The 1880s were a period of economic depression. Fashion reflected this by an increasing use of inferior materials imitating better qualities such as velveteen (cotton pile velvet), and sateen (cotton woven to give a shiny surface). Poor quality linings and workmanship were used in ‘out of sight’ areas. Dress reformers in the early 1880s advocated abandoning corsets, high heels and bright floral colours in favour of ‘artistic’, flowing drapery in muted tones. The tightly-moulded long corset shaped the upper body, whilst the hips were emphasised with horizontal drapery. The bustle flattened, and slipped down halfway to ground level (instead of flouncing out from the waist as it had done in the 1870s). As the 1880s progressed, it rose again, pivoting the back line of the skirt, until by 1885 it stuck out like a shelf, and wobbled from side to side. Women looked rather stiff, yet curvaceous, and resembled a skittle.
15a ‘The Sampler’, 1884
Crompton painted figure subjects, domestic scenes, historical and Arab subjects, mainly in watercolour. He exhibited in London, and would have moved in fashionable, ‘artistic’ well-off circles. This young girl is wearing a version of Aesthetic dress, inspired by a combination of Medieval and Renaissance heroines. Aesthetic dress was worn by artistic women revolting against the tightly-corseted ‘skittles’ of contemporary fashion. It is high waisted and similar to the dresses of the 1820s, even in colour – a greenish yellow. Her hair is thick, waved and brushed over her eyes in the manner of a Burne-Jones lady. This was a fashion straight from popular, contemporary Victorian painting, and its main purpose was to show off the beautiful and expensive silks that discerning women of artistic taste would choose.
Given by H. G. Fulcher Ditton, in 1958
15b Young woman with hat, c.1887
Reproduced from a cabinet portrait by Mortimer Field, Sandling Road, Maidstone. This young woman wears a morning dress with a draped and kilted skirt, over a prominent bustle (unseen). The dress front has a pouched effect (bag-plastron), and her sleeves are tight and well up the arms in the current fashion. She would have been wearing a very curvy, heavily boned corset covering the hips well.
15c Afternoon dress, red wool paisley, c.1885-87
Tightly-moulded torsos and sleeves, giving a stiff, skittle-like form to a woman’s body was characteristic of 1880s fashion. This dress is of a heavy, wool and cotton mix paisley fabric, with a front insert of shot silk, probably recycled from an earlier garment. Its distinctive characteristic is the jutting bustle shape behind, perhaps supported originally on crescents of steel hidden in the skirt, and a small horsehair stuffed pad, known as a ‘mattress’, about 6ins (15.2cms) square. By 1888, bustles were out, and only the memory remained of the 2 foot (61cms) shelves, said to be big enough to hold a tea tray.
Given by Mrs Nina Evans of Bethersden, in 1979
15d Child’s dress, black satin/gold velvet, early 1880s
Girl’s dress followed women’s during the bustle period, with similar straight-fronted dresses. ‘Back interest’, with pleated effects, drapes and bows (over a small crinolette) was continued in the early 1880s. Reform came later, as children started to wear smock-shaped, belted dresses. These were more practical for play and less like the formal adult fashion of the late 1880s. This dress is in soft, black silk satin, trimmed with sunflower yellow velveteen. It has a pronounced bustle, with off-centre drapes, and is clearly a special occasion dress.
Given by S. W. Burden of Headcorn, in 1972
15e Doll’s dress, brown velvet, ‘princess line’, c.1880
The princess line, without a waist seam, first appeared in 1848, as a result of the long-waisted look, but was not common. In the 1860s it was called the ‘Isabeau’ or ‘Agnes Sorel’ and buttoned down the front, whilst in the 1870s it was worn as an overdress called ‘princess polonaise’. It was an ideal style for the early 1880s, when a tightly moulded torso was liked, with a long train effect, highly decorated with ruffles. Our velvet doll’s dress follows the woman’s fashionable style of the early 1880s with a princess line front, featuring lavish, horizontal swathes of fabric over the hips, and a heavily ruffled back detail, like a short train. The bustle at this date had slipped lower down from the waist to be replaced (symbolically) with details on the dress train.
Given by Mrs A. C. Mayo Thomas of Hunton, in 1958
15f Bodice, boning and bust pads inside, c.1880s
‘Bust improvers’ (pads) are sewn to the lining. The maker’s name is incorporated into the internal waistband: R. R. Hughes, Oswestry. It has ‘dress preservers’ under the arms which were sometimes chamois leather, then later rubberised cotton. It has stiffened busks at the lacing edges, and a total of 11 ‘bones’. It is lined with vermicular (worm-like) patterned silk, and the exterior is watered silk (moiré). This is a bodice for full evening dress.
