Tuesday, 16 March 2010

My Victorian Fashion Plates

I'm being increasingly enamoured of the style and substance of fashion plates. In part, this is due to having enjoyed groping the fashion prints I bought from Sanders of Oxford not so long ago. (I'm still proudly showing them off to everyone who steps foot in my living room at present - I daresay my housemates are getting quite sick of that-advert-about-the-Victorian-children and that-ridiculous-article-about-pancakes.)

I'm slightly amused by the fact that though different, distortion of the human form is still distinctly present in Victorian fashion drawings. The women's waists appear about as wide as their heads and all sorts of contortion appear to be happening to allow for the back of the bonnet to be visible.

That all the figures have no waist also amuses me - though of course, in different ways, granted, but that is the only modes of waist in Victorian female fashion: waists that go down to tiny corseted nothingness and a sheer lack of waist as a towering mound of fabric.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion plates with the descriptions still intact were significantly (almost disproportionately) more expensive than the ones that were just pretty pictures (such as the ones I bought). Though apparently, it's surprisingly common for the descriptions to differ from the illustrations (especially as the colourists would quite happily replace one colour with another if they happened to run out).

The above clearly shows the a rather early example of lower sleeve fullness, triangular or V-shaped emphasis in the bodice, and a sloping shoulder line that came into ascendancy 1840s. The lady in the green-dotted gown in particular has a number of pleated panels at the breast.

Fashion history aside, I'm rather taken with the blue dress on the left. I confess to be beginning to contemplate something along those lines. Not entirely convinced by the pale blue with the yellow bonnet, but I'm not sure I consider the colours to be an accurate representation of what colour choices were like. Unsurprisingly, colours fade and these pictures are well over a hundred years old.

As an aside, colourists of lithographic prints (such as fashion plates) are usually educated women,
...who do not wish it known that they earn money by their labour: these carry the plates to their own homes (and eve nhave them sent to fashionable places of restor in summer), so that many a fair damsel trips along Chester street with a roll of something which seems to be music, but is, in fact, work.
Virginia Penny, The Employments of Women: a Cyclopaedia of Woman's Work, (1863)
I've not much to add to that other than that's fascinating and I'm waiting for that to appear in a novel sometime. I feel the urge to make some sort of quip about how my painting of the Designer's work is continuing this tradition of skilled men drawing and womenfolk tinting, but the words won't quite phrase in my mind.

I'm more than slightly tempted to try and mimic the art style of the prints in future sketching, but the Designer reminds me that the level of technical skill required is rather higher than that of my usual fare. I'll posting a little more on fashion plates on the internet another day, I'm beginning to hoard quite the collection.

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