"Fashion is the great governor of this world. It presides not only in matters of dress and amusement, but in law, physic, politics, religion, and all other things of the gravest kind. Indeed, the wisest of men would be puzzled to give any better reason why particular forms in all these have been at certain times universally received, and at other times universally rejected, than that they were in or out of fashion."
The "du Maurier" girl was as popular in those years as the "Gibson" girl was recently. The type is still too well remembered to need description. Du Maurier's idea was, as he himself expressed it, "fair as a goddess, and divinely tall," and he carried out this fantasy in all his drawings, whenever he had occasion to portray an English lady, to such an extent, that it came to be generally accepted as the conception of what she really should look like. There is an innate stamp of breeding about his ladies that is very convincing, and makes them quite the best depictments we have of the smart society woman of London in the 'seventies and 'eighties. Always dressed in the latest fashion, but never over-dressed, she seems to personify all that is feminine and delightful and up to date, without a trace of ostentation or vulgarity. Whether represented in the ball-room or in the home, she appeals to one with irresistible charm. The contrast between her and her French prototype is all in her favour, for she was at least natural, and not always playing to the gallery.
If we accept du Maurier's drawings therefore as realities, and not ideals, of the society woman, we have the following delineation as a remembrance of those times. She is tall, fair, and charming; serious without a trace of coquetry, frank without pretension. There is no frippery in her attire: the small black vest with the skirt fastened at the waist shows off a line figure and healthy form, whilst the elegance of her whole attire at all times is redolent of good-breeding. No fashion-plates of those years convey any idea of this particular type so well as a glance through the back numbers of "Punch," for there you have not merely fashion, but character as well. In this connection it may be of interest to draw attention to the remarkable deterioration in this respect of the modern fashion-plate. Take, for instance, a plate of the the forties, and you have not only a design for a costume, but you have also an interesting illustration of the lady of to-day which in itself is of ethnological value. In the modern plate, which is never so well drawn or reproduced, the figures are simply dressed-up dummies without any character in the drawing. » Back To Content
Fashion in London was then represented by a very exclusive aristocracy, and those intimately connected with it, or by those who thought they were, and not, as now, by those who have the money to go to Paris and purchase what they are told they ought to get. Plutocracy could not then give admittance to that sacred inner ring towards which so many longing glances were cast, for to get into society, money was not the "Open Sesame." Monsieur Auguste Langel, in his work "L' Angleterre politique et sociale," gives his opinion that a social position may be more easily and rapidly obtained by mere wealth in Paris than in London.
In the afternoon there was formal visiting to be made previous to going into the Park, and these visits were the means of disseminating all the petty gossip and "on dits" of the town. Hurlingham [opened as a pigeon-shooting club in 1868 -- polo was started in 1874] was the fashionable afternoon lounge on certain days in the week, but the club was yet in its infancy. The Crystal Palace was too far, so it was only occasionally, on fireworks nights, that the "smart set" endured "so long a drive "as to Sydenham. There were occasional evening fetes during the summer at the Botanical Gardens in Regent's Park, which in those days was the most select of the al-fresco resorts during the season, as one could only get in by invitation from a member. It was here that one saw the smartest gowns, and the latest so-called Paris fashions, though how near they must have been to the original, the impressions of Monsieur Taine give us some idea.
Theatre-going had not developed to anything like the extent it has now reached, and as there were no restaurants worthy of the name, people seldom dined in public.
The great London hostesses of the 'sixties, 'seventies, and early 'eighties have left imperishable memoirs of the balls and receptions at which hospitality was lavished to an extent unknown in these more practical days, when entertaining is usually done by a caterer at so much per head. It was, we read, quite a usual thing in those days for a hostess not to know all her guests, and vice versa, and this theme was the subject of several of du Manner's most delightful drawings.
