Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dressing Grown-Up

Whenever I look at photos and paintings of Victorian ladies clothing, I notice a big difference between the adult styles and the children's styles. However, there was less difference between the young ladies and their mother's styles, as far as length goes. I wrote about this many years ago when I first began the Lady Lydia Speaks etiquette column on the web, mentioning that little girls wore shorter dresses and bloomers that enabled them to run and play, and their hair was down, perhaps fastened with a bow in the back to keep it neat.
An Encounter With Geese, by George Goodwin Kilburne 1839-1924
Notice the differences in the grown-up ladies dress and the little girls dresses.
As they approached the teen years, girls often begged their mothers to let them put their hair up, and wear a long skirt. Mothers diaries and popular ladies advice columns supported the belief that until they reached a certain age, they did not put their hair up or wear long skirts. It was considered too grown up, and a privilege only for girls who had matured enough to act like ladies. Perhaps this made it all the more appealing to little girls. They seemed to look forward to reaching their teens and becoming all grown up by participating in the grown-up privilege of wearing longer sleeves and longer skirts, and aprons tied at the waist instead of the shapeless little-girl pinafores.
Charity, by George Goodwin Kilburne, 1839-1924
Notice the grown-up ladies' clothes compared to the children's clothes. Also take note of the shawl and cape collar in the painting, above.
It seems today women want to stay in the jeans and t-shirts they were used to wearing in childhood. One well-known dress designer said that when women grow up in jeans and tennis shoes, they do not develop a sense of style and do not find dressing up or wearing dresses appealing.
There are young ladies today that long for the dignity and structure of the beautiful garments of the Victorian period. This way of dressing is actually quite youthful, as the styles encourage better posture, which contributes to optimism. Tiny floral prints and pretty cotton fabrics for "day" dresses worn in the home were as important to a lady as a going-to-town dress.
The hair was swept up from the neck and pinned in various fashionable twists and tucks. Hats and head coverings were not always worn, as evidenced by the many photographs and portraits available for us to view still today.
Today there are plenty of little girls items to make a girl look adorable and sweet, but the grown up ladies clothing that makes a woman feel and look really appropriate and dignified, is harder to find. So that is what I am addressing today.
Lady With Children, by Albert Ludoviici Junior 1882
Notice the toddler has a short dress, and the young lady is in a grown-up dress.
Although dresses and skirts are being promoted more as popular fashion, they are not always ample enough to really cover the body comfortably, which then requires women to wear leggings that show, instead of hidden completely by the skirt. The lack of sleeves require that ladies add cardigans and jackets, which may not create a very slimming look, or which may be too warm indoors. The Victorian style blouse, on the other hand, is feminine and modest.
There are ways to adopt elements of the Victorian into modern dress today. The main thing you need is a dress that is above the ankle, and not mid calf like some designers advise. I say this because if you are trying to look more slender, having the hem in the middle of your calf, at the knee or mid-thigh, emphasizes the widest part of your legs, and is not at all elegant or slenderizing. So, the first consideration in a style is length on the skirt.

The next thing to look for is the slenderness at the waist. That would mean avoiding poufiness and thickness at the waistline. What is called "princess seaming" or a-line and darts, is a better shape if you are looking to create blouses and skirts or dresses that have a slender look. There are blouses and skirts you can buy today that have elements of Victorian style. Some Victorian skirts have a dip at the waist, as seen in many of the western clothes at places like Cattle Kate, which is very slimming and comfortable.
One of the numerous Victorian blouses available today.
Another thing to look for in a garment are longer sleeves, at least covering the elbow. The short sleeve tee shirts that are sold to women today only make their upper arms appear fatter, and unless a lady is extremely thin, these do not look particularly good on anyone but men. The same goes for jeans, because the way they are styled, only emphasizes a wide waist and thickness in areas a really modest woman would want to hide. We should all be conscious about how we look from behind, and in general we need to wear clothes that draw the attention to the face and hair. That can be accomplished by wearing clothing that is slimming but not clinging, and covering without being frumpy. This requires some critical consideration of the clothing, and not settling for less than the best for your coloring and figure type.
If you are shopping, here are some ideas:

This denim jacket has Victorian styling, with the princess seaming and ruffled collar. You can wear this with a long denim skirt or a black skirt to match the black trimming. Paired with a bib-style apron, it would be a good outfit for all you need to do at home. Underneath the jacket can be a soft cotton blouse, or one of those fresh white feminine ruffled tee shirts.

I rarely wear denim anymore because I grew up wearing it and I am tired of it, but this outfit might be something you wish to consider if you have a lot of outdoor work or you are wanting to wear something more feminine than jeans around the home.

White blouse with Victorian-style shaping
Cotton skirt from Long tall Sally

Pretty blouse and skirt

If you are sewing, here are some ideas. Above, McCalls 2255 only takes 2 yards, more or less, depending on the size. Cotton is not a suggested fabric for this.
McCalls 6799

McCalls skirt pattern has a yoke front like many Victorian styles, and can be made of cottons and denim a and decorator fabrics which work well at home. (A reader cautions that this requires a large amount of fabric, which is probably not a good economical deal.). Below is Simplicity 1560, requiring only 3-1/2 yards.
Simplicity 1560

McCalls 6305

For myself, I prefer to make a princess seamed dress with Victorian sleeves:
With this pattern you can raise the neckline by following my "How to raise a neckline on a sewing pattern" article on the sewing section of the sidebar on this blog. You can also add an insert in a coordinating fabric pattern or lace to the front bodice or you can substitute a bodice pattern piece that fits you more perfectly.
Here is an adorable pattern for girls:

This would be a good style for ladies too, if it were possible to find a pattern.

