London Fashions January 1888
Fashion reflects, like a mirror, the expression of the moment. It is associated with our joys, our sorrows, our activities, and our entertainments. It is very much affected by our environment. In England, we have to provide for cold winds, warm sunshine, and wet weather.
Occasionally Father Frost comes in for his share of consideration, but not so often as young England would like. He is appreciated all the more for the rarity of his visits.
While Northern Europe provides pleasant coffee-rooms and dressing-tents at the frozen water's edge and revels for a while in sleds and sleighing as well as in skating, we make the most of a few days, sometimes of a very few weeks, in which the beneficial exercise may be enjoyed.
The time of year when we most hope to be able to skate is at the end of December or the beginning of January. Accordingly, a fit and proper dress for the amusement becomes a matter of consideration.
It should be light, warm and allow perfect freedom of the limbs; at the same time, the costume is to be becoming and should boast of a happy amalgamation of tone. It has come to be considered a matter of course that a skating-dress should be trimmed with fur.
In the accompanying costume, designed by Mr. Redfern, the golden otter is used for the trimming on a most excellent combination of terra-cotta and fawn cloth.
The skirt has no drapery whatsoever, and comfortably clears the ground. It is mounted into the waist with broad box-pleats and edged with the fur; a panel of fawn cloth is let into the front, covered with embroidery carried out in a copper cord, these tinsel threads and cords being one of the distinctive novelties in the fashions of the season.
Great care and artistic skill have been brought to bear in the combination of the several tones, and some of the galons used on dresses and mantles combine green, red, gold, brown, and smoke-colored tones, so interthread with metallic effects here and there that they recall the beauty of some antique metal-work to be found in Florentine palaces.
This same copper cord braiding on the fawn cloth appears again as a waistcoat to the jacket, which is also made in terracotta cloth to match the skirt, has a roll collar of the golden otter, and is double-breasted, fastening with cord devices and barrel buttons.
The fur borders the cuffs and is a happy contrast to the cloth. Within the fur-rolled collar, there is a turn-down collar of velvet about the throat. The toque is made of fawn cloth and stands up well above the face.
A fur aigrette at the side and a band of otter round the toque have long been worn, but they differ so much from year to year that no one would recognize them as coming under the same generic term.
In the present case, an excellent addition is the point of cloth like a jelly-bag brought down on the left side over the brim.
The whole costume is completed by a muff of the darker cloth, with an otter. This dress fulfills all the requirements of the healthy exercise for which it is intended.
There is but little weight from the waist, and the jacket, though flattering to the figure, does not confine it in any way; while the hat is soft and, in case of a fall, could not injure the head.
Children skate well and fearlessly; they have not far to fall, and soon acquire the necessary balance. Good fur tippets, which cover the entire chest, tapering to a point at the waist, should not be dispensed with; and soft felt hats or, better still, a Tam-o'-Shanter cap can hardly be improved upon for them.
There are variances with the dresses and very little uniformity in the rules that regulate them.
Past fashions from time to time have stemmed their inspiration from a beautiful queen like Marie Antoinette, to a fearless champion of what she considered right like Charlotte Corday, a royal favorite like Mme. de Pompadour, or a homely sovereign like Queen Anne, a Roman matron, or a fashionable French dame in the time of the Empire, the demonstrative Court beauties of Lely's time, and Pre-Raphaelite damsels in long straight folds.
Reynolds, Winterhalter, Vandyke, and Watteau have provided models with graceful Japanese princesses and Swiss peasants, and in our day, we would seem to borrow a little from all.
Splendor, both in color and material, is a characteristic of the period and models have every opportunity to show off their charms to the best advantage, provided they be given time, thought and regards as well as money.
Says the old distich —
"Somehow these same good looks make more impression than the best of books."
Balzac speaks of "Une laideur interessante" as depending on some subtle grace, and a perfectly well-chosen costume had banished any ugliness before it became interesting.