Given by Miss Moon of E. Farleigh, in 1963
15g Underskirt & camisole, cotton and crochet, c.1882
The bustle of the early 1880s needed a crinolette (or half crinoline) to support it. Not surprisingly, petticoat skirts responded to the same design. Stiffly starched, they could help to support a light, summer dress in the correct fashionable shape, as a ‘foundation’. There were many designs of underskirts and bustle supports in the 1880s, often depending on the wealth of the wearer. Lavish decoration – in this case openwork and crochet – was standard, as dress hems would have to be held up at times, and a pretty edge was expected to be glimpsed. This example is marked ‘E. L. Travers /82’.
15h Girl’s crinolette, cotton and metal, c.1885
The watch spring steel cage, which held the skirt out in a pyramid shape up to around 1865, did not get abandoned totally. Reduced versions continued to be worn as skirt fullness receded towards the back. In the late 1860s, it was just a few hoops, suspended by bands from the waist, open in front, supporting the bustle proper. Finally, the crinolette of steel half hoops evolved in the early 1870s. This form, with modifications, returned in the mid-1880s, as half circles of steel mounted in a half-petticoat. Sometimes stiff horsehair frills were added. Crinolettes, and bustles, disappeared around 1890, although a small pad was sometimes inserted beneath the centre back to add fullness to the dress, into the early 1890s. Red material was traditionally used for underwear of a practical sort. (Red flannel was credited with magical, chill-beating properties).
Given by Mrs Faith Day of West Malling, in 1971
15i Bustle pad, spring wired, cotton cover, c.1888
Patent bustles were devised in quantity to support the jutting skirts in the 1880s. This version is made by the American Eagle Wire Co., and presumably had a certain amount of collapsibility when the wearer sat down. It is fairly crudely stitched, but would not have been seen, and is covered in mournful brown cotton sateen.
Given by Mrs Philpott of West Farleigh, in 1967
15j Mittens, black and white, machine net, 1870s/80s
Mittens were first fashionable in the 1830s, then ‘out’ until the late 1870s and 1880s when they enjoyed a revival, especially in white or cream for weddings.
Given by Mr F. H. Hawkins of Tonbridge, in 1968
15k Handbag, tan leather, cord handle, c.1880s
Handbags for women were slowly becoming acceptable. Aniline dyes (first introduced in the 1850s when they revolutionised textile colours) were adapted for leathers in the 1870s and for the first time leather bags could reflect high fashion colours. This compactly designed little bag, with an interesting cord handle, is a small version of the leather railway hand luggage used from 1850 onwards, and may have been part of a matching set.
Given by Mrs I. Jones of Maidstone, in 1970
15l Child’s laced boots, tan and white leather, c.1880s
Laced boots were more likely to be worn by a lower class child. Button boots were a fashionable boot worn by children from wealthier families. This is the standard tan-and-white laced boot of the Balmoral type.
Given by Mrs Mary Turk of Maidstone, in 1952
1880s – What’s New?
Accordion Pleats, late 19th Century
Popularly used in construction of ball gowns, these were fine, narrow, regular pleats created by pressing minute darts into the fabric of dresses and skirts usually from the waistband towards the hem. They became especially popular during the 1920s and 1950s as ‘sunray’ skirts.
Aertex, late 19th |Century
Cotton, cellular fabric introduced into England. In 1888 the Aertex company was formed manufacturing women’s underwear in the fabric now commonly used for sports and summer wear.
Aigrette, late 19th Century
Tall feather from the osprey or egret, which adorned the chignon hairstyle and hats of this period.
Beauty contests, 1888
The first of all beauty contests was held in Spa, Belgium
Bifocal Spectacles, late 1800s
Spectacles were first invented in 1303, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that bifocal spectacles were invented.
Contact Lenses, 1888
Contact lenses were first used in France.
René Lalique, 1885
He was well known for his Art Nouveau style, incorporating human forms with natural and symbolic motifs. Better known for his glasswork, he opened his own company during this year designing and manufacturing jewellery.
First produced in lightly tinted glass, they did not become a fashion accessory until the 1930s, being popularised by Hollywood film stars.
Suspender belt, 1880s
The introduction of the suspender belt took over from the garter.