Sports Clothes, 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.

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. 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.


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:


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

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Back View

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Side Profile

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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 that is believed to date from 1880 through 1890:


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

tennis2The 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.

John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, Part 4

In the last post we covered Redfern’s work through the 1890s. Now, we’ll take a look at the early 20th Century. In 1892, Redfern’s sons took over the business, renaming it Redfern Ltd. While tailored women’s garments remained a mainstay of their business, they also branched out in more general fashions and transforming their Paris location into a full-on couture house (only the Paris location operated as a couture house, the other locations sold couture dresses brought in from Paris and did local tailoring).

Below is a continuation of Redfern’s tailored style:


Coat and skirt ensemble, Redfern, c. 1908; Victoria & Albert Museum (CIRC.646&A-1964). This outfit was made for Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954).

2013GN8678_jpg_l 2013GN8679_jpg_lThe coat and skirt ensemble is from circa 1908 and consists of a coat and skirt made of navy blue wool serge trimmed in black soutache. The lines are clean and the black soutache adds a subtle decoration that harmonizes with the navy blue serge. Also, as with Redfern’s earlier work, one can see a military influence with the soutache patterns.


Here are some pictures of the skirt:

2013GN8673_jpg_l 2013GN8674_jpg_l 2013GN8675_jpg_lThe black soutache is also present on the skirt and the pattern is quite elaborate. It is difficult to completely appreciate from the dark lighting of the photos but it’s definitely there.

Here are some more examples of the coat and skirt ensemble:


Coat and Skirt Set, 1905


Coat and Skirt, Redfern, gray wool tweed, c. 1911; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.28&A-1960)


Below are some varied offerings from Redfern:

Redfern Afternoone Dress  1903

Afternoon Dress, 1903

Redfern_Robe de Ville 1904

Robe de Ville, 1904


Afternoon Dress, 1905


Tailored Coat and Skirt, 1905


Ball Gown, 1902


Dinner Dress, c. 1904

Finally, Redfern even made evening gowns and like many of the Couture Houses of Paris, they used actresses to market their designs. The evening dres pictured below was made for the actress Jane Hading in 1904, thereabouts:

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Evening Gown, Redfern, c. 1904; Bard Graduate Center Gallery (41.339.15)

While Redfern was producing a wide variety of designs by the Teens, the firm’s greatest strengths were with tailored garments and especially with his Coat and Skit sets (which we today would call “suits”). The tailoring is exquisite and the use of trim was, for the most part, understated. Redfern’s contributions to couture are largely unknown today (and not helped by a lack of documentation) and unappreciated.

When it comes to fashion of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the name Worth, and to a lesser extent Poiret tends to overshadow everyone else and it is our sincere hope that through this blog that we can bring some attention to many other deserving couturiers.

John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, Part 3

Today we will look a bit more at Redfern’s work. Although he was known for his tailored styles, there was also a softer side:


Day Dress, Redfern, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1981.515.1a, b)

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The label to go along with the dress.

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This is an excellent example of a “transitional” dress, moving from the late 1880s to the early 1890s. The basic fabric is a striped silk that is understated- if you look carefully at the stripes, you can see a series of curved lines (it’s unclear what exactly is creating this effect since there are no close-up pictures available). In contrast to the earlier late 1880s style, the bodice ends at the waist. Also, in continuation of earlier style trends, the bodice has been constructed so that it gives the appearance of being a jacket with a separate shirtwaist underneath (what could be termed the “faux waistcoat/shirtwaist effect”).

The trim on the skirt is relatively restrained and one can see that there is no bustle present (or perhaps a vestigial one in the form of a small pad set in the rear). With the high collar, minimal trim, and muted fabrics, it creates a style that reads “rich and conservative.” This is an elegant but by means daring dress design.

Walking suits made up a large part of Redfern’s market and in here is just one example that was at a recent auction:

8836a539b7712369ddc34a1dc8ba0cef (1) H3839-L13431958 (1)  H3839-L13431980 (1)

H3839-L13431974 (1)

From the above, one can see the detailed soutache trim that was characteristic of many of Redfern’s designs.

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H3839-L13431962 (1)


Matching hat by Louise & Company, Regent Street

According the auction website, this dress dates from circa 1889 and I tend to agree. One can see a definite bustle effect; it is not as extreme as those characteristic of the mid 1880s but it is still there. Also, the sleeves are form-fitting with no excess gathering or “kickout” at the sleeve caps. The dress itself is constructed from a wool fabric and the bodice is boned and trimmed in fur along the bottom. The bodice stops at the waist and has a slight basque-like curve in the front and tails in the rear to accommodate the fullness of the bustle. The skirt itself is side-buttoning.

Unfortunately, there are no details as to the provenance of the dress so all we can go on is the auction description and what can be seen in the photographs. Overall, this fits nicely in the continuum of Redfern’s designs during the late 1880s and early 1890s.

In our next installment, we will take a lot at Redfern’s later designs that increasingly become more mainstream, moving away from the tailored garments.

To Be Continued… 

John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, Part 2

We continue the Redfern story further. As previously mentioned, Redfern came at women’s fashion from the perspective of a tailor and it was event in his work. One of the Redfern’s specialties was what could be called “sportswear Victorian style” and this was evident in his riding habits. From a style perspective, riding habits were relatively conservative and had a minimum of embellishments because of their function as clothes for riding a horse.  Below are some examples:


Riding Habit, Redfern, 1885 – 1886; Wool flannel trimmed in Mohair braid, sateen lining; Victorian & Albert Museum (T.430-1990)


Front profile view. It must be noted that the lighting must have been vastly different because the color is completely different from the other pictures.



