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As noted in yesterday’s post, interest in sports and outdoor life by both men and women led to the development of specialized clothing to include bathing costume. The attractions of going to the beach as a relief to the hot summer weather was attractive to the point where the 1880s and 1890s, there was a rapid growth of seaside resorts such as Atlantic City and Coney Island. California also had its seaside resorts such as Coronado and Santa Monica. Below is a poem with illustrations from the June 21, 1896 edition of the San Francisco Call:
And here’s the poem from the above illustration:
Dance, old sea, for your charmer neareth!
There! She is wrapped in your lace of foam!
Never your summery smile she feareth!
Ha! She is down near the sea pears home!
Rare as the pearl her pink foot presses-
Rare as the pink of the pearls, her charms!
Wave that enfolds her, what fortune blesses-
What bliss- as she sways in the wild wave’s arms.
Happy sea, by our west shore golden;
Seas of the east- do they chafe and reel,
There where naught can the maids embolden
More than their sandal shoons to wet?
Perhaps the verse is not the best but it’s certainly enthusiastic and celebrates the superiority of the California coast. 🙂 In the end, whether it’s fashion, music, or popular culture in general, nothing is really ever “new.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion back to 1896.
During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.
It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).
Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:
This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.
Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:
This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.
And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂
But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:
This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.
Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:
Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂
Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:
The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).
Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂
We’re almost in August and we thought we’d post some pictures of people at the seashore in the 1880s…
The above picture is interesting in that here you see a variety of common styles to include vest/faux, open bodice with faux waist, and closed bodice.. For skirts, all follow the bustle silhouette of the later 1880s but not in an extreme manner and each features some variation on the over/under-skirt configuration. The skirt on the woman in the middle with the parasol is the same color (seemingly from the picture) for both skirts and the under-skirt appears to the be ruffled in rows. The woman standing to the immediate rear of the little girl has a contrasting solid color over-skirt with a plaid check underskirt while the woman at the far right has a skirt and bodice made of the same material with no obvious under-skirt. It’s a very useful portrait for determining some common daytime styles that can be readily utilized for recreation purposes.
These two women are not deterred by the wet sand or water and have simply taken the expedient of hiking up their skirts. They’re a bit more plainly dressed than the group in the first picture with bodice and skirt of the same color. The woman on the left also appears to be wearing a short coat or jacket that has been designed to fit around the bustled skirt.
And just for contrast, something a bit more upmarket, staged in the photographer’s studio…
The above picture portrays a more elaborate style although it still keeps to the convention of the bustled over/under-skirt combination typical of the later 1880s. In this instance, the bodice appears to drape over the hips and is gathered towards the rear and has a floral print design. Of course, with the woman’s elbow obscuring the waist, it’s hard to tell exactly but judging from the swags of net trimmed in fabric running along the skirt, it appears that the net is the over-skirt with a solid-colored fabric under-skirt. The effect is airy and very appropriate for summer by the beach. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse of 1880s style at the sea shore. 🙂
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.