How To Dress With Taste In The Victorian Era

‘Persons are the best dressed when you cannot remember how they were dressed.’

How To Dress With Taste In The 1850s (1856 Article)
-> my 1850s striped morning dress

A Lady should dress with Taste (published in 1856 in Philip’s Facts Worth Knowing)

The most elegant dress colours are either black or white. Don’t wear flashy colours and an abundance of trimmings or jewelry: ‘A vulgar girl wears bright and glaring colours, fantastically made, a large flaring, red, yellow, or sky-blue hat, covered with a rainbow of ribbons, and all the rings and trinkets she can load upon her.’ Rather be neatly and plainly dressed than show all your riches in your clothing: ‘the most plainly-dressed woman is sure to be the most ladylike and attractive’. In society, single ladies dress plainer than married ones. A ‘simple natural flower‘ is the most beautiful headdress for a lady. Walking and travelling costumes should be even more plainly made.

It isn’t more expensive to dress well than to be badly dressed. Clothes and shoes should always be clean and dresses and shirts ironed, no matter how rich or poor one is. Buy the most useful pieces of clothing first – for a man: a fine shirt rather than a fine coat. Buy materials which will wear long. Gloves have to be worn, it’s ‘not enough to carry them’. Don’t wear too tight shoes, they’ll only deform the feet. The décolleté shouldn’t be exposed indecently. Don’t wear a too large crinoline. Don’t lace too tightly, or the figure will look unbalanced. Additionally, a woman who laces tight isn’t ‘fit to be a wife and mother’.


Overdressed Women – Slatterns at Home (published in 1870 in Tomes’s The Bazar Book Of Decorum)

‘It is the overdressed dame of the promenade and drawing-room who is the most apt to be the slattern of the domestic parlor and nursery.’ A woman should always adapt her dress to the occasion, while neatness is better than superfinery. A becoming, neat house dress is always ‘presentable to any company elsewhere’. Some wives who have caught her husband with flashy clothes think their husbands will be content with her ‘careless indifference to her appearance at home’. However, no ‘man can long endure a slattern at home, especially if she appears the fine lady abroad, and thus shows her contemptuous preference of the opinion of others to his.’ It is not expensive to dress well at home, a husband prefers neatness and simplicity in the dress of his wife. ‘The neat maid thus is not seldom more to his taste than the showy mistress.’ However, there are women who choose their costly and flashy gowns not to please, but to displease other women, ‘for their main object seems to be to provoke the envy of their sisters’.


Hygiene of Dress and Child-hardening (published in 1870 in Tomes’s The Bazar Book Of Decorum)

Clothes have to be suitable for the season: not a black wool dress in summer, and ‘the ballroom robe of gauze in the coldest winter’. The materials for summer clothes are thin cotton and linen of light colors, while materials for winter clothes are loosely woven wool and silk fabrics in dark colors. There are mothers who deem it wise to harden their children against the cold. They think the skin can be hardened just like the palm of the hand of manual workers with calluses. However, the ‘surface of the body can not, as is often supposed, be hardened by continued exposure to cold or intemperate weather of any kind. The skin, when in wholesome condition, is soft and moist, and, moreover, is being constantly renewed, so that, whatever may be the age of the animal, its integument is always fresh and young.’ Therefore, warm clothing ‘must not be neglected with any absurd idea of child-hardening.’

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