The 1830s saw rapid industrialisation and population growth: England and Wales shot from 9 to 14 million between 1801 and 1831. The poor, dreadfully exploited in factories and mines, were the subject of many reforms. In the early 1830s, reform of parliament began, giving the vote to the wealthier, house-owning middle classes, not just the ‘landed gentry’. Like post-revolutionary France, bourgeois taste affected fashion. Up to 1835, emphasis was on an exaggerated shoulder line and a widening skirt, emphasised by a tight, small waist. Dramatically, from 1836 the emphasis changed. Now sloping, narrow shoulders, shrinking sleeves and lengthening waists; angles in dress were narrowing. Once buxom and healthy, the fashionable young woman now seemed to decline, and began to droop. Affecting a pallor and fainting fits were about to become attractive.
8a Mrs Wakefield, of Maidstone, c.1833-34
Mrs Wakefield is clearly a woman with an eye for the latest, extravagant fashions. She wears a huge brimmed, starched tulle cap of the type worn with dinner dress, trimmed lavishly with rose-coloured silk ribbons. Her dress is a grey-blue satin with a very wide shoulder line and balloon sleeves, covered by a pelerine of fine, decorated lawn. A small ruff, fashionable until 1836, adds to the opulence of the outfit. Her waist is tightly laced and emphasised by a wide belt. Her dark, glossy hair is arranged in a popular style of the period for the evening: centrally parted with smooth hair to the temples and ringlets dangling over the ears.
Given by Allen Grove of Maidstone, in 1980
8b Nursing dress, floral printed muslin, c.1836
This printed muslin day dress shows the beginning of the contraction of the huge sleeves of the early 1830s; the shoulder gathers (gagues) emphasise the new, tight-arm trend, which will fully appear in the 1840s. Typical of the 1830s is the ‘pin-print’ floral design of acanthus leaves and stylised pansy flowers in green, purples and yellows. The dress has a high waist, with the front material pleated into alternate, diagonal lines. Many dresses in the Museum’s collections hold surprises; this garment for a tiny woman (bust 281/2″/ 72cms, waist 23″/ 58cms) had button slits in the bodice, we assume to allow for breast feeding.
Given by Guy Mannering of Stodmarsh, in 1960
8c Dress bodice, white cotton lawn, 1830-35
A dress bodice trimmed with Ayrshire work, featuring ballooning sleeves ‘a la folle’ or ‘imbecile’ (literally foolishness). These were very voluminous, gathered into a tight cuff, and required down pads inside to support the shape. Extreme fashions like this tend to occur at periods when the economy is fairly strong, and the up-and-coming middle classes are able to devote spare wealth to making competitive, showy fashion statements. Probably from the Littlebourne area, near Canterbury.
Given by Miss Mary Gibbons of Lincoln, in 1972
8d Doll’s dress, brown check cotton, 1825-36
Dolls in the early 19th Century were not usually shaped like a natural woman. Many were turned wooden ‘Queen Annes’, in the old fashioned, 18th Century style. Most were wax shoulder-headed types on rather basic stuffed cloth bodies, giving a high waistline whatever the current trend. The sleeves of this dress are gathered at the top, yet relatively full (called ‘bishop’ style). This was very fashionable in women’s dresses towards the end of the 1830s, but similar sleeves on short-waisted dresses were around from the 1820s. Such ‘conflicting evidence’ is not uncommon in surviving historic dress.
Given by Mrs A. C. Mayo Thomas of Hunton, in 1958
8e Reticule (bag), dark rose silk, 1830s
Around 1800, small bags ‘reticules’ (or ridicules) were adopted, as the slim muslin skirts were too transparent to have pockets. Found useful as well as decorative fashion accessories, they continued even when wide skirts returned in the 1830s. Early Victorian reticules usually matched the dress or bonnet, and often hung from the belt. They were made of silk, satin, velvet or other materials in a variety of shapes ranging from flat to full and round, square or spade shaped. They had frilled and stiffened tops, or simple gathers, fastenings with drawstrings of ribbon or cord. Sometimes they closed with a flap or metal clasp (usually a press stud). This rose pink example has a small wooden cartouche on either side, painted with a design of flowers and a putto (small boy with wings – often Cupid) in a chariot.
Given by Mrs Joyce Tonge of Brighton, in 1984
8f Shoes, black satin, late 1830s-50s
Shoes of black satin were general for formal day wear. These slim, heelless shoes were fashionable from around 1830-1860, and were ‘straights’, meaning there was no difference between left and right. Our examples have very narrow, long black ribbon ties, which would have been criss-crossed over the ankle. They also have a non-functional tiny black silk bow attached to the top of the vamp. Maker’s label: ‘Ridley. Shoe Maker to Her Majesty No. 52. London and 3 Promenade Villas, Cheltenham’.
Given by Miss Winstanley (per Mrs Ramsay, Residuary), in 1941
1830s – What’s New?
Charles Goodyear, 1830s
He found a method of treating the surface of gum allowing elastic to be used in clothes more easily.
Honiton lace, 1839
Lace adorned with motifs from nature made in Honiton, Devon. It was established in the late 16th Century, but was made fashionable after it was used for Queen Victoria’s wedding dress in 1839. Incidentally the white wedding dress was introduced by Queen Victoria too!
‘Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire’, was the earliest paper negative photograph made in England by William Henry Fox Talbot.
Sewing Machine, 1834
Walter Hunt of New York constructed one of the first sewing machines, the vibrating arm, and curved needle. Paper patterns appeared in magazines in the 1830s, but were generally intended for professional makers.