While researching my forthcoming book, A Visitor’s Guide to Victorian England, I came across hundreds of fascinating stories in newspapers, contemporary periodicals and original sources. Many of them did not make it into the book so I’d like to share them with you on this blog.

One of the most interesting aspects of Victorian England is the fashion, probably because it’s so different to modern-day clothing. In fact, I first became interested in this period in history after having fun dressing up in replica Victorian costumes at Morwellham Quay in Devon.

Then, as now, young ladies liked to wear up-to-the-minute clothing and they pored over fashion plates in magazines straight from Paris. One of the regular features in Cassell’s Family Magazine was ‘What to Wear: Chit-Chat on Dress From Our Paris Correspondent’. The writer offers highly detailed, no-nonsense advice to look good on a budget. Here are some of her suggestions for October 1885:

“If any of you are in doubt about a becoming, useful and dressy autumn gown, let me advise you to choose a grey beige. Have a habit bodice bordered with close-set rows of silver braid, and a waistcoat of silver braid; arrange the skirt with wide box-plaiting, having seven rows of the braid an inch from the edge, and draperies above bordered in the same way. You will then have a gown that will stand any amount of wear and tear, that will wash like a piece of calico, and cannot fail to be ladylike and in good style.”

Here’s a pic from the article:

Cassell’s Family Magazine, October 1885

You’ll notice that the style of dress in the mid 1880s created an hourglass silhouette. The writer of the article stressed that dresses “should fit glove-tight, and to effect this, and begin at the beginning, the stays must be good.” Another option was to “wear inside the lower portion of the stay a semi-circular nickel plate, which is supposed to compress backwards, and not downwards, and therefore is less hurtful.”

To me, wearing stays (or corsets) still sounds downright uncomfortable! It might be why the lady on the left of the picture below holding the ball can’t bend down…

Cassell’s Family Magazine, October 1885

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