s clothing in the early 1900s was designed to show off a woman’s tightly corseted torso. Such close-fitting clothes required "the perfect fit," so the most stylish women went to dressmakers who could do this for them. Until the early 1920s, the lining of the garment was the foundation on which the dress was built.
Custom dressmakers like the Tirocchi sisters carefully fit the linings to their customer’s measurements using dress forms built out to the client’s size. Then the client would try on the lining to make sure the fit was proper. When this was achieved, the dressmaker built the more costly fabrics around the lining, draping satin or velvet to form the skirt, and creating bodices using net, lace, and beaded trim. Most often a girdle, or belt, held in the waist.
When the French designer Paul Poiret made his first designs for loose, elegant dresses with high waistlines and no corsets beneath in 1907, he was looking back to the French Empire for inspiration. He claimed in these dresses to have instigated the demise of the corset, but many before him had already taken the step and the corset was already a passing fashion. Dress reformers had been urging the abolition of the corset since the mid-nineteenth century. The trend toward looser gowns jumped the Atlantic and American women adopted the newer styles, too. However, conservative matrons still clung to their corsets for a while, so the Tirocchi sisters in the first years of their business continued to design and drape for corseted clients.

Hair Styles 1901-1914|Hair Styles 1901-1914 ]]

Pads and frames of false hair helped the hairstyle of this era appear full and soft with the promise of being luxurious caught up tresses. The pompadour style continued in the early Edwardian years and was achieved not only by supports, but by back combing. All the back hair was pulled together into a plait or flat coil and drawn onto the crown of the head.

The 'Transformation' Pompadour Style]]

By 1902 a product called a transformation was being used. Made of natural hair the product was waved and could literally transform any hairstyle into one of abundant wavy hair. The transformation support often referred to as a pompadour frame was easy to buy. It was used as a base for the style and a woman’s own hair was built up and smoothed over the base.
The volume these contraptions allowed, meant that the hats had a great support to rest on and so they gave an impression of often appearing to be hovering when they rested on a firm foundation.

Edwardian Back Hair Tournure Frames for the Empire Style of Hair Dressing

Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Edwardian Back Hair Tournure Frames for the Empire Style of Hair Dressing
Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Edwardian Back Hair Tournure Frames for the Empire Style of Hair Dressing
Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Edwardian Back Hair Tournure Frames for the Empire Style of Hair Dressing
Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Edwardian Back Hair Tournure Frames for the Empire Style of Hair Dressing

Marie Stuart Frame|Marie Stuart Frame

Other frames including the Marie Stuart frame like the one below gave a heart shaped Elizabethan look to the hair once covered over with billows of hair natural or false.
Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Marie Stuart Frame
Types of Edwardian Hair Frames - Marie Stuart Frame


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Personal hair combings (collected from the hairbrush by a woman or by her maid) were added when extra matching hair was needed to get just the right effect. False curls, switches and frizzle fringes were all available to make styling effects achievable.
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Natural False Hair Pieces|Natural False Hair Pieces


False frizzettes, false switches and plaits (1) ensured a wide range of coiffure styling. Women also used extra curls and small wave pieces (2 and 3) that they pinned in to fill in gaps in their hairstyles.

Picture of Edwardian false hair plait called a switch.
Picture of Edwardian false hair plait called a switch.


Picture of a false hair set of curls.
Picture of a false hair set of curls.


Picture of a false hair wave on a hairpin
Picture of a false hair wave on a hairpin


False hair support
False hair support


The hair roll support on the end (4) ensured the Edwardians were able to make big fat sausage curls all around the head. These hair roll supports came in all sizes from about 4 inches to 18 inches in length.
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