During the period 1890-1900, the bicycle had a liberating effect on women’s attitudes and clothing. The safety bicycles (as distinct from the difficult to ride, male orientated, ‘Penny Farthings’) appealed to many young women. Practical skirts, ‘culottes’ and knickerbockers gave freedom to go off into the country with friends, away from chaperones and strict behavioural regulations. But the concept of a ‘New Woman’ was not universally accepted, and fashion also expressed, with odd contrasts, a blend of freedom and restraint. An example was discordant colours, such as yellow trimmed with pink and green, or sleeves contrasting violently in colour and material with the rest of the dress. Day dress bodices were over frilled and flounced, whilst the lower half was very plain. Sleeves became full again, looking backwards to the ‘romantic’ 1830s, reaching extremes in 1895/6, and like their ancestors, suddenly vanishing in 1897. Gored skirts, giving a flat front and fullness towards the back, were a symbol of the period, and trailed inconveniently on the ground, expressing the fact that women were still hampered by unnecessary restraints. Only a war could turn stereotypes around.
16a Miss F. J. Dolby
Stoppoloni was an Italian artist based in London, exhibiting mainly domestic subjects. Miss Dolby, whose portrait was commissioned by her patients and Friends of Railwaymen, was a wealthy benefactress who donated land to build the Railway Mission Convalescent Home. She became its first Honorary Superintendent from 1892 to 1904. Her dress style expresses the prevailing 1890s standard of feminine ‘good taste’ and middle class restraint. It is also a portrait of a quietly resolute woman. Miss Dolby wears a black formal dress in fine wool, with fashionably large cape sleeves and tight arms with pointed cuffs. This reflected the ‘pseudo-medieval’ style, currently undergoing a fashion revival. She also wears a white fill-in dress front with a high, ‘choker’ collar. A frilly, white muslin fichu, knotted over her bosom adds a little informality.
16b The Neale family, c.1890
Reproduced from a cabinet portrait, by A.H. De’Ath, of Week Street, Maidstone. Mother (Annie) is wearing a day dress with the very exaggerated shoulder ‘puffs’ of 1890, when the leg-of-mutton sleeves were at their most extreme. The girl (Gladys) wears a smock dress, in what might be fine wool. The father is Fred Neale, manager of Mence Smith, ironmongers, of 19 High Street, Maidstone. In the class-conscious world of the 19th Century, ‘tradesmen’ were keen to appear very middle class, which meant the latest fashions, even extreme versions.
16c Wedding dress, apricot silk, blossom motif, 1892
1890s fashions expressed a sort of romantic, medieval revival – looking back to the 1830s. Puff sleeves and bell-shaped, gored skirts were usual throughout most of the decade. This wedding garment, used in Northfleet, Kent, is made of apricot satin, figured with a design of prunus blossom, giving it a Japanese flavour. The high necked bodice fastens with 25 miscellaneous mother-of-pearl buttons and has an unusual pleated ‘fan’ shaped detail on the centre back. Two ‘coat tails’ rest over the slight bustle at the back of the skirt. The skirt has a round edged train, bound with cord, and the edge is protected with a dagged-edge embroidered net. Ruched and frayed silk is used for the pompon trim on the bodice front and dress hem. The bodice is stiffened inside with 9 metal, flexible ‘bones’, and the waist is just 21″ (53cms).
Given by Mrs E. W. Johnson of Gravesend, in 1971
16d Cape, blue wool, appliqué and cord, c.1890
During the 19th Century, the trimmings of loose jackets and capes were often in applied braid or stitching in arabesque patterns, using contrasts like black on light colours, or white on black. This cape is made of dark blue wool flannel with applied cream muslin and white braid, giving an overall impression of stylised eagles’ tails. The stand-up collar lining is a ruffle of blue-black, gathered silk strips, and the cape itself is lined with the same blue-black silk. Capes were especially popular in the 1890s, as they fitted easily over the fashionable wide sleeves of the dresses and costumes (jacket and skirt).
Given by Miss F T King Hall of Hunton, in 1961
16e Doll’s ensemble, plum wool, c.1890s
Tailor made suits and ensembles were fashionable for 1890s women. This doll’s version, in light plum and pale pink wool, has leg-of-mutton sleeves, and a short ‘rational’ skirt. (Short skirts were worn for some outdoor activities, such as shooting in the country). Otherwise, 1890s skirts were inconveniently long.
16f Sample corset, silk brocade, Parisian, c.1890
It is assumed this is a miniature advertising ‘sample’ for the manufacturer: ‘The London Corset Company of 25 New Bond Street’. Not really proportioned like a full-size woman’s corset, it nevertheless has some scaled-down features (such as the metal busk fastening down the front, ‘bones’ and a small pattern on the fawn brocade). Full-sized attachments include the back lacing and stocking suspenders. Sometimes, dolls had corsets too.
Given by Mrs M Kirby of Maidstone, in 1953
16g Kid gloves, tan leather, c.1890s
From about 1875-1890, many gloves were decorated with embroidery or lace. Kid gloves often had embroidery on the back in coloured silk or beads. Sometimes they had lace frills at the top, or lace insertions, or if the kid ended above the wrist the rest of the glove to the elbow might be lace, either matching or contrasting. Grey, cream, tan and black gloves were worn for evening, not just white ones. Gloves were traditionally given as love tokens on St. Valentine’s day, often scented with orris root, which is the crushed rhizome of ‘Iris florentina’.
Given by Miss Ellen Field of Aylesford, in 1954
16h Pouch bag, olive green velvet, c.1890s
Handbags were not generally carried in the 1890s, except for a few novelty shapes. For ‘fancy dress’ or to match an occasional one-off evening garment, a ‘ridicule’ could be made up out of a spare piece of material. This pouch bag has a distinctly pseudo-medieval look, and it is likely it dates from the revivals of 1830s styles in the 1890s.
Purchased for the costume collections in 1962
16i Evening stockings, open-work cream wool, c.1890s
These stockings are made of fine, cream wool with an open work design on the front in the form of an Indian influenced ‘pine cone’ design. One has ‘Paris’ on the top, in open work, which is unusual.
1890s – What’s New?
Fur in the fashion industry reached its peak of popularity in the 1880s, 1890s and early 1900s. Sealskin was the first popular fur used for capes and fitted jackets and later for coats. Animal rights movements in the late 20th Century made fur much less popular.
Egyptian Influence, 1890s
Excavations in Egypt at this time prompted a fashion for imitations of Egyptian dress, particularly headdresses and jewellery.
A magazine started in the USA as a fashion weekly catering to society women.
Viscose rayon, 1892
This was invented by three British chemists and patented in this year. Viscose is a man-made cellulose fibre derived from wood pulp.
W. Litcomb Judson of Chicago USA patented a clasp locker system of fastening, constructed of a series of hooks and eyes with a clasp lock for opening and closing.
King C. Gillette, 1895
He invented the safety razor.