One of the most notable fashion trends of the 1890s was the rise of the shirt waist as an everyday fashion article. As a practical style, it was almost unequaled and reflected the changing status of women in society as they increasingly entered the workforce and sought to create a more independent life. The shirt waist was ubiquitous and by 1900 has become almost a uniform of sorts.
It was clear that the shirt waist was not a passing fad, as noted in the September 25, 1898 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Every season somebody hardily attempts to sound the tocsin of the shirt waist, and every season that passing bell is turned into a becoming chime, for the shirt waist, long life to it, was never in finer fettle than just now.
Moreover, shirt waists were available in a variety of colors and fabrics:
Flannels and goods, especially woven for blouses, now fill a counter all to themselves, and each specimen is the gayest of the gay. Nobody who knows old styles from new will think of purchasing goods for a blouse in any but a dazzling tone or a daring configuration. Tyrian purple, Hungarian blue, nasturtium brown and blaze green are but a few of the one-toned flannels, so decided of tone that they would almost make old Sol wink to look on them; but for all that these colors are becoming, and you can buy them modulated by close set embroidered dots in black silk.
Much more popular than the above mentioned are the striped and speckled flannels made up, as in fact nearly all these woolen blouses now are, with great art and elaboration. Last season we were very content to revel in blouses or puritan simplicity of design; we are far more exacting now and the blouse that wrings admiration from the most unenthusiastic goes in for character of its own. It has an overlapping collar or none at all, a fancy front or is brave with braiding. Some there are that are made with yokes and some with vests, and in all these mazes of variation the velveteen and corduroy shirt waist Is Its flannel sister’s faithful follower.
Before the advent of color photography, it’s easy to think that shirt waists were mostly white (or other light colors) but as described above, that wasn’t the case. Fortunately, we have a multitude of extant examples from the period. Here are just a few examples of the variety:
In a place like Los Angeles with its warmer climate, the shirtwaist as everyday wear was, no doubt, an item of special interest. 🙂 In the evolution of fashion, most trends do not last for a long time (years back in the late 19th Century, months in the early 21st Century) but there are those exceptions which often become classics. The waist and skirt combination style that arose in the 1890s still linger on in more modern interpretation of blouse/skirt/jacket sets that are mostly marketed for work and professional wear such as this one:
We hope you have enjoyed this little journey back in time and stay tuned for more. To conclude, we are firm believers in the saying “what is old is new again”. :-).