Sunday, August 28, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part One

What follows is part one of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. This is what I meant when I told you "I've always been this way". I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

This got an A from a very generous teacher. She did wish the material could have been "a bit more condensed". 


Have you wondered who wore the first clothes? The caveman was probably first. His wardrobe consisted mostly of sheep and tiger skins, maybe some mink if he was wealthy.

Now I'll skip a few thousand years and begin at 1850. This year approximately begins the Victorian era which was perhaps the ugliest period of the centuries. Meaningless ornament and veneer were applied to a design of already poor taste. Colors were crude; bonnets frankly hideous.

It was necessary to wear heavily padded petticoats until the steel-rigged crinoline, or hoop-skirt, was invented. Horsehair and crin stuffing were used. The crinoline got its name from this stuffing. Since its invention in 1530, designers have tried to revive the crinoline about the middle of each century thereafter, but it never quite reached its exaggerated shape of the 1850s.

Often it took 1,100 yards of material to make a dress in vogue at this time. Materials were cheap and gauze-like. The Empress Eugenie of France popularized silk from Lyons, but it was too heavy and you couldn't take the preferred short gliding step when walking. Most dresses were worn only once because its beauty depended upon the freshness of the material.

Style star Eugenie
Many petticoats were worn, and this is a list of what you'd have to get into before you put your dress on:
1) Lace trimmed drawers
2) Horsehair lined under-petticoat
3) Flannel petticoat
4) Three and 1/2 yards of horsehair
5) Calico petticoat stiffened with cords
6) Wheel of thick plaited horsehair
7) Three starched muslin petticoats
Rather bulky, wouldn't you say? All this weight was a terrible threat to good health.

Billowy skirts with flounces upon flounces were popular. Sleeves got larger until they were very wide at the elbow. Another popular type of sleeve was called the "Pagoda" sleeve. Dresses were adorned heavily with the customary junk and bric-a-brac.

It was impossible for ladies to get into overcoats, so shawls and mantillas had to be adopted.
Poke bonnets and leghorns made of straw were popular. Heavy gold jewelry was worn by both men and women, and so were vests. These vests were worn with a Russian Zouave coat by women. Kid slippers (especially black) were very popular. No heels were worn on ladies' shoes.


There were many difficulties in wearing these clothes. Actresses had to wear them even in medieval and Greek plays. This was thought to be the cause of the skirt's downfall. These dresses were too thin and inflammable. At one great church rally over three thousand women were burned alive when the place caught fire, because the dresses were so thin.

Empress Eugenie is said to have taken 250 dresses with her to the three-day opening of the Suez canal.

Men wore frock coats (especially plaids and checks) and a starched shirt with a little frill. A huge bow tie was popular for evening, along with very tight trousers. Silk top hats were popular, also the straw boater. The bowler hat was first introduced.

Children's clothes were much like that of their parents'. Boys' clothes were very un-masculine. Styles for children were fancy and frilly. However, simpler clothes were designed for the country. The girls wore hoops and crinolines too. The pantalets didn't show yet, but a bit of petticoat sticking out was considered fashionable.

Boys wore skirts to the age of nine. Older boys wore feminine laced pants.

Frolicking in the fifties
to be continued...


  1. Thank you! I can hardly wait for the next installment!

    1. Oh yes, those 1870s were really something! Thank you for reading and enjoying.

  2. I Am Very Happy to Read of Your Blog. Really Great Post. Its brilliant.

    Ethnic Wear For Kids

    1. Not bad for a 12-ywar-old, I think! Thanks for reading.