Seaside fashion has always been a theme in 19th Century fashion and a a standard feature in most fashion journals of the time. Much of what’s depicted in fashion plates of the late 19th Century that’s labeled “seaside” are really no more than conventional warm weather styles that could just as easily be used in a variety of settings and there’s nothing really uniquely “seaside” about them and in fact, some seem pretty elaborate for an outdoor setting by the beach. But, fashion is always interesting even if the context is a bit muddied:
The above plate is interesting on a few levels- from the background, it appears that the two ladies are talking to a man in front of what can only be changing sheds, judging from all the clothes on the rail. We suspect that it’s more about the men changing into clothes more suitable for going in the water… Style-wise, we see the Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era in full flower with the dress on the left wearing a Directoire style bodice/coat worn with a trained skirt. The use of vertical lines on the coat/bodice and the horizontal trim stripes on the skirt are an interesting combination that’s not often seen. The dress on the right is a bit more conventional with a polonaise worn over a plain trained skirt. The Polonaise is combined with a matching apron/short overskirt, creating an interesting silhouette. Of course, we speculating here a little and we wonder if this was ever actually constructed.
With the dress on the left, long pleats and outline trim accentuates the demi-train. The cuirass bodice sweeps below the hips, further accentuating the overall silhouette. The dress on the right has a smaller train and instead places emphasis on vertical lines, especially the two revers running along the bodice front.
In the above plate, the dress on the left seems to be a compromise style where the hip bustle and train have not been completely abandoned. Also, the elaborate tassel trim running along the overskirt give the dress a more busy appearance, distracting somewhat from the overall silhouette. The dress on the right follows a princess line, de-emphasizing the hip and waist and placing the focus on the front and lower skirt with a combination of large bows and pleating.
Of course, the above dress styles would work in a number of environments other than just the beach but it must be noted that these are fashion plates, which by their very definition are meant to depict idealized fashions in idealized locations. Basically, they’re more about fantasy and that fantasy in turn generates sales. But in spite of the fantasy element, these plates are an interesting illustration of Mid-Bustle style. One final note- efforts were made to devise more practical beach wear but it was going to be a lengthy process; for more on this, check here.