Fashionable society in London was then, as it is now, very different from what is understood to represent the grand monde in Paris. In London young unmarried women form as a rule a very considerable portion of a fashionable set, whilst in Paris it is quite the contrary, only married women being permitted the licence which is allowed to an unmarried girl in England. The French girl leads a very monotonous existence, and, except in certain Anglicised sets, is always tied to her mother's apron-strings till she gets married, when she makes her debut into society, and also not infrequently endeavours to make up for lost time. The feminine portion of the grand monde in Paris consists principally of married women; therefore, when speaking of fashion and its votaries, in the ville lumidre, one refers to female beauty of more mature years and experience than it is understood in England, where girlhood and young womanhood everywhere reign supreme, and to no small extent lead the fashion so well. » Back To Content
The day of the Grand Prix at Longchamps was then, as it is still, the big final event of the Paris season, and thousands were attracted to the famous racecourse who knew they had not the remotest chance of seeing any of the racing, so great would be the crowd on that particular day. Still, all who could get away from the stifling air of the city on this particular Sunday would make their way to the Porte Maillot, if only on the chance of catching a glimpse of some of the celebrities of the day -- perhaps the Emperor crowds and the Empress, if one was lucky: if not, some of the fashionable beauties and well-known demi-mondaines.
The endless defile of carriages of every possible description with their loads of well-dressed and interesting people, carriages. from the splendid four-in-hand to the ordinary sapin or cab, was a source of never-failing interest to the less fortunate individuals who considered themselves as forming part of the procession, by crowding at every corner and criticising loudly and with much good humour and ready wit all who attracted their notice as they slowly drove past. The fifrandes demi-mondaines, those fair and frivolous charmers The grandes who were so much en evidence in the world of fashion during this epoch, were always the cynosures and to a certain extent the favourites of the public. One heard quite a chorus of recognition when such well-known beauties weii-known as Leonide Leblanc, Anna Deslions, Cora Pearl "la belle Anglaise," Marguerite Bellanger, and Marie la Polkeuse, to name only a few out of the score of pampered Aspasias whose names were household words in the world of pleasure in Paris in the 'sixties, rolled by in their magnificent equipages.
This day was also the great day of the year for fashions as well as beauty, and the lawn behind the grand stand was always crowded between the races with the smartest and most original toilettes of the season. The great dressmakers inaugurated at this period the custom of sending their most attractive mannequins dressed in thevery latest creations in the hope of making a hat or a gown, and attracting the notice of a society plutocrat. It was here also that the fashions of the immediate future were introduced, either to catch on or ta be ignored, for there could be no medias res. In short, the Grand Prix at Longchamps in those palmy days of the Second Empire was the great day of the year. » Back To Content
Nor were expectations deceived, as will be seen, for the fiat went forth in undisguised terms from the autocrats of the Rue de la Paix that there was to be a return to close-fitting gowns, and the graceful outline of the human form -- gowns, in other words, a tardy return to common sense. There was nothing to do therefore but to bow to the inevitable, or to the dictates of fashion, whichever one preferred to call it, and the next few years saw changes which, if not quite so incongruous as those in the period from which we have iust emerered, were none the less indegant and un- Many in- ^ JO' o elegant modes. attractive, as will be seen. The new mode was, however, destined to be abruptly ended in France by the terrible period of the Great War, so the indescribable cachet which of is imparted by the Parisienne, naturally, to any style, how- where-ever inelegant, is quite absent from all fashion for some time. This absence of French inspiration no doubt explains more or less satisfactorily the reason for the incongruity of many of the styles in the early 'seventies. » Back To Content
In 1873 one finds a change which is a sure indication of a return to lighter moods and less serious thoughts. This change is noticeable more especially in lingerie and odds and ends: delicate laces, dainty frills, filmy cambrics, are now more and more in demand, whilst light tussore silks, tulles, nets, foulards in ecru tints, were largely sold in the big magasins, which were crowded again with shoppers eager to purchase the latest novelties. Great developments were taking place in the manufacturing world, in the textile branches especially, and a new impetus seems to have been given to life in the important industrial centres, where the factories were continually evolving new tissues; alpacas, mohairs, cloth of all descriptions, were in constant and ever-increasing demand. » Back To Content
A novelty in the shape of a waterproof coat for ladies made its appearance about this time, and in spite of its inelegance it caught on so well in popular favour, that no woman, however smart or young or old, disdained to wear so useful a garment in wet weather. Embroidery and brocade also came into vogue again, but the most noticeable of the changes from the mournful to the buoyant was shown in the wearing of ornamentation on the costumes in the form of decorated buttons, buckles, and belts in gold, silver, oxydised silver, and steel, and jewellery of the most massive description. » Back To Content
