Women have always been drawn to fashion, and the Texas frontier was no different than any other setting. From wealthy ranch wives to schoolmarms to women working on the farm, females shared a common thirst for fashion. Practicality won out for slopping the pigs or hanging out the wash, but for church, a picnic, or party, every woman wanted to look her best. And with the advent of fashion magazines becoming readily available through the post, a woman need not live in the fine cities of the east to know what the latest styles dictated.
Harper’s Bazaar, Peterson’s Magazine, The Delineator, and Godey’s Lady’s Book were some of the favorites during the latter half of the 19thcentury.
My favorite era to write about is the 1880s. Early in the decade, we see lovely slender silhouettes. The bell-shaped skirts of the Civil War era had been left behind and the bustles of the 1870s had not yet made their comeback, so the style of the day exemplified grace and elegance. However, the tight-fitting style wasn’t always practical.
This sample from Godey’s (at left) shows the slender lines, layered flounces on the skirts, and the vibrant colors women of this time period enjoyed. The women on the ends are wearing the snug fitting basque bodices that extend to the edge of the hips while the dresses on the women next to them exemplify the longer polonaise style bodice that becomes more of an overskirt as it drapes past the knees or even the ankles.
Below is a fashion plate from the September 1881 issue of Peterson’s Magazine. Note the tiny, corseted waists and gathered, draping fabric across the hips and upper leg area of the two models on the right. This horizontal draping was very indicative of the early 1880s. Some of the most popular fabrics included silk (lightweight for eveningwear, faille, lampas, and gros grain varieties for walking dresses), wool (merino, cashmere), satin (often brocaded), and velvet. Of course, women with a more modest budget had to make do with linen, muslin, and calico. Yet in the hands of a capable dressmaker, the results still translated into fashionable ensembles.
So what 1881 fashion best describes your personality?
- The fine merino wool walking dress – You like to wear the latest styles, presenting an elegant, refined, and professional image.
- The calico work dress – High fashion is just not practical for your everyday life. You’ve got too much to get done and prefer being comfortable while you’re doing it.
- Britches and cotton – You’ve got a bit of a rebel streak in you. You’d rather be off with the boys fishing, riding, or doing anything outdoors. Skirts of any kind are just a hassle.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of my first release, A Tailor-Made Bride. In this story, my heroine, Hannah, is a seamstress who always keeps abreast of the latest trends while finding ways to adapt them to the lifestyle of the women in Coventry, Texas.
A Tailor-Made Bride was a 2011 RITA finalist for Best First Book as well as a finalist for the 2011 National Reader’s Choice Award.