None of the above patterns and clothing are old patterns from a Victorian attic. They are modern patterns, showing brand new clothing and pattern styles that are available and can be worn today.

Please note that when sewing with Neue Mode patterns, a seam allowance is not included, as in American patterns, so you have to cut around it a little bigger. I have never sewn these patterns but I did buy one and hope to get time to make something and give it a review. I have put the pictures of the patterns here because they have some of the Victorian elements and shape that. I have been talking about, that you can look for in other patterns and in ready-made clothing.

Suggested fabrics from Shabby Fabrics online store:

The ideas here are for ladies who want to wear dresses at home that are pretty and make them feel good. Protect them with a full apron and remove the apron when going out. For ladies who are not able to sew, look for length and sleeves and slimming lines, like the jacket and blouse at the top of this post. Long floral skirts seem to be more available in the stores, so you should be able to find something.

A friend of mine in another part of the country sent me a picture of her in a well-appointed tea room. She was wearing a pretty A-line skirt and a soft blouse. There was definitely a difference between the way she looked and the women who came to the elegant tea room in jeans. She looked like a lady in a painting; so feminine!
This is my friend, who is in a tea room. She wore a long skirt and with her outfit a pair of gloves. It was a nice tea room and she was complimenting the owners by showing up dressed up. On a side note, my friend is 70 years old! She has such a nice complexion and countenance, and is very happy, partly due to the appropriate way she dresses. Dressing grown-up will not make you look old; it just makes you look feminine and elegant.

Now compare, at the same tea room while she was taking tea, the view from her table, in the picture below. My friend was trying to show more of the tea room, with the shelf full of teas, but could not help noticing something else that is quite depressing. These women do not know what kind of impression they give and how ultra casual they look, especially from behind! A hundred years ago, anyone who looked like this was a man! Although they are covered from neck to ankle, the garments do not have beauty and modesty, and their clothing shows what the clothing stores are selling in mass amounts, heedless of what really looks good on a woman.
I know as Christians we do not insist that ladies all dress up, but I think we should keep in mind that we represent our husbands, and families and the churches where we attend, and when we go out, it is also a reflection on our upbringing. I solved this problem by not even wearing jeans at home. That way, I always had on a pretty dress, and if I had to go on a quick trip to the grocery store or post office, could just remove my apron and add a dressy looking short jacket. It is not good that foreign visitors say that Americans are an eyesore when they travel, largely due to the casual dress of jeans and t-shirts, especially unflattering on grown-up women.

I think it shows self-respect and honors the people we do business with or come in contact with when we wear something pretty and avoid wearing jeans in public. Most of all, the way we dress must show that we are ladies and not men! If there is some reason women must wear jeans or pants, it would be good if they would wear a feminine top that also was long enough to cover the rear end. Also before going out in public, check in the mirror from behind to see if you are presentable.
Dressing in sweats, sports pants, shorts or short skirts is just not as ladylike as long skirts, dresses and feminine tops. Whe you get older it is shocking how fast life seemed to pass, and you realize how important it is to dress in a lovely way. It is a way that a Christian can present themselves to represent their Lord, Christ.
Think also about the memories you are making by what you wear, and the pictures that are taken throughout your life. It is sad to think of photo albums with not one picture of a woman in a dress, and there are little children who have never seen their mother in anything but jeans.
I have known people who are employed in various places where they come in contact with the public, and they have often said that it is not uncommon never to see a woman in a dress come through their store or their business. Ladies I think even a few people can change this situation just by wearing pretty clothes at home. When I suggest skirts and blouses, I do not mean looking drab and dowdy and colorless. Show the world the way you would like it to be by the way you dress, and if you cling to those good habits, you will see changes for the better.

Rom 12:1    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

In dressing for the home, consider the effect it may have on the family members. When the lady of the house looks nice and dresses in a special way for her family, it boosts their morale.
Rom 12:2    And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Wearing the styles like jeans and mini skirts and immodest t-shirts is conforming to the prevailing culture. Christian women should stand out as happy people who love life and wear things that imitate the beauty of The Creation. Dressing grown-up does not mean you must wear exactly what the Victorians wore, but since a lot of the elements of Victorian style were feminine and beautiful, you can find ways to Victorianize your clothing with length and sleeves and slimness.
Victorian Lady by Sue Halstenberg
The Victorian way of dressing was included as part of their etiquette, and no one went anywhere in their pyjamas; not even breakfast at home. To read more about ettiquette, go here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Victorian Style houses and Clothing

Due to the interest in a previous post showing Victorian clothing that is made today, I have found a few more Made-to-order Victorian style dresses and matched them up with Victorian houses. The Victorian ladies clothing seems to coordinate with the houses of the period.

Amelia dress

These clothes are from a store called Ladies Emporium which makes Victorian style garments and accessories for men and women, for reenactments, weddings and other events.

Amelia dress - blue daisy

I have seen both the pink daisy and blue daisy fabrics at the fabric store. It would look good made up in a contemporary pattern.

Moire suit, blue

Moire suit - burgundy

Pinstripe turquoise blouse

Matching white skirt and blouse

The new Victorians are more often painted white today.
Pinstripe walking skirt and blouse.




Yellow Costume

I am getting ready for visitors tomorrow so I am preparing. My goal is to get that all finished and do a sketch of at-home wear for ladies who want to dress in something other than pants.

For myself, these garments could be worn at home with an apron, if the hems were a bit higher ( I do not want them to catch on things and I do not want to step on the hems) and the sleeves were elbow length. I. Cooking and cleaning and all I do at home, I cannot a have the sleeves at the wrist. Also, I personally like a more narrow skirt that is closer to the body and yet is ample enough to walk comfortably in.