Jet, which had not been in fashion since 1820, now took the fancy of the elegantes, and soon became the rage, remaining in favour for several years. Every one wore it to such an extent that the demand soon exceeded the supply, and imitation jet, made of glass, was largely imported from Venice. Fantastic stories have been told of the huge fortunes made out of this glorified coal in those years of its extraordinary vogue. It was worn more particularly in conjunction with a black or white fichu, and presented a very rich and becoming effect. Lace sleeves a la Louis XVI appear in many of the dresses, intermingled with rich embroidery or "brocatelle." The high rufiles, embellished with gold and silver or steel beads, which were frequently worn on ball-dresses, formed an effective frame to the head, which was not unpleasing. » Back To Content
Kid gloves were a noticeable characteristic of 1875, and appear to have suddenly jumped into favour, possibly because there had been some attempts made to curtail the wearing of them. At any rate they were more in vogue in 1875 than in any previous year. Long gloves with eighteen buttons, elbow gloves, short gloves of soft kid in various shades, were so much in demand that special shops opened where gloves were made to measure. This was considered a novelty in itself and for a time enjoyed a considerable vogue. » Back To Content
Another article de luxe which attracted much notice in 1875 and which gained much favour with the elegantes for a brief period, was the very large fan. It was often so huge that it was popularly known in ball-rooms as a fire-screen. One sees drawings of them which almost give the impression of caricatures, so absurd are their dimensions. Like other eccentricities of a season, they soon were discarded, but not before they had afforded endless amusement. » Back To Content
In 1875 footwear for ladies became noticeably neater and more elegant. A new shape in shoes, called the Charles IX, is particularly an improvement on its predecessors. It was made of what was called a soft glace kid, and was long and narrow in shape. The toe was rather pinched, but not very pointed, the heel somewhat high, and it was adorned with a large bow in the front. There were also walking-boots with cloth tops to match the costumes; these were extremely fashionable. » Back To Content
Millinery, as might be expected, followed the changes in the general mode with unerring decision, and the variety is so bewildering that it is difficult to give even a brief list of the names of the shapes especially in favour in one year alone. One can, however, en passant, mention the "sailor," the "shepherd," the "bersagliere," the "Fra Diavolo," and the "Orpheus." Most of these are still worn, but, with the exception of the "sailor," under different names. There were also amongst the more elaborate and expensive constructions Marie Stuart bonnets in silk or crepe de chine, with jet ornaments or tufts of black feathers, and Michael Angelo and Rubens hats. » Back To Content
Hair was still worn high with curls and undulations over the forehead, or with chignons a la Anglaise. There was also another somewhat favourite mode a la Marguerite in "Faust," with the hair very simply arranged in front, with two long plaits hanging down the back. This style was supposed to give a juvenile appearance, and was therefore more often adopted by women no longer in their premiere jeunesse. » Back To Content
One must not omit to mention the prevailing Paris custom in these years of wearing false hair. It was a recrudescence to the fashion of the beginning of the century, and an important industry gradually arose in connection with it. Trade statistics tell us that in France, in 1871 alone, 51,816 kilogrammes of human hair were sold, 85,959 in 1872, and 102,900 in 1873. We have no figures for subsequent years, but the total must have considerably increased considering the fashion. Marseilles was the principal depot and port of entry for the trade in human hair. More than 40,000 kilogrammes' weight was imported annually. As the weight of hair in an ordinary chignon weight of a did not exceed 100 grs., the quantity imported annually would be sufficient for 180,000 of these head-dresses. There was a celebrated house in Paris which did not sell less than The annual 15,000 chignons a year at prices ranging from 12 to 70 francs each, but there were some costing as much as 250 francs. » Back To Content
The hair came practically from all over the world, though the various nationalities had different values. The French provinces which furnished the most were Brittany and Auvergne. Cutters went round to the different villages and fairs to collect it in exchange for shawls, dress material, or toilet articles. They would also pay cash at the rate of about 5 francs the kilo. Their arrival at the several market centres always took place at the same time of the year. They had no need to advertise their coming, in fact they had no sooner taken up their quarters than their flocks gathered around them, willlng and eager to be shorn. And all they had to do was to reap their harvest and conclude their bargains as speedily as possible. The young girl who desired to sell her head of hair got up on to a cask, and, undoing her coiffure, let it fall over her shoulders. Then a lot of amiable bargaining took place between her parents and the marchand. The deal concluded, the cutting part did not occupy many seconds, and both parties were satisfied. The women did not, however, submit to actual denudation of the head, but reserved a small portion of the front, which, by clever arrangement, was afterwards so disposed as in a great measure to conceal the ravages of the scissors. The actual operation was managed with extreme rapidity, and as soon as the hair was cut off, it was tied in a wisp, weighed, and the bargain concluded.
