Some Commentary on Walking Dresses & Walking Suits From the 1880s

O

ne of the more interesting styles to develop during the 1880s was the walking suit/walking dress and they were both practical and stylish, incorporating both a wide variety of cuts, fabrics, and colors and were intended for wear while out in public. Just to preface, from what we’ve seen in the research we’ve done, the terms “walking dress” and “walking suit” seemed to be used somewhat interchangeably and it doesn’t appear that the concept was fully formed until the early 1890s with its characteristic jacket-waist-skirt combination. However, looking at this style in the 1880s, it would appear that first and foremost, the skirt was untrained and the hem tended to be a off the ground. Also, to a great degree, the bodice tended to be styled as a “jacket-bodice” in which the bodice was constructed to mimic a jacket over a visible vest or some sort of decorative treatment- often shirred chiffon. But, as mentioned above, the concept doesn’t seem to have been fully formed and the boundaries could get hazy at times (no doubt influenced by marketing concerns since much of the fashion press of the times was owned by various pattern-making concerns such as Butterick).

File:Woman walking, carrying a child and turning around; another child holding on to the woman's dress (rbm-QP301M8-1887-052a~11).jpg

The walking dress in action…

What ultimately became the distinct walking suit of the 1890s seems to have gotten it’s start by 1884 as a walking dress that was meant as a more practical garment. Below is some commentary from the December 1884 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

In opposition to these dazzling house toilettes are the sober, neat street costumes which are almost universally worn. The material is usually some dark shade of cloth. Heavy serge and bure, a thick worsted goods with a coarse, shaggy surface, are especially popular for walking suits. The skirt is almost plain, simply a plaiting around the bottom, but a broad band of fur encircles it about a quarter of a yard from the bottom. A full overskirt drawn up high over the hips, and a little tight fitting fur-trimmed jacket complete a costume rich in its quiet simplicity. To be worn with it is a little bonnet fashioned from the same material, with plume 3 or tips of some contrasting color and velvet strings.

One suit is of dark-brown cloth, the skirt consisting of bayadère stripes {fabric]1A fabric with bayadère stripes is a fabric with horizontal stripes in strongly contrasted colors. of a lighter hue mingled with a grayish blue traversing the ground. No trimming except the foot plaiting of plain brown. Drapery and corsage are also of plain brown. The latter opens at the side beneath the full plaits of the waist proper so as to leave the striped vest unbroken in front. Cuffs and close collar are of the striped goods, and a band of the same about two inches wide reaches down the shoulder seam from the collar to the insertion of the sleeve.

The above passage defines the walking outfit as streetwear that is plain with an emphasis on darker colors and plain woolen fabrics. Skirts are meant to be simple and untrained with a minimum of gathering. At the same time, it’s noted that that the underlying vest is somewhat more colorful and loud and that the bodice is to be arranged to show it off to the best advantage. Finally, it must be noted that the skirt could be in a contrasting material, striped in the above example. The above points are further discussed in this passage below from the same issue:

The newest winter walking suits consist of skirt, jacket basque, and vest, real or simulated, and street-coat or cloak. The walking-jacket is not at all so indispensable a part of them as formerly. The jacket-basque, with vest, is cut in such a way that it completes a dress fit for the street; and when the temperature demands additional clothing, a longer, more protective. and adjustable garment is found necessary to meet varied requirements.

This is really an improvement, but a greater one is the getting rid of looped and bunched-up drapery from heavy cloth materials. “Tailors” proper—what are known as “ladies’” tailors—would have served a really good purpose, if they had strictly adhered to the original idea, maintained a certain standard, and not endeavored to copy the follies of tulle in solid cloth.

Redfern, the great Isle of Wight tailor, has done this less than others. He gets up astonishing contrasts in colors; his “yachting ” suits, his “men of war” costumes for girls, and his cloth “gowns,” are original and striking, but they are useful and suitable; his coats are full of inside pockets, and his traveling costumes seem made for the “road” and to have a satchel, or lorgette slung across them.

The above comments on Redfern are also interesting in that we see tailors trying to incorporate elements in their work that are more in the area of dressmaking, much to Demorest’s disapproval. Below is an illustration from the April 1885 of Demorest’s that illustrates some of the ideas expressed in the above passages in regard to the utility of the walking suit/walking dress. In the right figure, the skirt is simple with a minimum of gathering and the pattern provides a nice contrast to the solid colored skirt front and bodice sides and back. The jacket/bodice is also faced in the same material as the underskirt and helps create the appearance of a long waistcoat reminiscent of early 18th Century styles.

