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Historical background
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Ninetieth century was a most dynamic period in the history of fashion. During the 100 years dress had changed repeatedly and radically. Waistline traveled over the entire length of female torso and skirt swelled to reach unmeasured dimensions only to return just like in the beginning of the century closer to female silhouette. The pace and character of those changes were determined by numerous political, moral and social factors as well as by the industrial and technological revolution.
Fashion at the start of the 19th century was shaped by events of the previous century. French revolution, abolishing Bourbons wanted to cut itself off the ancien régime in all of its manifestations. This was true also for the fashion. Exquisite, courtly attire symbolized dissolute, wasteful (of course on the expense of the people) lifestyles of the aristocracy. For a revolutionary government, ideals of ancient democracy of the Roman republic were a model. Fascination with antiquity was also influenced by archeological discoveries made around half of 18th century, first of all excavated from under the volcanic ashes ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
During revolution dress was simplified. Influence of English fashion and borrowings from bourgeois fashion were visible. Then, using political and scientific pretext, ladies gladly reached for clothes of ancient fashion dressers. In such a way a radical change happened. Corset and pannier as symbols of feudal enslavement were rejected. Airy dress-tunic appears sewn from white, light cotton or linen fabrics (muslin, tulle, batiste). Cut under the bust it freely flows by the folds to the ground. Small bodice with a daring décolletage has attached to it short sleeves.
It’s a kind of paradox that queen Marie Antoinette, personification of regime hated by the revolution could be recognized as a precursor of this fashion. Already in 1780s she promoted loose dress-shirt so called chemise à la reine (shirt queen-style) girded with colorful silk sash, being a harbinger of forthcoming new style.
Contemporary fashion designers allowed as the sole protection against the cold a fabulously colorful and very expensive cashmere or made of Turkish fabric shawls which besides their practical function beautifully contrasted with the whiteness of dress. This style was introduced by Madame Récamier and empress Josephine - it’s great fun and collector. Cashmere shawls would enjoy popularity until the middle of the century. Another dress item popular for equally long time - up until 1860s –were bonnets tied under the chin, missing crown above the neck called capote.
However, life itself (specifically climatic conditions) forced certain exceptions. Hence appearance of dresses with long, tight sleeves and as overcoats borrowed from English fashion short jackets, ending below bust called the Spencer and even long rain coats replicating shape of the dress.
Truly elegant ladies of the French Directory (1795–1799) and Consulate (1799–1804) periods used jewelry very reservedly. Patterns of diadems, brooches, buckles were modeled on the ancient cameos. Often designers of such jewelry working for French jewelers were … archeologists (sic!), who had access to ancient Greek and Roman originals.
Year 1804 brought fundamental changes in European politics. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as Emperor. This brilliant military and political leader tried to compensate for the lack of aristocratic origin (he was only a Corsican nobleman) by the pomp and splendor of his nascent court.
He wants to catch up with the magnificence of truly royal Bourbons and even exceed it. This is reflected in the rigidity of the etiquette, formality of court ceremonies, as well as in the splendor and richness of costumes. Style of dress is not fundamentally changed, however beside white, airy fabrics new ones are used especially in court and ball dresses – heavy velvet and silk fabrics.
Color range is extended to include deep, saturated colors. Sometimes train of the dress reaches length of a few meters. A particularly elegant costumes are adorned with rich embroidery using gold or silver threads. Hairstyles lose their ancient simplicity, they become more complex, with pinned up piled-up curls, decorated with jewels and flowers. Elegant ladies use ever more elaborate jewelry to decorate themselves.
At the end of the Napoleonic era a Polish trace manifests in fashion. Perhaps after the tragic experience of a defeated Napoleon's army winter retreat from Moscow in 1812, two years later, French fashion magazines published design of a ladies winter coat named wilczur [Polish for German shepherd or wolf]. These are long, fur-lined and framed coats, complete with a huge fluffy muff.
With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the period of the First Empire ended. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 a new political order in Europe took shape. Imperial court disappears and so does empire style in fashion. A new style in fashion appears whose main message is a complete departure from antiquity.
