St Paul's Dome
In the 1840s the wide sleeves narrowed, and dress bodices had downward curving lines at the shoulder, echoed in the waistline, which had become lower and more pointed (as well as more tightly laced). The skirt curved out with increasing volume, worn over several petticoats. Women’s lower halves were becoming heavy and dome-like, a trend that was to last for the next 20 years with variations in elaboration and lighter skirts as the technology of crinoline petticoats improved. In society, the middle and upper classes shared the same fashions, dressmakers and hairstyles.
A ‘romantic revival’ took place: details from the 17th Century such as a low, straight neckline with a deep, lace collar. Some 18th Century silks were revived, and even genuine old dresses remade. Printed muslins became less common for day wear.
9a Summer dress, check woven muslin, c.1840
By 1837 the full sleeve was out and the tight sleeve established with the fashion leaders. The ‘transitional’ stage, with the fullness gathered at the upper arm, continued to be worn by the unfashionable women in the provinces for a few years longer, with the higher, round waists of the earlier period. This dress is woven with an accentuated check stripe in the muslin, similar to challis, (a mixed fabric of silk warp and fine worsted weft). It is a simple, everyday summer dress, with (for its day), certain ‘easy care’ qualities. Its bodice is lined with white cotton and fastens at the back with hooks and eyes, as do the cuffs. The upper arms are tightly ruched, and decorated with frills edged with lace. There are piped details on the bodice, commonly used between 1830 and 1850 on garments.
Given by Miss Leigh of Yalding, in 1957
9b Sewing sampler petticoat, stout cotton, 1845-50
Part of a school child’s training would be practical sewing skills, to do with making and mending garments. The poorer woman still needed to do ‘plain’ needlework; making children’s clothes, her own undergarments and household linen. Early Victorian underclothes were fairly simple and undecorated (it was wasteful and sinful otherwise as well as ‘ungenteel’ to dwell on such things). Later in Victoria’s reign, middle class women would embroider broderie anglaise bands for their petticoats, over printed patterns.
In most middle class homes ‘plain’ needlework was done during the day, and ‘fancy’ needlework for pleasure in the evening like crochet, tatting and coloured wool work. Mending was left to the servants. Our miniature training piece, a petticoat with attached bodice, (sometimes called a jacket petticoat), incorporates all the elements
of a full sized garment.
9c Umbrella, grey green silk, c.1840
The umbrella protects against rain, rather than sun, and is the poorer relation of the frivolous parasol. Umbrellas are first mentioned in 17th Century France as ‘parapluie’ (the modern term). This example is pagoda shaped – a reference to the Chinese origin of the umbrella. Green and brown covers were popular from the 1830s onwards. Our example has a carved ivory handle and ferrule; the brass handle mount is stamped ‘London’ with a crown, and it has an ivory ring closure.
Given by Mrs Churchill of Marden, in 1957
9d Morning or night cap, check muslin, 1840s
The difference between night caps and morning caps of the plainer sort worn during the 1840s and 1850s is small. In any case, night caps changed little over the period. Indoor caps were worn under morning bonnets from the 18th Century until the late 1830s as a sort of liner, but from the 1840s onwards the cap began to be an important accessory in its own right, and closely followed the shape of the outdoor bonnet. Caps were extravagantly or daintily trimmed with lace, ribbons and streamers in a multitude of shapes. After 1880, younger women ceased to wear morning caps, except at breakfast, and then the fashion went out altogether.
9e Reticule (bag), tartan velvet, late 1840s
Velvet bags in sumptuous colours, often embroidered with metal beads, were very popular in the 1840s. Tartan had been popularised by Queen Victoria’s children, who were painted in highland dress at Balmoral by Winterhalter in 1849. What did a lady keep in her reticule? – Letters, a writing tablet and a paper of rouge or other powder (to be kept strictly secret, as cosmetics were associated with prostitutes).
Given by Mrs Eva Grove of Maidstone, in 1964
9f Evening shoes, cream satin, 1840s
This type of slim, heelless shoe survives in great numbers as the fashionable dress shoe from 1830 to 1860, either in black (formal day wear), or white (evening). By 1840, the toe was almost a perfect rectangle. Left and right were identical; known as ‘straights’. This pair is typical of the type, and bound around the top with narrow ribbon, with the suggestion of a tiny bow over the vamp. Narrow ribbon ties were attached to the side seams, but only fragments remain. The vamp is cotton lined, and the quarters in kid. The maker’s label reads ‘C. Masters Ladies Boot and Shoe Maker Maidstone’.
Given by Miss Alice Peck of Tonbridge, in 1963
1840s – What’s New?
University Degrees, 1841
The first degrees granted to women in America were in this year encouraging a new era for women.
Polyvinyl Chloride, fabric developed during experiments with oilcloth. It became fashionable in the 1960s, when it was fabric backed, dyed bright colours and made up into outdoor wear as ‘leather look’.
Public bath, 1844
The first public bath and wash house opened in Liverpool.
Amelia Bloomer, 1849
Amelia began the women’s dress reform in America, calling for functional clothing for women, (trousers and tunic).
Safety pin, 1849
Walter Hunt invented the modern safety pin.
Dry cleaning, 1849
Process invented by a French tailor, Monsieur Jolly-Bollin, who discovered the stain removing qualities of turpentine.
Jacquard, mid-19th Century
Decorative weave created by a jacquard loom and used for brocades and damasks. The French mechanical engineer Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) developed an attachment for machine powered looms which made this possible.
Brocade, mid-19th Century
Rich jacquard-weave fabric with a raised design usually of flowers or figures woven into it, often in silk, silver or gold threads. Associated with evening wear since this time.
Damask, mid-19th Century
Richly decorated silk fabric brought to the West in the 12th Century via Damascus, Syria. It became a popular dress fabric during the 19th Century.
Jabot, mid-19th Century
Originally an item of male dress the jabot was a decorative frill of lace or other delicate fabric pinned at the chest or base of the neck. It was popular with women from the mid-19th Century to the 1920s & 1930s.
Court shoe, mid-19th century
An enclosed shoe with a low or medium heel and a line which narrows towards the toe. Fashion dictates the heel type and height.