As we celebrate the glorious Victorian Era by reminiscing the culture and lifestyle through our editorial, we go further into the fashion trends of the times. In our previous post we surveyed the tea gowns and their relevance in the society virgin to the customs of afternoon tea and snacks. Today we take a look at the decorative accessories that ladies adorned as a customary part of their dressing. Since Victorian Era’s infamy was in its fastidious etiquettes the fashion accessories weren’t merely an add on to the dress but had social significance too. Let’s take a look at three accessories during the 19th century – Hats/ Bonnets, Head dresses and Shoes. The most prominent to catch our eye when we visit museums or art galleries or read books with images of Victorian times.
Bonnets & Hats: Milliners were the respected lot as far as occupations were concerned. Being a milliner to the aristocrats and wealthy was a matter of pride.Being a home-grown cottage industry for widows or modest maidens it offered a source of livelihood to fend for themselves in the absence of a man in their life. Their creations earned them not just money per piece but a reputation as well among the well-heeled and upper class. The word Milliner is derived from Merchants of Milan or Millaners who traded silk, ornaments, braids and other fashion materials to the wealthy. During the Regency and Victorian Era bonnets were to women what hats are to us today. A well-crafted bonnet was made out of straw and was en vogue. But then Napoleon’s army made it difficult for trade between Italy and Britain causing a paucity of straw bonnets. However as an alternative buckram came to the rescue and silk was covered upon the starched linen to give it a cardboard like stiffness. As the 19th century progressed into the 1830s the bonnet size grew with a large brim that was required to hide the profile of the woman and decorated the face by framing it. Bonnets were a staple with large brims and Bavolet ribbon. The Bavolet ribbon played a crucial role in social etiquettes as it functioned to cover the neck from the back of the bonnet and was tied around the neck with a bow in the front. This coverage of the neck and hair played a significant role in defining the character of a woman. If she flaunts her neck she is exposing her erogenous part of the body which means she is flirting with men around her. The neck was only meant to be uncovered during evening dinners or parties where socialising was permitted. During the mid-1850’s the bonnet’s depth reduced to expose more of the face and hair. Hats made a brief appearance during this decade with the revival of the shepherd hat that had broad brim and shallow crown.
It wasn’t until the 1860s when hats made a permanent mark on fashion history and outdone the bonnet. By the late 1800s, bonnets were looked upon as a modest not fashionable accessory. In the mid-1860s, the ‘Fanchon’ had arrived that were mostly made of silk, crochet, lace with wide long ribbons that dropped down to the breast. The Fanchon was aimed at covering the profile and chin when tied in a bow covering a small triangular portion on the head. The 1880s had arrived and hats were now decorated with plumes, baubles, ribbons, flowers and were made of silk to make a fashion statement in high society ball or garden party. Hats were getting taller, fancier and broader during the late 80s to 90s. In the mid-1890s androgynous dressing for outdoor activities had appeared in the women’s fashion thanks to sports enthusiasm among women. The ‘Trilbys’, for instance, was only associated with men, however, were considered appropriate for women except for formal occasions.
Headdress: A headdress was an essential part of the Victorian evening gown which was made of dark red or blue velvet and encrusted with gold and baubles and tuft with plumes, feathers. It is the most decorative headpiece you will see during the late 1800s. Silk and lace were a part of decorative flowers on the headpiece.
Shoes: Thanks to the flowing gowns and dresses not many got a peep at the ladies’ shoes. Gasps of horror would spread if anyone in the society got a glimpse of a lady’s foot. Well though the fashionistas of Victorian Era wouldn’t stop dressing their feet just because they weren’t visible. Silk, satin were the order of the times for shoe makers commissioned by aristocrats. Heels were small and feet were rather tiny by today’s standard. Shoes adorned embroidery, encrusted gold or silver decorations and sometimes for the overtly showy jewels too. High heels were used to accentuated the bustle posture. Towards the end of the 19th-century, heels were smaller in size.