Nothing should associate with the defeated Napoleon and the period of sometimes lax morals. Now the traditional bourgeois values are appreciated. Bourgeois Vienna dictates manners and fashion. It is the bourgeoisie that begins to be the dominant political and economic power. Biedermeier period begins, which will last until the Spring of Nations, that is until 1848.
In the 1820s waistline, tied up again by a corset, wanders down the torso to its anatomical location. The décolletage is permitted only in ball gowns. Bust and neck is being obscured by high collars. Dresses are becoming shorter, with a broad, richly decorated bottom, they also acquire long sleeves.
In 1830s X-shaped silhouette is promoted. Above wasp waist rises very extensive top with huge, low-sewn sleeves aptly named "ram legs". To balance, skirt supported by numerous stiff underskirts is getting wider. Hairstyle becomes sophisticated and complex with stiff bundles of curls on sides of the face and bun pinned up on top of the head intertwined with braid. In addition to capote bonnets high crown and wide brim hats are worn, decorated with large bows, flowers. Also all kinds of turbans and pillbox hats are used.
Fashion in 1840s makes a feminine silhouette more slender and frail, creates a mysterious romantic muse. Style of dress emphasizes slenderness of arms by the low-sewn tight sleeves widening only below elbow. Corset squeezes torso and waist ever tighter. Skirt extends to reveal only the tip of the pump, it swells supported by elastic underskirts made of horsehair (French Crin - hair), reaching a domed shape of crinoline. Hats’ brims decrease and hairstyles acquire naturalness: hair is smoothly combed, parted in the middle of the head with curls falling freely on both sides of the face.
Worship of family life during Biedermeier period leads women to stay mostly at home and to deal with a variety of practical activities. Frugal and industrious housewives make by themselves fashionable embroidery, applications, laces and decorate with them collars, cuffs, handbags, shoes and the husband's and father's vests or slippers. Practical invention of this era is dress consisting of lighter blouse and darker skirt. In the early 1850s a two-piece dresses are sewn from which, depending on more or less ornamented front fasten bodice, one may get in a cost-effective way attires for all occasions.
Since the mid-nineteenth century technical inventions. start to have a significant impact on fashion. Introduction in 1856 of a lightweight steel frame instead of the stiff multi-layer underskirts allowed crinoline to quickly "swell" and for skirts to reach perimeter of ten meters! The invention by Isaac Singer in 1859 of a sewing machine allowed to decorate dresses with a huge number of ruffles whose previous handiwork manufacturing was very labor intensive and therefore costly. Subsequent inventions and mechanization of the textile industry reduced greatly the cost of fashionable dresses, which became available not only to the richest. Fashion become more democratic. Crinoline knows no age limits; worn by women of all ages - from young girls to aged ladies.
Beautiful Empress Eugenie sets the tone for fashion. Fashionable ladies arrange their hair imitating hairdo of the French monarch; hair, divided in the middle, loosely combed over ears, pinned up on the back, where curls fall to the neck.
Crinoline reaches its peak around 1860, then gradually its circumference decreases, and the rear of skirt extends becoming a train.
In the early 1860s yet more technical inventions appear aiding the fashion.
Invention of aniline dyes extremely enriched palette of fabrics, one could get close to 1,000 shades. Also machine made embroidery and lace​ could be used more generously.
Unusual phenomenon could be observed in the Polish lands in the years 1861-1866. Under the influence of the tragic for the homeland events before the outbreak of the January uprising, during the uprising and after its collapse Polish patriotic ladies go into national mourning. Although the dress is a crinoline of a most fashionable cut, but its color is black, brightened with white collar and cuffs. Hats are decorated with funeral flowers. Umbrellas and bags carry mourning accents - ashy, black and white, edged with black piping. Even girls are dressed in black, gray, black and white or gray stripes crinolines. Moreover, toys also have a funeral "decoration" - puppets in the hands of the girls have black dresses, and hoops are wrapped in black and white ribbons. Jewelry of that time is exceptional.
