Category Archives: Victorian-era Fashion

Fainting and Swooning – the Degrees of Syncope in the Victorian Era; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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The Victorian era Fainting Couch

Fainting and swooning were more prevalent in the Victorian era, to the point that they created a piece of furniture for use when feeling weak and dizzy. It was mostlywomen who fainted. There are many reasons behind this cultural phenomenon; I favour the tightness of corsets, the overabundance of clothes worn by women, and Patriarchal society’s expectation that women were ‘weak’ and easily overcome by strong emotions. So, fainting could be put down to both physical and cultural pressures.

(c) Frank Julian Bayes; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Woman Reclining on a Couch, by Walter Bayes.

 

The medical term for fainting is syncope. It is a short loss of consciousness. Just before a faint, symptoms may include feeling lightheaded, sweating and trembling, clammy and pale skin, blurred vision, among others symptoms. A true faint has a fast onset, a short duration, and spontaneous recovery. It is due to a sudden decrease in blood flow to the entire brain, usually caused by low blood pressure brought on by a physical or emotional shock. A person who has fainted needs to be checked out by a doctor, as a faint can be a sign of underlying medical problems.

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Abandoned, by James Tissot, 1882

In literature, there is a difference between a faint and a swoon. A faint is something that occurs when a person gets a terrible shock – a mother reading of the death of her child – or the person is suffering from blood loss – a wounded gentleman can faint and not seem unmanly. Women swoon. They see an old lover … and swoons. A rogue tries to make love to them … and they swoon. Their father asked them a hard question … and they swoon. A swoon seems to be more ‘convenient’.

'Fainting By Numbers' (Victorian book).

A swoon involves fluttering eyelashes and an elegant collapse over a waiting arm or onto a couch. A true faint doesn’t allow for grace, the individual keels over and if they are lucky there is someone to catch them. I swoon online quite frequently … I don’t faint.

In most Victorian era novels, there are faints and swoons. It is gender specific. Fainting women outnumber fainting men by twenty to one, if not more. I could not find ONE Victorian era image of a fainting man. The best I could do was a still from a silent film.

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I suspect this may be a swoon…

In my current Steampunk work-in-progress, I have no one fainting or swooning. It isn’t that none of my characters have shocks. It is just that I feel that swooning contributes to a stereotype. The women and men in my novel are too busy to have the time to faint. However, they are overcome with chloroform once or twice. Does that count?

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Young Woman Reclining In Spanish Costume by Edouard Manet, 1883. “There will be no damn swooning when I look this good in Capri pants.”

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Shared from thedementedfairy

Another bit of African print-inspired Edwardian crazy…but less so than some. I think. This is a really unusual fabric- ornately printed of course, in a lush red and black design, but also embossed/textured. I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it, and couldn’t resist. If I recall correctly, it was the usual 6 yards […]

via Edwardian skirt & Eton Jacket #1 — thedementedfairy

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Neo-Victorian Movie Fashions – Part Three

 

 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not seem like a Steampunk movie on first viewing. But any movie with Doctor Abraham Van Helsing should be automatically slotted into the Steampunk genre, because he uses modern technology to fight vampires, such as electric lamps which could be attached to a prospective victim to act as a deterrent. He is also one of the original ‘mad scientists’ of the literary world – not the action figure portrayed in some movies and comics. (However, Carl from 2002 movie Van Helsing has my undying admiration for his gadgetry.)

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Mina Harker’s green walking dress, worn by Winona Ryder and designed by the late Eiko Ishioka.

Dress designs for the movie were by Eiko Ishioka. There were many gorgeous dresses in this film, but my personal favourite is the green walking dress worn by Mina , played by Winona Ryder, the original Manic Pixie Girl. Dracula was written and set in the 1890s. It is the dress Mina is wearing when she first encounters Dracula.

replica

A fairly accurate replica of the dress, with which we can better see the details.

Since Dracula was published in 1897, we can use that as the benchmark time period for the  movie costume. The most striking feature of the dress is the clever use of pleats to add ornamental details; the fabric is folded like Origami. The multiple waterfall folds of the bustle creates contrasting diamonds of colour. The unusual dag hemline of the white blouse is accentuated with more pleats. Are these features historically accurate?

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A waterfall pleat decorating a bustle in 1875.

The above dresses are replicas garments based on historical designs from the late 1800s. Waterfall pleats were certainly used in the Victorian era, and the multiple pleats on the green walking costume is quite likely to have been used in reality. The Victorians were never shy about ornamentation. I was unable to find evidence of a Victorian-era blouse with a similar dag hemline, which isn’t to say there weren’t any.

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Walking dresses from 1886

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Walking dresses from 1898

As you can see from the two examples above, the silhouette of the green walking dress resembles the 1886 fashions, with the larger emphasis on the bustle. However, the silhouette does lean towards the more slender skirt of the 1898 illustration, and certainly conforms to the jacket-with-blouse combination. The hat on the right in the 1898 illustration also resembles Mina’s hat in style and size, even if the decorations aren’t a match.

