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Rate the Dress: An early 1880s garland of autumnal flowers

Sorry that posts have been a bit delayed and spotty.  We’re having internet connectivity issues, and the internet suppliers in NZ leave a bit to be desired in terms of customer service (why does it take them 5-7 business days to deliver a new modem, when I can have a zip or a load of manure delivered the next day, even on a Saturday?!?).

Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Coutts, received generally rave reviews last week, with nothing below a 7, and over half of her ratings a perfect 10, with the general consensus being that her dress suited her personality perfectly, and was striking without detracting from her face.  9.3 out of 10, because while it suited the person to a T, it wasn’t a showstopper.

This week, a black (yes, it is black, not navy) silk reception gown decorated with a garland of embroidery in shades of maroon and amethyst, with cream flowers:

What do you think? Is the textural mix of slick satin and fluffy chenille working?  What about the muted reds on black?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10




The Ideal WWI era figure, Part III: the changing ideal from 1913-1921

Continuing on in my series looking at the ‘ideal’ figure from 1913-1921, this week lets look at how figure ideals changed from 1913 to 1921.

See Part I, for a range of ideal figures as featured in a Gossard’s corset ad, here; and Part II, for a breakdown of the elements of the ‘ideal’ 1913-1921 figure, here.

Starting in 1913, the ultra-fashionable 1913 figure was very much a carry-on of the extremely slim-hipped 1910 look:

The bust is the full, low, drooping Edwardian mono-bosom that has been in fashion since ca. 1900.

Depictions of un-corseted women in the same catalogue show figures that are somewhat less stylised, but have the same general slim hipped, low busted look, though with separate breasts, rather than a monobosom:

Undergarments feature in Eaton’s Spring Summer 1913,

The biggest change in the fashionable silhouette of the 1910s happened between 1913 and 1914.  At the end of 1913 we see the very beginnings of the change: hips were widening, and the silhouette was changing from ‘a snake with a boob’ (as a friend of mine calls it), to a very slender hourglass.

By mid 1914, corset advertisements were showing a pronouncedly more ‘natural’ (at least for most women) silhouette, with a definite curve to the hips, and the beginnings of a bust division, although the overall look was still extremely slender:

This matched the slender, but widening, skirts of 1914.  Note how low the bum is in these fashion plates:

Note also the level of the waist, which ranges from the natural waist, to a slightly raised waist, matching the fashionable ’empire’ silhouette.

This is the main style of the 1914-1921 period, and the silhouette that the corsets the Scroop Rilla Corset is based on was intended to achieve.

The look for 1915 is very similar: slightly curvier hips, a slightly raised waist.

There was always variation in what was shown in advertisements, like these two from early 1915, which, despite advertising updates in style and silhouette, continue to show quite slender hips.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the change in silhouette to a slightly curvier style pre-dates the start of WWI, some British advertisers and corset sellers, such as Royal Worcester, dubbed the new shape the ‘the Military Vogue’, or the ‘the Military Curve’, an appellation that seems hilariously out of sync with the fashions shown in the ad below:

The overall silhouette was certainly widening as the decade progressed, though the skirts in 1915 still fit relatively snugly over the hips:

Dress styles, Pictoral Review June 1915, authors collection

Dress styles, Pictoral Review June 1915, authors collection

By 1916 the ‘ideal’ body shape reached the closest to a full hourglass that it would in the 1910s, with a relatively full bust, defined waist, and rounded hips all in evidence:

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Kabo Corset advertisement, Pictoral Review, April 1916

Starting in 1917, the fashionable silhouette began to show the next major change in shape: the reduction of the bust.

Eaton's Spring & Summer Catalogue, 1917 via

Eaton’s Spring & Summer Catalogue, 1917 via

This is a change in body ideal that corsetry could do little about (though there garments meant to reduce and confine the bust, which I will cover in another post), so corset advertisements were slower to reflect the change.  Fashion illustrations showing outerwear were another matter entirely.  The smaller bust, with less bust-waist definition, is clearly visible in the dresses worn over the corsets (image below thanks to Lauren of Wearing History, who let me photograph some of her magazine collection):

The Designer, July 1917

The Designer, July 1917

Compare the bust shape above to the decidedly pronounced curve shown on ‘young girls’ in this fashion plate from only a year earlier:

Pictoral Review, April 1916,

Girls dress featured in
Pictoral Review, April 1916

Along with the fashionable bust size reducing, the desirable waist-hip ratio also reduced from the end of 1917 onwards, so that the overall silhouette was more streamlined, with less change between any part of the figure.  This meant that, like the early 1910s silhouette, the ‘ideal’ shape at the end of the 1910s had little waist-to-hip difference, but, unlike the early 1910s snake-hips, the heading-into-the-20s ideal body was depicted with a fuller waist, rather than reduced hips:

Corsets, Simpson’s Catalogue, Fall-Winter, 1918-19, via

By 1918 even the ‘Stout’ figure showed only slight bust-waist-hip differentiation:

Corsets for Stout Women, Simpson's Catalogue, Fall-Winter 1918-19, via

Corsets for Stout Women, Simpson’s Catalogue, Fall-Winter 1918-19, via

I think of the change in the ideal body heading in toward the end of the 1910s as the beginnings of the cult of youth.  No more was the matron & mother the ideal figure: instead the young, just out of her teens, girl, was the desired body model.

