Fashion Lumbers Backwards, Or, 1820 To 1865, How'd That Happen?

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
ball dresses with 1825.jpg

The 1864's trim, petticoated, crinolined, corseted and layer encumbered granddaughter of 1825's svelte, high waisted, slipped ancestress had not sat down since 1855. She also had an awful lot more buttons to do up at the throat than Grandmother in her youth, more sheer poundage in fabric to lug around and an assurance bosoms would become, for the first time since Puritans denied we had any, a dark secret.

We're so accustomed to being smitten with our war era fashion I'm not sure we genuinely see what was presented to our ancestors as ' fashion ', much less what they were expected to haul around with them, daily. Images like this, from Demorest's the American crème de le crème of fashion, sure hit me in the eye.
1862 dem.jpg

Really? These poor women look like door stops, and door stops stripped of all vestige of flesh, toboot. Given that hoop- the old panniers of another century had been shed only to be brought back in this more awkward form, with a kind of full-coverage not in use at that time hints ( IMO ) at a forced modesty not in evidence generations previously.

1790 dance.jpg

Late 1700's ' panniers', with ball dress fill out what was filled out with petticoats, sans a ball. This bodice was perhaps quite revealing but the cut? Common and unblushing. Bosoms Were Us- and it was Ok, honest.

1825 la belle regncy.jpg

Here's ' Grandmother ', in that ball dress so lovely you'd be tempted to wear it today.

1820 dance print regency.jpg

1825, in keeping with Grandmother, in the first image, this cartoonist loved lampooning his era's extremes but our relationships with our bodies was quite a comfortable topic. And nothing was more elegant, feminine or freeing than a ball gown of simple A-line design.

We kept it up, mostly, albeit became considerably cluttered- still permitted to be feminine. The neck-to-toe lockdown is not in evidence through the 1840's- in fact, if long skirts reigned at least we knew we were female.
1831 la belle assemble.jpg

1831, La Belle Assemblie


1839, ' Cabinet of Fashion ;

1839 2.jpg

1839, same fashion journal, Still no hoops, layers of petticoats instead. And a ' bosom ', dripping lace, jewelry and, well, bosoms.

1841 cp.jpg
1843 cab of fash cp.jpg

1841 and 1843, not much has changed. Off the shoulder gowns but not daily dresses, severely tailored waists around a very feminine outline, neckline still low. Two decades until the war.

1847 cabb.jpg

1847, same magazine, since it contained simple illustrations. Bonnets became a little ' heavier ' but were still incredibly feminine as were dresses and necklines. Even with winter coats and cloaks, the Door Stop had not yet made an appearance.

1855 godys 2.jpg

1855, Godey's Lady's Book, one of the best ' crossover ' images I could find, although the little girls have become alarmingly covered up to the throat and a certain chunky detail appears, in the girl's skirt, right. Hoops!

And here is where something goes horribly wrong, I'm sorry. Our figures contained and changed out of all recognition, hidden and enhanced where there was nothing, buttoned to the throat as if bosoms could escape, run down the street and corrupt both female and young man, the ' evolution ' is startling.
1859 godeys 2.jpg

Godey's Lady's Book, 1859. Good Glory, what have they done?

1865 godeys.jpg

1865, Godey's. You'll see the lower neckline in wedding dresses and perhaps ball gowns but not universally. Somewhere, despite the passage of decades, we wrapped women up like presents from the Belschnickle, not delightful celebration of just, plain being feminine, as in generations past. Fashions come and go. This was a whole, ' nother perspective, from women to door stops.

So what happened?
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