A great deal of hair was sent annually from Italy, and more particularly Sicily and Naples. Red and golden hair, which came principally from Scotland, were the most costly. The number of chignons exported from France to England in 1875 was 16,820, with sufficient hair to make up another 11,000. The United States came next on the list. It may be of interest to mention a fact that will upset a popular fallacy: hospitals do not supply the hair used for wig or chignon making. No hair cut after death is of any use to the wig-maker or coiffeur. In other words, it must be live hair, otherwise it is brittle and cannot be curled and adapted into different shapes. Another curious fact is that masculine hair has no value whatever, and is useless for even making mattresses. » Back To Content
In 1876 the new Opera House in Paris was opened, and the ceremony naturally attracted all that represented rank, beauty, and fashion in the Capital. Fashion had not yet undergone any very marked change; it was still in a transient condition. It remained en princesse for evening robes, but one finds in the walking-dresses many crude colours -- blues and reds in juxtaposition, and violent checks and stripes -- which were very hurtful to the eyes . Otherwise the long plain sleeves with lace falling on the hands were not unpleasing.
The expected change came in 1877, and one notices a very marked difference in the styles both of the day evening costumes. The princesse shape had almost disappeared in evening gowns, and dresses were often laced all the way up the back, and were overdecorated with bows, lace frills, and flowers. Short gloves were worn, and heavy short gioves. bracelets and necklaces with lockets by way of jewellery. Small fans were also carried. The coiffure, however, was still worn high on top of the head, and aa la 'Anglaise; and for walking-costumes the colours were less crude. » Back To Content
The following year was that of the Great Exhibition, and Paris was crowded to a then undreamed-of extent. It was a matter of amazement to Europe how France had managed to pull herself together so rapidly as to emerge financially triumphant from the ruins of 1871. The wonderful recuperative power of the French nation was again demonstrated in this wonderful Exhibition, and all the world and his wife were attracted to it: the seven years since the war had in verity been well employed. Change in the fashions was still more marked during this year. The princesse robe had quite gone; costumes were made with various jackets, often with a panel in front of a different colour and material, with long revers continuing on the basques, and large pockets with revers mantle known as a Carrick was much in vogue; in winter it was made of velvet and had a fur trimming. Very small bonnets with strings tied under the chin were seen during the Exhibition, but it was a departing mode, and warrants no comment. As a matter of fact, it was not seen again after this year. » Back To Content
The introduction of the "polonaise" came in 1879, and this merits a passing notice. The main novelty of the style consisted in two skirts forming one garment, an under one much pleated and embellished, and the other puffed and held in position by loops of ribbon. The collar of the bodice was cut extremely low and finished with a ruching of lace which is copied at the wrists. The "polonaise " continued to be fashionable for a couple of years with but slight variations. The skirts, however, were gradually tightened above the knees, and to such extent in some of the exaggerated styles that it was said to be a matter of serious deliberation going upstairs in some of the skirts. The Medici collar was worn with decollete bodices, and the sleeves were noticeably short and bouffants. » Back To Content
End of Fashion - 1870-1880