Harrod’s La Vida Corset advertisement, 1918

Societally, this makes sense.  Particularly in the British Empire, young women were in the workforce for the first time, and consequently had more disposable income than they ever had had before, making them a market force that should be focused on, and catered to.  Declining birthrates across the Western world in the early 20th century meant that children were more important to their parents, and consequently, more likely to be spoiled.  At the same time, many youths never made it to proper adulthood due to the war, so idealising youth made sense.

The 19teens also gave birth to the fully fledged ‘flapper’ concept, and in the mid teens and 20s the flapper was young: a teenager, not an adult.  It was only when the original flappers grew up that the concept came to include women, and not just young girls.

While the desirable body at the end of the 1910s was the young flapper body, it’s important not to confuse it with the extremely straight, androgynous shape that we think of today as the flapper ideal, with no hips, and a completely flat chest.  That look did not come into vogue until the mid 1920s, and represents the final, most extreme, ‘flapper’ shape.

At the start of the 20s the  vast majority of corset and fashion advertising, and photographs showing noted beauties, depicts a figure with moderate curves, and a still definite and noticeable bust.  Many corset models that were launched in 1913-15 (including the PD Marvella, which the Scroop Rilla Corset is based on) were still on sale in 1921, because the silhouette they created was still the fashionable look.

Woman modelling a corset, Ca. 1921, NYPL digital collection

Note the typical flapper bobbed hair and short skirt of the shop assistant, and the still-corseted and curved shape of the model below:

Woman modelling a corset, Ca. 1922, NYPL digital collections

Even when women were wearing undergarments that attempted to flatten and ‘control’ their busts in the early 1920s, fashion allowed a definite, albeit reduced, curve:

Warners Corselette 1921

Warners Corselette, 1921

By the end of the war, the glorification of youth was complete.  The ideal figure was youthful: small busted, small hipped, slender.  Corsetmakers touted their corsets ability to create and maintain this figure.

While the overall alteration in the fashionable ideal from the beginning of WWI to the aftermath years isn’t extreme, I still think that the amount of changes that the most-desirable body shape went through, in only 9 years, may be one of the fastest and most significant changes to ever take place in fashion.  From full busted and slim hipped, to a gentle hourglass with moderate bust, waist, and hips, through the shrinking of the bust and widening of the waist, ending in a youthful silhouette with slight bust, waist and hip differentiation, its a fascinating change in the fashionable aesthetic, and societal ideals.

Warner’s wrap-around corset, 1923

Next in the series: Achieving the fashionable look (and staying supported) with a full bust, 1913-1921.



Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

Rate the Dress: the Philanthropist in Plaid

Last week’s peach-on-peach 1914 evening dress earned its rating almost entirely on how much you liked said shade.  If it was too much overtones of 1980s bridesmaids dresses – not so much!  I was highly entertained by the wildly varying opinions and some of the descriptions (peach flavoured onion!).  Alas, for something so entertaining, it came in with a rather nondescript rating of 7.3 out of 10.  The lowest in a long while, but far higher than some of the lowest scores.

This week let us turn from soft peachy pink, to crisp black and white, as we look at philanthropist, heiress, art collector, honourary beekeeper and goat aficionado, Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Coutts.

Angela’s life is remarkable; from inheriting one of the largest fortunes in England (though I’ve always wondered how her four older sisters felt about being left out of it); to using it for a huge range of Very Good Things (many quite unusual and advanced for a lady of her era); to proposing to the  45-years-her-senior Duke of Wellington, fending off the advances of a slew of fortune hunters, and finally marrying a man 25-years-her-junior, even though it meant giving up most of her fortune.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts,ca. 1840, National Portrait Gallery, England, via Wikimedia Commons

Angela’s dress is made from dimensional black and white plaid, with pleated ruffle trim in black and white framing the full bell sleeves and the bertha, and a faux-lacing effect on the front of the dress.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

She wears it with sheer, lacy undersleeves, and carries a delicate lace shawl – an accessories she seems to have particularly favoured, as her other portrait of this period also features one prominently.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

Her jewellery is remarkably restrained for one of the richest women in England: a chatelaine pinned to her waist, a simple gold necklace, and a stack of rings on one finger, and a single ring on her other hand.

Even her hair is sleek and subdued, keeping the focus on her face and personality:

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, ca. 1840, NPG, detail

Despite the huge range of activities she was involved in, and the potential to hugely influence politics, Angela was always remarkably discreet in her own personal opinions, even in areas (such as religion) where even Victorian ideals of retiring womanhood permitted a strong stance.

Do you think that the dress is speaking for her in the right ways?  Just strong enough, with that bold pattern, without being ostentatious?  Does that mix of trims and pattern balance with the simple (for the era) accessories?  All in all, is the outfit as awesome as the woman?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10