Bell Tent

As a complete contrast to the troubled ‘hungry’ forties, during the 1850s England was immensely prosperous, especially in commerce. Upper and middle classes now had the same taste in finery, and working people’s Sunday clothes were far superior to anything their parents had owned.  Even maids and factory girls wanted the new crinoline cage, which appeared in 1856.  The ‘Gothic’ angles of the 1840s broadened and the skirt expanded (in harmony with increasing prosperity), so by 1860 the skirt was like an immense, conical tent, and similarly buoyant.  Industrial sewing machines, with first chain and then lock stitch, meant ‘ready-mades’ and home dressmaking were easily possible.  Dress reformer Amelia Bloomer, an American, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Englishwomen to adopt a Turkish-style, but very feminine, tunic and trousers instead of the long, restricting dresses.  Inconveniently unstable and very large, the crinoline could easily swing up and reveal what should not be on public view…

10a Woman in silk dress, late 1850s-60
Reproduced from a carte-de-visite, (introduced in 1954 as a supplement to the ordinary visiting card), by a commercial photographer in Landport.  The woman wears a dome-shaped skirt typical of the ‘crinoline cage’ period of the mid-1850s to 1865, and her blouse has open sleeves with a ruched silk edge.

Provenance Unknown

Main Garment
10b Evening dress, blue and silver brocade, c.1855
Evening dress bodices were tight fitting with a deep point at the waist in front and sometimes at the back.  The décolletage (exposure of neck and shoulders) was off the shoulders and often trimmed with a deep lace or silk bertha (falling collar).  Our dress is of ultramarine blue, with silver brocade garden flowers winding lavishly over the surface.  The bodice has lacings at the back and is boned.  The skirt has a braid-bound edge to protect it from wear and is lined with silk and tarlatan (stiff open muslin).  Materials incorporated in dress construction had reached quite an advanced stage, reflecting current developments in all areas of technology.  To maintain the desired shape of this skirt there was a choice of the new, technologically advanced tape and steel crinoline cage, or stiffly flounced silk petticoats, or the now old fashioned whalebone hooped petticoats.

Given by Miss Mary E. Gibbons of Lincoln, in 1972

Main Garment
10c Boy’s frock, tartan wool mix, c.1850-60
Children’s dress often reflected adult fashion in miniature, or had styles and garments peculiar to childhood.  Boys and girls up to the age of 5 or 6 years were dressed very much alike, in short frocks with a low neckline and short sleeves.  From 1850-60 they were usually full skirted in white open work (broderie anglaise).  Plaid (tartan wool) was most fashionable from the late 1830s to the 1870s, especially for small boys.  Our example is in black and white tartan, trimmed with black wool braid, and embellished with cut steel buttons in the form of a Celtic cross, symbol of the Highland Scots. Around the age of 5, a small boy was ‘breeched’ (put into long trousers), and also wore a short, round jacket fastening at the neck.

Bequest of the Wakefield Family of Maidstone, in 1955

10d Open-leg drawers, white cotton, 1851
Drawers were worn by middle and upper class women from the late 1830s.  Originally they consisted of two straight legs of cotton or linen joined only by a waistband, and the upper inside seams left open.  They reached down the leg as far as possible without being seen (in theory).  As the ‘crinoline cage’ era approached, decoration on the legs became more ornate, and colours (such as brilliant scarlet flannel for winter) popular.  Such garments were not always hidden from accidental view, and had an erotic function.  This pair, probably part of a trousseau (the bride’s wardrobe, made or bought to start her new life) is inscribed in ink ‘L. O. ACRES No 1 – 1851’. They are decorated with horizontal pin tucks, openwork and lace.

Given by Miss Hutt of West Malling, in 1963

10e Layered petticoat, cotton/openwork, 1850s
Beneath the skirt, over the crinoline, was worn an ornamental petticoat.  The crinoline itself was now the main skirt support of the fashionable, and had done away with the multiple petticoats that had made the dome-shaped skirts of the 1840s so cumbersome.  The chemise was calf length, very wide and insulated the crinoline cage from the woman’s legs, clad in long drawers.  Crinoline cages were fairly light and could swing up embarrassingly (much fun was had in contemporary caricatures over this).  This petticoat is very finely pleated into the waistband, and the lower part has 8 pin tucks then a deep edging of open-work derived from the Indian pine cone motif.  Behind this is a flounce of fine cotton.