And just to show some of the variations in jacket/bodice styles, here’s another illustration, this time from the May 1885 issue of Demorest’s:

And lest we think it was just Demorest’s that was presenting this style to the public, below is an illustration below from the October 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Below are some extant walking dresses from the 1880s, starting with this one from circa 1885:

Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.8a, b)

And below is another example from circa 1884-1885; and yes, it’s labeled as being a day dress and that’s true but it also encompasses elements of the walking dress style.

Day Dress, c. 1884-1885; Museum of London (32.26/2a)

Finally, we have this circa 1885 walking dress from Worth:

Worth, Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.771a, b)



The Advent of Sportswear- 1880s Style

During the 1880s, sportswear became increasingly prevalent in women’s wardrobes as women increasingly spent more time outside the house and participated in various sporting activities. Cycling, tennis, and yachting were some of the more popular outdoor pastimes and while these started with women from affluent backgrounds, they gradually began to trickle down to the middle class.

Tennis costyme1881 - 1880s in Western fashion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

As mentioned in an earlier post on John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, one of Redfern’s specialties was designing sports clothes and in particular, yachting dresses. Below is a plate from the July 31, 1887 issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Yachting and Tennis Dresses from Harper_s_Bazaar_1887

Moving from left to right, each dress is described:

Fig. 1- This youthful gown has a red serge Eton jacket, a white cloth waistcoat with gilt cord and buttons, and navy blue serge skirt with white cloth panels and a short apron. Gilt anchors of cord are on the white cuffs of the red jacket and anchors trim the skirt on the hips and at the foot. The red straw sailor hat has a white ribbon band and bow.

Fig. 2- This pretty dress for either tennis or yachting is of blue and white stripped serge or flannel, with a blouse-waist of dark blue India silk or of surah. The jacket is of simple sacque shape, quite short behind, pointed in front, open from the collar down. The lower skirt has wide pleats, and the apron is deep and pointed. White cloth sailor hat with blue ribbon band.

Fig. 3- This costume has a blue jacket, skirt, and cap, decorated with red anchors. The draped bodice is of white washing silk or of white wool, with a gilt belt and gilt buttons. The jacket is short and adjusted behind, but falls open in front in square tabs; it is lined throughout with red silk, which shows at the top when turned back.

Fig. 4- This gown is of white wool, with surplice belted waist and plastron, belt, sash, and borders of blue and white striped wool or of washing silk. It can also be made of navy blue with jersey webbing of blue and white stripes. Quite dressy toilettes of white nuns’ veiling or of challi are made by this simple design and trimmed with Pompadour-stripped silks, or those with Roman stripes or metallic stripes, or else with the silk tennis scarfs that have tennis bats, stripes, etc. wrought in them.

The first three dresses feature a jacket over a shirtwaist (or “blouse-waist”), a look that was characteristic of the 1880s and 1890s.1The Eton jacket was especially popular. The fourth dress is somewhat more formal and features a plastron bodice. Combined with masculine hats such as boaters or flat cap, the first three dresses give an air of casualness and ease of movement that is tempered somewhat by the bustled skirts. The fourth dress stands in contrast to the first three.

women-in-victorian-dress-playing-tennis-1880s

Of all the sporting activities women participated in, tennis was probably one of the most strenuous, requiring freedom of movement. Naturally, dress styles followed and here is just one example:

60.38.7a-b_front_CP4

Sports Dress, c. 1885 – 1888 ; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2477a, b)

60.38.7a-b_back 0002

Back View

60.38.7a-b_side 0004

Side Profile

60.38.7_front bw

While the above dress gives an air of vigor and free movement, it is still anchored to the 1880s in that the bustle still remains, thought to be an aid to stabilizing the frail female body. At the same time however, we do see a shortening of the skirt to ease movement and a minimum of trim.

Below is a tennis dress, circa later 1880s:

4f2f02f53c4fc66e1a07aaa69fd3e4bd

Tennis Dress, c. 1880 – 1890; Powerhouse Museum (1880 – 1890)

tennis2

The 1880s version of sportswear was not the most practical by today’s standards but it was a start and it represented a major departure for women in the way they lived their lives. No longer did life center around the home but it now included other spheres of life. During the 1890s, sportswear was to evolve even further and especially with the growth of cycling and this trend would ultimately combine with other trends that propelled women into playing a greater role in public life, thus giving rise to the “New Woman.”

This post only gives a taste of what was to come later in the 1890s but it’s interesting to see how it got its start. What is especially jarring to modern eyes is how the bustle still remained a style element even though it hindered the body’s free movement. But nevertheless, the die was cast and there were going to be changes in the role of women, changes that are still playing out to this day.