Magnificent jewels which were given for the patriotic cause are replaced by patriotic jewelry. These are iron bracelets, like prison chains, brooches in the shape of the crown of thorns, black enamel rings with a silver eagle and a variety of crosses on neck chains or velvet ribbons. Despite severe punishments and repressions by the occupying powers banned mourning style of dress continued for five years.
At the end of the 1860s crinoline disappears completely. Front and sides of dress are flattened, tight, stiff bodice turns into skirt extended to the rear. At a special backing of horsehair or of metal bars, located at the back, draped are huge amounts of ruffle, pleats, haberdashery ribbons, which after the invention of machinery for the manufacture of haberdashery are used without restraint, so that the dress resembles a Victorian ottoman rather than women's clothing. This model is called "early bustle" and will reign throughout the 1870s. Hairstyle of this period is as sophisticated and overdone: little curls at the temples, loose curls falling on the back of the neck, bangs on the forehead and a complex knot at the top of the head, and on this tiny, highly decorative hat going down playfully on the forehead. In the 1870s a dress called „à la princesse” (princess style) created by Parisian fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) is becoming ever more popular. Cut in its entity and modeled by cuts, closely fitted to the waistline and hips its back is decorated with low draped fabric.
Around 1880 bustle disappears, giving place to a "dove tail" that is an extremely decorative, extensive train which is an extension of a tight-fitting bodice. The skirt in this outfit is narrow and much more modest than the back of dress.
After a short time bustle returns, but in another, almost caricatured form. On the back below tightly constrained waistline, a steel frame in the shape of a horseshoe is attached and skirt and numerous ornamental trimmings are draped and clamped to the structure. From the front a women looks slender and graceful, while from the side she looks bizarre, a bit like a mythical centaur. On her head, decorated with intricate rolls of braids and long curls at the back and with tiny curls around the face, lies a small indeed, but overdone with ornaments hat. Tilted to the front it is balancing a protruding, monstrous back.
Since 1890 a new style of art - art nouveau - reigns and has a huge impact on fashion. The new art - art nouveau – is inspired by nature, the natural world and uses generously undulating motifs of flowing lines of plant stems, water currents, or winding, curvy elements of the animal world. A woman should resemble exotic, ethereal, fairy-tale phenomenon from fantasy world of flora and fauna. Her figure takes the shape of the letter S. There is no question of bustle and rear is exposed due to the cut of corset, retreating hip to the back. The new corset should also expose a handsome bust and most thin waist. Bell-shaped skirt turns into an impressive fan-like train of the dress, a true peacock's tail.
Bodice of the dress or blouse hanging freely in front forms so called wasp abdomen. Sleeves take the 'ram leg' shape already well-known from 1830s. Big hat, especially richly decorated from the front, highlights S-shape of feminine silhouette. Colors of attire allude to art nouveau era pastel painting and the airy, lightweight fabrics (muslin, thin silks, tulle) make the dress ethereal and graceful.
When designing colors for ball gowns it was taken into consideration how a particular color may look like in the newly invented electric light.
Hair is arranged as a free wave forwarded towards the front over the forehead and on the back loosely bound in a knot over the neck. Jewelry and fashionable accessories (combs, umbrella handles, buckles, cigarette case etc.) have now fashionable wavy lines and winding, tangled motives, drawn from the natural world.
At the end of the 19th century a suit consisting of a jacket, skirt and blouse become fashionable. A richer version added fancy bolero jacket and cape. They were sewn from dark colored fabrics. With the passage of time women suit becomes simpler and is differentiated as springtime, walking, travel, sports, for concerts, English style, for horse ridding etc.
Growing interest in sports leads to a new type of clothing a dress that is meant exclusively for sports. Most original example of that style are cycling dresses with puffy trousers reaching only to the knee and beach apparel tightly covering female figure. Dresses for mountain climbing, skating, skiing are basically variations of everyday clothes with skirts being shortened and flat-heeled shoes and hats made of straw lined with tarpaulin used for mountain walks.
At the turn of the century social change, new active lifestyle of women, emancipation, more frequent employment forced a radical change of the way women dressed. Dress should not restrict movement, be more practical, comfortable. Such it would become but only during first decade of the 20th century.
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