Opera cloaks are one of the articles of dress in which we evince the modern luxury of material and profusion of trimming. Mme Nicole's model (see illustration) is made in Vieux-rose plush, lined with crevette satin wadded and quilted; it is bordered with bear and has two new features, both admirable in their way.
The sleeve is drawn together at the wrist, keeping the arm additionally warm, without deducting anything from the grace of the cut. Just at the waist, the plush is cut in two short points, and below them, the mantle is left open and edged with fur on either side.
This gives plenty of room for the tournure and the inevitable fullness of evening gowns. The embroidered galon which starts from the shoulder is carried down the back seams to the waist, outlining them.
This trimming is as artistic as the coloring of the cloak, a finely wrought combination of brown, gold, and Vieux-rose cord. It is worn over a dress of ivory velvet brocade, which falls in long, graceful folds without any trimming, save beneath the hem a heavy Ruche of two shades of pinked-out silk in heliotrope, which is only seen now and then as the wearer moves.
The front of the skirt is composed of alternate perpendicular rows of cream watered ribbon and gold lace insertion, and the flowers which peep from beneath the plush are poppies of the same tone as the ruching with a glimmering of gold among the leaves.
The bodice, made of the stamped velvet, is cut low, one side only swathed in the white ribbon and gold insertion, a wreath of the flowers carried across the drapery.
A dress fits for an Empress; indeed, in one event at the happy gatherings at Fredensborg Castle (now referred to as “Fredensborg Palace”) this autumn.
The materials primarily used for opera cloaks are frisé velvets and some of those jardinière striped velvets which recall the coverings to antique chairs and sofas in Louis XV's reign.
Plain velvet, plain plush, brocaded plush, and watered velvet, are also used with some of the peau de soie façonnee, and satins richly embroidered in the tinsel threads combining Oriental splendor with the finish of modern art.
Besides the beaded and tinsel galons, rat-tail chenille fringe is used and a new kind of feather trimming which is costly but has no merit as far as beauty goes, for with the soft fluffy marabout tufts of feathers are intermixed which give an unkempt appearance. It takes dyeing every shade of color but even then does not look well.
All trimmings yield the palm to fur, and on this subject, women should instruct themselves, and first really understand the merits and right points of fur. The costliness of the skins is often due to the perfection with which they are matched.
A tippet belonging to a well-known woman of fashion cost no less a sum than £240, but then it took four years to collect a sufficient number of the exact kind of imperial black fox skins.
The best furs for mourning are a black fox, beaver, black raccoon, and lynx. Sable and seal are only suitable for slight mourning.
Nothing is more becoming to a bad complexion than sable. Women who have passed the heyday of youth are beginning to realize this, and some elegant dinner, Court, and tea-gowns in cream tones are trimmed with sable for those who can afford it and with a skunk and other dark skins by the less opulent.
Fur has a royal look about it, and ermine, which for some years has been set aside, is coming to the fore again. A duchess who was present at the Queen's coronation has just had a white satin tea-gown trimmed with the ermine she wore on that happy occasion, which we are to commemorate this New Year.
All deep, bright colors are set off by dark fur, and the coquelicot or poppy shade of velvet is used for many sorties du bal, with a bordering of black fur. Dark furs also decrease the apparent size of the wearer's figure.
In buying, care should be taken to select the length of the hair with judgment. Long, thick furs suit slight figures; a full bust and high shoulders look best in short flat pelt.
There is undoubtedly a great deal in a name, as far as fur is concerned, and if all the fashionable skins were truthfully named, they would need a new nomenclature altogether. Hares, rabbits, monkeys, stoats, all contribute to the demand.
The African monkey's skin is grey or black, and the Abyssinian smooth, and of a lustrous black. Belgium contributes a full quota of rabbit skins, dyed black or brown, or often grey. The lynx and wild cat's coats are not despised, nor, if the truth were known, the domestic animal's.
There are many kinds of Astrakhan, some jet-black and wavy, like watered silk, and the black curly variety. It is as well to understand that all naturally black furs undergo some process of dyeing, as there is a brownish hue in the natural tint.