Given by Miss Hutt of West Malling, in 1963

10f Crinoline cage, steel and tape, late 1850s
This is a rare surviving example of a watch-spring steel crinoline cage of the late 1850s: ‘Thomson’s Prize Model Skirt’.  Thomson & Co. were an American company with English and French outposts and were the leading crinoline manufacturers based at Cheapside, London.  They produced up to 4,000 a day.  Our example fits a 231/2 – 25 inch waist, but this would have been over a chemise, corset and corset cover.  Its circumference is over 9 feet (approximately 293cms) and it is constructed of 20 hoops, suspended on strong, twill-woven cotton tape.  Each hoop is made of rolled (spring) steel covered with cotton webbing and each is fixed to the tape with a specially designed metal rivet with an attached clamp.  The border conceals 4 of these hoops.

Crinoline cages arrived in about 1857, and revolutionised skirt support as they were light and gave a huge, cone-shape to the skirt without the need for many cumbersome petticoats and whalebone hoops. Now, all that was needed was a decorative petticoat over the crinoline cage, then the skirt itself.  Under the cage, a woman’s long chemise would act as an inner underskirt, and long cotton drawers would also be worn, so if the crinoline swung up (as it was very prone to do), modesty was preserved.  Skirts during the 1860s became quite short for day wear and were often looped up to reveal the petticoat edge or the crinoline edge itself.  Striped or coloured stockings and fancy, low heeled boots were worn to be seen.

This cage was crudely altered probably in the late 1860s to flatten its front and push out the back hoops more, as the fashionable skirt shape started to change towards the bustle.  It has been conserved and reconstructed to something like its original form.

Given by Miss B. Gordon Jones of Biddenden, in1962

10g Fringed parasol, brown and cream silk, c.1855
Parasols were intended to protect the face from sunburn.  For an upper or middle class Victorian woman, a brown or red face signified the servant class, or common labourers.  Probably a parasol for use in a carriage, rather than when walking, our example has a light wooden stick with a joint to fold it, covered with a brass sheath.  The ivory ferrule is finished with a bone ring, and the cover is cream woven silk with a design of brown berries.  Its showy, long fringe is in brown and cream silk.  As the 1850s progressed, parasols responded to the increase in colour and floral decorations that had become common in dress, which reflected a general feeling of optimism and confidence generated after the 1857 Great Exhibition.

Given by Miss Jane Worrow of Hildenborough, in 1978

10h Shawl, cream cashmere, woven border, 1840-50
The 19th Century was the ‘age of the shawl’, a large square (or rectangle) of patterned fabric simply wrapped around the shoulders and upper part of the body, framing the heart.  For warmth and luxury, the shawl has not been bettered in its classic simplicity.  During the 19th Century the Indian-inspired ‘paisley’ motif was continually popular, originally from Kashmir via the East India Company in the 1600s.  Imitations flourished and the weaving centres of Edinburgh, Paisley and Norwich were swamped with orders for the modified, Europeanised designs.  During the 1840s and 1850s, the shawl became large and rectangular to go over the enlarging skirts.  Our example is in cream twilled silk, with a multi-coloured woven silk border featuring the ‘English’ version of the Indian pine cone motif, later popularised as ‘paisley’.  It is about 60″ (150cms) square.

