I was asked what a middle class English family would have worn to a picnic in 1871.
What fun! I love picnics, and 1871 is such a fun period for them – such ridiculously over the top day dresses for ladies.
This week I’m going to be exploring the question through period prints, paintings, and real clothes.
First, let’s start with some prints and paintings, so that we can get an idea of what a full scene would look like:
These three prints show relaxed picnic scenes in 1871. The first two are set in England, and the last one, based on the musicians, is probably set in America, and appears to show a less respectable scene.
The thing about prints is that they are often like today’s fashion spreads: glamourised, romanticised, and with ensembles based on the very latest fashions.
The thing about real life is that it isn’t like fashion spreads. Most people wear clothes they have owned for a few years or more. Not everyone is pretty, or charming. So a picnic in 1871 would feature clothes from throughout the 1860s.
Paintings of the 1870s, thanks to the unromantic bent of the Impressionists, are actually a much better source, even if they are a few years later.
Camille Monet was known to be a bit of a clotheshorse, but Monet’s paintings of her show her in the same dresses over 7 years apart (at times), so we can assume that at least some of her clothing was a bit older than the paintings she is shown in. Camille’s beige and black dress seems to have been a popular colour combination for outdoor wear: it’s certainly practical.
The man leaning against the back of the bench (a neighbor), substantiates the images in the prints: men wore top hats even for picnics and informal outdoor occasions.
Clearly, shirtsleeves and rough pants were also an option, at least in your own garden, or for a very informal picnic.
Going back to romanticised, glamourous images, the king of Victorian glamour painting, Tissot, has an image of a picnic:
Prettified it may be, and a few years late, but it does give us a fantastic glimpse into picnic accessories (and don’t you love the gentlemen’s striped hats!)
Tissot also shows us what young girls would have worn for outdoor wear in England in 1871(ish)
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