Both the walking dresses above are from 1890. As you can see, there is a flourish of embroidery on the lapels and cuffs of the jackets. The dress on the right is even a similar green to Mina’s green walking dress.

Overall,  I would say that Eiko Ishioka’s creation fits right into the era of the movie. Since we can ‘modernise’ Mina’s character with Steampunk gadgets, feel free to give her a cross bow with a stake for a quarrel, or a sunlight raygun.

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Cosplaying Mina

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Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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Suffragette Chain Link Jewellery at its finest, as it also incorporates the three colours of the Suffragette Movement: Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes).

It is a well known fact that suffragettes were targeted by their governments as troublemakers, and often spent time in jail, and they were subjected to some awful treatment. They were meant to be humiliated and silenced by this strategy. Instead, suffragettes saw jail time as a victory, that they were considered dangerous enough to incarcerate.

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Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, while in jail.

In previous blog articles, I have mentioned suffragette jewellery. Some people argue that the suffragettes were vocal, and would never stoop to subterfuge by wearing symbolic jewellery. I have to agree with this viewpoint. I believe suffragette jewellery was worn with pride, to support the cause, and I believe some suffragette jewellery supports this hypothesis: the Holloway Prison Pin, Chain Link Jewellery, and Edith Garrud’s Boadicea Brooch.

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The Holloway Prison Pin, also known as the Holloway Brooch.

The Holloway Prison Pin  – designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst – was presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had suffered imprisonment. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU on the 29th of April, 1909. The broad arrow – the symbol of the convict – was enamelled in purple, white and green, the colours of the suffragette movement. Some of the brooches were marked with dates of imprisonment. The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue published on the 16th of April, 1909, where it was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’.

The Jail Pin

Jail Door Pin

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The Hunger Strike Medal

After the Holloway Prison pin, the suffragettes were inspired to issue pins and medals for other indignities suffered by the women when they were imprisoned for wanting equal rights. To my mind, it is the Hunger Strike Medal that represents the greatest sacrifices made by those imprisoned; hunger strikers were often force fed. Some of the women were also sent to mental asylums, because being vocal about wanting the vote is a sure sign of madness.

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Image from the textbook – Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History Study

Chain brooches didn’t just symbolise imprisonment. It also stood for the chains that held the women back in society. The chains that held them back from education and legal rights, as well as the right to vote. Mind you, the government was happy to tax women, but not so thrilled to give them a voice in parliament.

Chain brooches came in many shapes and forms. Some were more decorative than others, but even the most simple chain brooch was layered with meaning.

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Of course, the suffragette movement was big on pins and brooches. They could be sold to raise funds, worn to show support, or awarded for outstanding sacrifices. It is a form of wearing your heart on your sleeve.

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Edith Garrud’s Boudica brooch was also described as the Suffragette’s Victoria Cross.

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A Woman in Chains

Chains are often part of a Steampunk cosplay outfit. Never was there a better reason to wear them than to celebrate the Suffragettes.

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Neo-Victorian Movie Fashions: Part Two

 

Helena Bonham Carter is the Corset Cosplay Queen, as she has played many characters in historical movies that have required her to wear the most gorgeous costumes. The 2013 ‘The Lone Ranger’ movie was set in 1869, and so Red Harrington  – the character played by Helena Bonham Carter – wears Victorian-era inspired costumes. Red has red hair and wears red clothing; in Australia, we would have nicknamed her ‘Blue’.

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Red Harrington’s costumes were designed by Penny Rose.

Red went through a series of costume changes. Rather than try to break own the accuracy of every costumes, I have chosen two main outfits to discuss. Oh, and we will also discuss the major Steampunk prop of her costumes: the prosthetic leg that was also a gun. This was actually to the most Steampunk gadget in the movie.

THE LONE RANGER

Neo-Victorian Costume Number One.

As previously mentioned, the movie is set in 1869. Crinolines were the dress-shape of the fashionistas of that era …and Red’s costume is certainly the right shape.

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Red Silk walking dress of the late 1860s. The silhouette is very like that of Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes.

Red’s crinoline is also in the right colour range for the era, and ruffles were a popular way of decorating the skirts of a crinoline. There had been a time when a hoop skirt would be absolutely enormous, but in the late 1860s the worst of these excesses were in the past. In the next few years, crinolines would be replaced by the bustle. Red does not appear to be wearing a hoop, and she should be. (However, she is also well away from the centres of fashion and may have resorted to petticoats instead.)

1871

Note how quickly the crinoline was replaced by the bustle. Ruffles never went out of fashion. This dress was the height of fashion in 1871.

1860-photograph-of-crinoline-with-ovecoat-hat-and-muff

1860 photograph of a woman wearing a crinoline, an overcoat, a muff, and a hat. The style of Red’s hat, shrug, and dress silhouette is closer in fashion to 1871 than to 1860.