9cbd3df36c8f3eb50119c2fcaceaa4bcThe above riding habit is interesting for several reasons. First, it’s a two-tone, something not often seen in riding habits of the 1880s, with a black skirt and a royal blue bodice. Also, one can see distinct military influences with the Mohair braid patterns on both cuffs and the use of Brandenburgs on the front in a style reminiscent of Hussar-style uniforms. The braid patterns on the back skirt also take this idea further. Finally, the most striking aspect is that the coat is asymmetrical, the right flap overlapping the right and then flaring out wider towards the top, creating an almost double-breasted effect. The overall effect is a stylish look yet it keeps to the conservative style convention characteristic of riding habits. Finally, it must be noted that with little exception (at least outside of frontier places like the American West or South Africa, women rode side-saddle during this era and skits tended to be over-sized.

Here’s a little more information on the provenance of the above garment:

The tailoring firm Redfern and Co., made this riding jacket for May Primrose Littledale…During the mid-1880s Redfern incorporated braiding into many of their designs for walking outfits and outdoor jackets. The Queen magazine of 10 May 1884 commented on some particularly striking examples including, ‘The “Hungarian” … lavishly adorned with finest mohair braid, and finished with knotted cords; and the “Polish”, of royal blue “faced” cloth … handsomely braided across the front.’ Unfortunately May did not have long to enjoy wearing this jacket as she died soon after it was made.

Redfern’s military style is also evident in this jacket:


Jacket, Redfern, c. 1880 – 1910; Black and white wool tweed trimmed in red piping; Goldstein Museum of Design (1977.005.009)

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Like the riding habit above, The above jacket displays distinct military styling and especially in the use of the buttons and piping trim. In the front, we see the same flared double-breasted style flap although this time it’s only the buttons that provide the decorative embellishments. Unfortunately, the Goldstein Museum of Design, where the jacket resides, provides little in the way of background information but based on the style and the similarity to the riding habit, the late 1880s or early 1890s is mostly likely not too far off. It would have been nice to have known what the original skirt looked like that went with this.

In the above examples we see Redfern’s tailoring at work, creating structured garments that are almost severe- only the fabrics and trim soften things a bit.  In the next installment, we’ll look at some more of Redfern’s work and see that he didn’t just make tailored garments.

To be Continued…

John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, Part 1


John Redfern (1820 – 1895)

One of the lesser-known designers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was John Redfern (1820 – 1895). Not a lot of information is out there but here’s what I managed to find out. Redfern was originally trained as a tailor and in 1850 opened a draper’s establishment in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. In 1871, he expanded his business to sell silk and mourning garments. Later, Redfern expanded in offering yachting outfits and other clothing for women, capitalizing on the Isle of Wight being a center for yachting activity. Redfern is credited for being one of the first designers to make tailored clothing respectable for women.

In contrast to Worth who insisted on having his clients travel to him, Redfern established a number of locations close to his wealthy clientele. With the aid of his son Ernest Redfern and an employee Charles Poynter (who later added the surname Redfern to his name), Redfern opened tailoring houses in London and Paris in 1881, followed by two shops in New York in 1884-85, one for tailoring, the other for furs. By 1882 Redfern was successful in becoming Tailors by Appointment for the Princess of Wales and by 1885 had become Tailors by Appointment for Queen Victoria and Queen Emma of the Netherlands, among others. The advertisements below attest to this and in others, Redfern was marketing his firm as being a “Ladies Tailor”.


Advertisement from Vol. V, No. 105 (January 1, 1885) issue of Life.


1885 Advertisement

Redfern Ad_1887

Advertisement from Harper’s Bazar, November 26, 1887.

Redfern’s forte was tailored garments as can be seen from the September 17, 1887 issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Harpers Bazzar_Redfern Sept 17 1887

Harper’s Bazar, September 17, 1887.

The three figures in the middle are dressed in the tailored suit style for women that often involved waistcoats, faux and functioning. Redfern helped to popularize this look along with the later “tailormade” style that was to develop in the 1890s. of which the following is just one example:


Bodice Jacket, Redfern, 1892; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (D187.a-c-1974)

The theme of the tailored women’s suit is taken further with this ensemble that Redfern made circa 1887 – 1889. It features two different bodices and an additional front skirt panel. The heavy use of looping braid and buttons takes on a military look, making for a structured look.


Day Dress Ensemble, Redfern, c. 1887 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art ( 49.3.32a–e).


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Close-Up of Skirt

And now for the second style. The above bodice could be replaced with a similar one trimmed in a long row of buttons running along each side of the opening. Inset is a one large row of looped braid running down the front.

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49.3.32abe_B (1)

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The second look is interesting in that the bodice has a tail attached to it that spread out to cover the skirt as can be seen below:


The above ensemble is a good example of the tailormade look that was beginning to take hold in the late 1880s. One can see that the bustle is fairly minimal and it’s likely that there was only a bustle pad used underneath.

In the next installment, we will look at a few more examples of Redfern’s work during the late 19th Century. It is interesting that as the 1890s progressed, Redfern would begin to diversify more, creating softer designs that got away from his signature “tailormade” style.

To Be Continued….