Riding habit 1864

Riding habit 1864

child on belter sofaIf you are a writer, you research. Once you get on the road to discovery, there is no end. Sometimes though, your research doesn’t always point in the right direction. It’s sort of like looking in the dictionary for a word you can’t spell, but have to know how to spell in order to find the one you are looking for. For fashions of the past, you must know something about the era you are researching. You need a date, culture, fabrics, patterns, decorative arts, architecture and more. Your descriptions give authenticity and place to your story.

The discovery of photography around 1839 amazed folks, you could see on paper people you know looking like themselves and not moving. Before that, painted portraits were the only choice that only the wealthy could afford. 320px-painted by Winterhalter_ElisabethDaguerreotype, ambrotypes, cartes de visite, tintypes and cabinet cards (all types of photographs) galleries popped up in the big cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. In a short time every city had at least one gallery. Picture taking grew so fast, before long rural areas had galleries. Now it was possible to pass on family photos for all classes. Women’s fashions of the Victorian era both pleasures and horrifies us. Painfully corseted wasp waists, dirt-collecting trains, billowing hoop skirts, absurd and cumbersome bustles—outrageous hats-one sartorial excess succeeded another.

Women’s fashion of the 1860s, basic silhouette fit closely through the bodice to the waist, then the skirt widens into a full round or dome-shape. Armhole seams are placed below the natural shoulder on the upper part of the arm. Fairly crisp fabrics with enough body to enhance the fullness of the skirt, even though it is supported by a hoop.

Bustle dress 1870s

Bustle dress c1870

Among the silks for better dresses, taffeta, plaid and striped patterns, and iridescent fabrics were popular. Day dresses were washable cotton or linen.

The bustle became more fashionable in the 1870s, but outfits for sports were devised by homemakers. Women had ridden horses for recreation as well as for transportation for a number of centuries. Women now participated in active sports, tennis, golf, roller skating, hiking, and even mountain climbing. Fashions changed to fit life styles.


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This era was the last of the cumbersome costumes and breathe defying corsets.

Public Domain images: 1850s to 1880s.
Dover Publications

Where do writers go to get their material? Do writers write from their imagination, or must they research everything? Writers, what’s your take on these questions?

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