Given by Miss Winstanley, in 1941

10i Mirror fan, bone, lithography and feathers, c.1855
By the Victorian period fans were a less important accessory than in the 18th or early 19th Century.  18th Century style fans re-appeared in the 1840s, with small scale, painted versions of Watteau scenes.  Most fans were French, Chinese or Japanese imports.  By the 1860s, fans were fashionable and popular again, and a flirtatious ‘sign language’ of fans was devised amongst women for amusement.  Our example is in the 18th Century style, with bone sticks and lithographed (printed) mount, decorated with swans down.  One guard has a small oval mirror set into it, no doubt to spy on other men whilst flirting!  Signed ‘H. FRANCOIS’

Given by Walter H. Day of, Maidstone, in 1954

10j Baby’s gloves, black knitted silk, 1852
‘Pair of gloves made for a baby in Yeovil, in 1852 and sent from London in a walnut shell’.
A. Hunt

Given by Miss A. C. Mayo Thomas of Hunton, in 1958

10k Evening mittens, embroidered net, c.1850
Mittens had first become fashionable for day and evening wear in the early 1830s, and continued to be worn. They eventually made a come-back in the late 1870s and during the 1880s.  Similarly decorated to purses and stockings, they were hand or machine netted, with or without beads.  They could be short, wrist length, or halfway to the elbow, and made in black or colours to match the dress. Sometimes they were worn with wedding dresses in the 1880s, in white or cream.  Once again out of fashion in the 1890s, but lace versions (sometimes hand-made) were revived in the 1900s.

Given by Miss M. H. Mallard of Hadlow Stair, in 1970

10l Reticule (bag), watered silk, painted flowers, c.1850
With the increased use of pockets incorporated in dresses from the 1830s on, the reticule was not necessary or high fashion.  Much liked, it continued to be home made for women’s personal use, as gifts or for charity bazaars.  In the ‘forties and ‘fifties there was a craze for painting flower designs on reticules, usually velvet, but a silk base was also popular. Often, bags matched dresses or bonnets.  Our example is professionally painted in watercolour, fixed with gum. One side depicts a bright pink moss rose, bluebells and forget-me-nots, the other a pink-tinged white moss rose, blue columbine and buttercups.  As the Victorians loved the ‘language of flowers’, no doubt a message is hidden on the reticule!  Lined with cream cotton chintz, it draws up by pulling the ribbon ‘strings’.  Though similar in shape to a late 18th Century knotting bag, and decorated in the style of 1830-50s, it was said to have been used at Edward and Alexandra’s wedding in 1865.

Given by Mrs K. Court of Maidstone, in 1963

10m Walking boots, cloth/patent leather, late 1850s-60
Heels began to appear on shoes and boots in the 1850s, before this they were heelless.  By the 1860s, heels were general, except for some evening shoes.  These fawn cloth boots have coated/ patent leather toe caps and a 3/4″ (2cms) stacked heel and ‘button effect’ studs down the outside of the vamp.  They actually lace up on the inside of the foot, and are lined with brown twill cotton.  These were for outdoor use only, women would have changed into indoor slippers for the house, and by 1850 heelless mules were popular, in tapestry or wool work.  For really bad weather, overshoes like rubber galoshes (patented 1842) could be worn, or square-toed flat soled versions matching the shoe or boot, kept on by patent or velvet covered leather straps.

Given by Mrs Webb of Maidstone, in 1926

1850s – What’s New?

Isaac Singer, 1851
The first practical sewing machine was produced by Isaac Singer, making dressmaking easier for women at home and in the factory.

Mackintosh, 1851
Joseph Mandleburg of Lancashire, England tackled the problem of the rubber smell in woollen waterproof garments and launched the first odour-free waterproof coat.

Newspaper tax, 1854
The repeal of the newspaper tax in this year led to an increase in women’s magazines, such as ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’, a monthly publication, containing authoritative fashion information.

Whalebone, 1856-66
Horny substance from the upper jaw of the whale.  When whalebone hoops for crinoline petticoats were popular, the demand for whalebone was so great that whales were threatened with extinction.

Aniline dye, 1856
New chemical based dyestuffs produced from nitrobenzene by Sir William Henry Perkin in England.  A violet-blue (known as ‘Perkin’s mauve’ or ‘mauvine’) was first produced followed by bright purple, green and magenta.

Watch-spring Steel Crinoline Cage, 1857
Fashions were adapting to physical comforts.  Multiple, heavy layers of petticoats were substituted for a light, flexible frame of watch-spring steel hoops and tapes, graduating from small to large at the hem, allowing more freedom for the wearer.  Invented by R. C. Milliet of Besançon, and patented in 1856.