VICTORIAN FASHION: WHAT TO WEAR IN SEPTEMBER (1885)

September can be such a changeable month weather-wise, making it difficult to know what to wear. Luckily for Victorian women, the Paris correspondent who wrote regular ‘Chit Chat on Dress’ articles for Cassell’s Family Magazine was on hand with plenty of tips and advice. She confessed she was an ‘advocate for economy’ and was keen to offer suggestions for altering clothing:

‘A favourite alteration in the mode of making is that the bodice should be full before and behind, sometimes gathered in straight lines back and front, at the shoulder and waist of the dress, sometimes in circular gatherings round the neck. Two or three straight-gathered flounces, mostly edged with lace, is another easy and favourite arrangement of dresses…young ladies can, if they are so minded, make their costumes themselves more easily than usual’.

The Paris correspondent also suggested a couple of ways of introducing bright colouring, for example, ‘a dark green cashmere dress, with a scarf tunic of old-gold and vivid green’ or ‘a grenat [dark red or garnet] cashmere with three flounces of stripped grenat and gold, so arranged so that the gold portion only shows in the plaits’.

Her ideas for September clothing included a tennis apron ‘worked in crewels at the corners and shoulder-straps, and trimmed with coloured work’.

A tennis-apron from ‘What to Wear in September’ (Cassell’s Family Magazine, 1885)

She also suggested replacing tan gloves with white (‘we have done the tan-coloured gloves to death’) and buying tan shoes which were now the rage ‘especially embroidered in a darker tone of brown’. She advised that the Langtry bonnet (named after the actress and socialite Lillie Langtry) was still universally worn:

Anyone can arrange one. The straw can be bought for a few shillings, a wreath of roses or any other flowers must then be placed under the brim, and either flowers, or a silk scarf, or torsade of ribbon or silk twisted round the crown, with strings.

Lillie Langtry by Napoleon Sarony (Public Domain)

The September column went on to note that ‘navy blue silk costumes have found favour in lieu of serge; and black and white checks, principally in wool, are worn with velvet bodices…Some of the new and most stylish woollen dresses have white piqué waistcoats; and even with cotton dresses, jaunty tweed jackets in dark colours are worn, close-fitting and vandyked round the edges. A round tweed cape by way of a wrap is one of the most convenient introductions of late’.

According to the Paris correspondent, ‘the plain all-round skirts, with heavy ruches at the edge and panier tunics above, are still much worn, possibly because it is an easy make for home dressmakers’. She went on to warn that ‘a bodice, however, is unfashionable unless it is pointed’ and noted that ‘the fronts are trimmed with a portion introduced of a contrasting colour’. Grey was still popular, both for day and evening wear, and moire or watered silk was still in high favour.

Below is the main illustration from the September column: ‘The rich mantle worn by the first figure in the lower group is of black velvet grenadine and Spanish lace. The popular Hungarian jacket, with its braided brandebourgs, is seen on the second figure; a dark cloth jacket, smartened with a white piqué waistcoat and thickly embroidered trimming, is worn by the third figure.’

‘What to Wear in September’ (Cassell’s Family Magazine, September 1885)

‘The three ladies in the upper group [in the above image] are in evening demi-toilettes in which broché, satin, gauze, grenadine and nun’s veiling play prominent parts. The panier bodice, the pointed bodice, and the waistcoat bodice are all shown here, for they are all popular.’

Ironically, September 1885 was an unseasonably cold month. On 25 September, snow fell in London and Surrey with a severe frost while the temperature in Oxford was 9.9 degrees centigrade. According to the Nottingham Evening Post, snow fell at Aldershot, Hampshire; Bridlington, East Yorkshire; and on the Yorkshire Wolds. There was also a snow storm in Wales and a considerable fall of snow in Inverness-shire ‘accompanied with a cold biting wind from the north’. I’m not sure how useful the Paris correspondent’s advice would have been that month!

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