The little lace jacket that is part of the movie costume appears to be a boudoir jacket being worn as day wear. Above are a range of jackets:

  • a boudoir jacket circa 1860;
  • 1861 lace jacket over a mourning dress;
  • A mantle/caplet from 1888.

As you can see, the boudoir jacket is lacy like the little jacket that is part of Red’s outfit, but the cut of the jacket is more like a modern shrug or a caplet.

Red’s buttoned shoes are spot on for the era.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Red Harrington in The Lone Ranger.jpg

This second outfit also sports a strange little caplet trimmed with lace, over a dress with at least three visible layers. As you can see, this dress does loosely resemble a high fashion gown from 1870, from the House of Worth in France. The Costume is a mishmash of fabrics and colours compared to the Worth dress, but that can be put down to Red’s flashy tastes. The parasol is spot on for the era.

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1870 House of Worth gown.

The closest equivalent period garment with dramatic sleeves I could find was this tartan dress below. However, those style of sleeves turn up again and again in the Victorian era.

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Royal Stuart Tartan Dress circa late 1860s

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Red Harrington’s prosthetic leg with hidden shotgun.

It was this clever gadget leg that inspired me to look harder at Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes in ‘The Lone Ranger’. For me, it is the gadgets that really make the Steampunk Aesthetic. As a cosplayer, I would wear a ‘tattooed’white stocking and a modified shoe to mimic this prosthetic leg.

gun-leg

The problem for costumers is that people forget that the Victorian era was lo-o-on-ng. Fashions changed. It is hard to put together an authentic historical outfit, particularly when the accuracy of the outfit hardly matters in a fantasy Western/Steampunk movie. I think Penny Rose did a great job of using Red’s outfits to give the audience a deeper insight into her character. That is inspirational work.

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Neo-Victorian Movie Fashions – Part One

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Joan Bergin  was the Costume Designer of this stunning outfit from the movie, The Prestige. Scarlett Johansson played Olivia Wenscombe; she looked like a dream come true when wearing the outfit. It has some very classic Victorian features.

the-prestige

The outfit is made from a combination of fabrics in different colours and designs.  Stripes were a favourite of the Victorians, and the use of stripes and florals in the outfit is certainly not out of step with the era’s fashions.

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Dress mixing stripes and florals from 1875. Image from the Bunka Gakeuen Museum. Even the colours are from the same family, tans/golds and blues,  as The Prestige costume. I can’t help wondering if this dress was the inspiration for the movie costume.

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The  Prestige outfit also combines lace trims and floral embroidery details. This combination was a favourite with Victorian-era fashionistas. Nothing says outrageous femininity like lace and flowers.

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Lace and embroidery on a dress from 1885. Image from the Philadelphia Museum.

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The pleated chiffon ruffles trimming the movie costume are also a Victorian-era fashion. It wasn’t unusual for these pleats to be decorated with ribbon or lace.

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French silk evening gown with chiffon ruffles, circa 1888.

Note that the pleats aren’t as crisp as in the modern costume. I am putting that down to ageing fabrics.

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Wedding gown, circa late 1870s and early 1880s.

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The main problem with this costume is that The Prestige is set in the early 1900s, and all these fashion trends are from around the 1870s and 1880s. As well, tasteful dresses didn’t have every type of trim thrown onto the one outfit, though it works here due to superb styling by the costume designer. I suspect that the modern fabrics are easier to work with, but I am not a seamstress and can’t make that call.

However, seen as a Steampunk costume for a Steampunk fantasy film, this costume is magnificent. It wouldn’t be hard to add a bit of gadget magic to this ensemble, if a cosplayer decided to recreate this dress.

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Hand-in-hand; Victorian-era Hand Jewellery

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Turquoise and diamonds in the form of two hands clasping, circa 1835

 

In the Victorian era, jewellery was worn not just for ornamentation, it was often worn because it meant something to both the wearer and/or the people who saw her wearing the piece. Hands were a popular symbol. They could be clasped in love or friendship, or clasping items with their own symbology.

The ring below is an early Victorian-era  Betrothal Ring, circa 1840. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a gold heart on the central band. An Early Victorian Gold Clasped Hands Betrothal Ring. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a Gold Heart on the central band. Circa 1840.jpg

Flowers had a whole range of meanings, depending on the the types of flowers.

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Ivory hand clasping roses – symbols of love – and forget-me-nots.

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Ivory earrings clasping roses and forget-me-nots.

Snakes represented eternal love or wisdom.

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Coral and gold pin

A hand grasping a rod was seeking guidance or comfort in time of need.

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Mourning jewellery often depicted crossed hands, hands in prayer, or hands clasped ‘across the divide between life and death’.

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Victorian-era Whitby jet brooch depicting crossed hands.

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Gold and hair mourning jewellery

 

A hand clasping a key was clasping the key to a lover’s hear.

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This hand is clasping a key to a watch and was most likely worn as a watch fob. Note the use of tinted gold for the decoration.

 

Pointing hands were charms of protection.

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It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this sort of jewellery could be used to intensify characterisation, or even become part of a plot point!

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