At this particular season, clothing for children is an important consideration. It is always a subject of in-depth consideration to careful mothers, for so much present health and future welfare depend on our young people being healthily arrayed.
The group of little girls shows how admirably Messrs. A. Stephens and Co. apply materials of real artistic merit to styles of making, which are creative and pleasing to the eye, and fulfill all the requirements of hygienic wear.
Since the useful smock was borrowed from our carters to be adapted to our children, it has undergone many changes and modifications, and the art of smocking has significantly been improved upon.
The "Daisy" frock worn by the child emerging from the doorway is divided into two parts: the front portion smocked almost to the waist; the sides quite plain, without any fullness. This can be worn with or without a sash, and the turndown collar is delicately embroidered.
The full sleeves are gathered outside the arm at the shoulder and wrist. It can be made of plush or velveteen, with a silk front, or entirely of soft silk or Arabian crepe, which last-named material has the merit of washing.
If woolens are preferred, there is a wide choice, including Kishtewar cashmere (thirty-two inches wide and sold in forty different shades) and camels-hair cloth.
There is no difficulty in varying the style of making, for yokes are smocked in points, or squares with contrasting as well as uniform coloring, and many revived stitches are employed.
Sometimes the smocking is improved by a bordering of embroidered bands in outline stitch, and occasionally the sleeves are cut to a point at the shoulders so that they come up into the neckband.
The so-called "Maida" frock worn by the second figure shows another characteristic style, which may be carried out in the same materials. The skirt is a kilt plaited.
The bodice opens in front to show a vest, laced across with cord. Lapels of velvet cover the shoulders; the sleeves are full and gathered like the bishop sleeve, named after the Episcopal lawn.
The stage is the mirror of fashion. It is from Dorothy (now being acted at the Prince of Wales' Theatre) the idea of the Sherwood coat has been derived.
Original, and at the same time suitable, it recalls the Incroyable period (1795–1799), the leading style of the moment. It is made of blue cloth, with a cape, and opens from the waist.
It is trimmed with a device in cord and barrel buttons, the Louis XIV cuff showing a similar decoration. The beaver silk hat with the pointed crown derives its inspiration from the same period and completes it.
Coats are an improvement on the paletôt for children. Some are made now with a kilted piece of contrasting material down the center of the front, bordered with fur on either side, and others take the form of a double-breasted ulster made in serge, with full sleeves confined at the wrist by elastic and a button.
They are prettier with a double cape and large buttons. However, even these must yield the palm of picturesqueness to the original Bluecoat mantle, made in the style which prevailed when Edward the Sixth was king.
In bronze green camel's hair, lined with salmon pink llama cloth, it looks especially quaint. The skirt opens in front, and is sewn in folds to the bodice, which comes only to the waist, and is laced together tightly in front, a deep cape reaching to the elbow, and finished off at the neck with a turndown collar.
Such garments require picturesque hats of felt, or material to match, with high crowns turning up at the side, or with the full gathered Tudor crown and narrow brim.
All these are inherently healthy styles of dress, such as children taught to appreciate active exercise may wear; and they are calculated, at the same time, to encourage a love of the beautiful, for taste in dress, like the expression in music, must be felt.
The useful and the ornamental are the two pivots on which the whole philosophy of dress turns. Various tones of red, together with dark-blue, brown, terra-cotta, and green, are the leading colors for girl's costumes this winter.
Johnstone, Violette, “January Fashions,” in The Woman’s World, Cassell & Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, Volume I, No. 3, January 1888, p.137-140.
Editor's Note: Some terminology used in the description of women's clothing during the 1800s and early 1900s has been changed to reflect more modern terms. For example, a women's "Toilette" -- a form of costume or outfit has an entirely different common meaning in the 21st century. Typical terms applied to "toilette" include outfit, ensemble, or costume, depending on context.
Note: We have edited this text to correct grammatical errors and improve word choice to clarify the article for today’s readers. Changes made are typically minor, and we often left passive text “as is.” Those who need to quote the article directly should verify any changes by reviewing the original material.