Comparing and Contrasting Victorian and Georgian Undergarments, Dress' and Headwear.
|England: The Caprice of Fashion|
Fashion, a word synonymous with both haute couture and materialism, plays an important role in every culture and has for thousands of years. Rather than judging an individual based on character or intelligence, society often classifies people on appearances alone. Despite this supposed simplicity of mind, many scientific advances have occurred in the pursuit of fashion. While every country offers a unique addition to the universal wardrobe, Europe is a leader in the fashion industry. Both the Georgian and the Victorian Eras contain many of the same highbrow furbelows and frilleries, but there are vast differences in the make and style of undergarments, gowns, and hats which influence the clothing of today.
Ladies of the Georgian Period wear many different layers, including undergarments such as the stays, the hoops and the chemise; these garments change in varying degrees from morning until bedtime. The daytime chemise lies close to the skin and is worn to deter chafing from the corset, or stays. Stays are generally white in color and fasten at the back; most of them “have shoulder straps, which are designed to pull the shoulders back, giving a very upright carriage” (Kalenhughes). A day dress covers the undergarments; the most common style of dress is the long-waisted Watteau gown or silken pelisse. Tight bodices are considered elegant, emphasized by long, clean feminine lines and designed to accentuate the popular slender body. Muslin, light cotton and silks are the most common fabrics worn during the day. Bonnets fashioned from matching silk complete the morning wardrobe; a high French bonnet trimmed with feathers allows the wearer’s curls to escape, while the Shepherdess’ Hat perches precariously atop the head.
In the evening, a Georgian corset is a decorative and embellished undergarment that accentuates more formal attire; embroidery in Egyptian and Greek symbols and lace are considered quite fashionable. The evening gown adopts the style of satin trimmed with ruching, a “sewing technique in which fabric or ribbon is gathered in a repeat pattern to form scallops” (Rogers). Other common styles include the use of crape, pointed kerchiefs that drape around the shoulders, or tippets of lace. Soft pastels and natural colors, such as rich olives and fawn browns, are in high demand. While Georgian fashion may not include a broad range of colors, it has a surprising number of materials to choose from; some of the most popular fabrics include Indian muslin, lama cloth, and pale mastic. In the evening, a bonnet becomes a headdress adorned with simple feathers or satin. Elaborate, towering creations trimmed in sea shells, ribbons, and assorted flowers are designed to accentuate the evening gowns. Sometimes hats are dismissed altogether in favor of high piled hair.
The Georgian lady’s night wardrobe consists of undergarments such as stockings and the ever popular chemise; “Ladies [do not] wear underpants, pantaloons, bloomers or knickers. They [wear] knit stockings of cotton or silk, held up with garters tied above the knee” (Kalenhughes). A simple shift is the equivalent of a nightgown, and it is both functional and comfortable. The sleeves are cut very wide and generally white or cream in color. Bonnets give place to mobcaps, a ruffled cap that helps to restrain a lady’s hair at night; the cap is used to keep the many greases and oils used on a woman’s hair off the pillow. It also helps to prevent long hair from tangling.
Victorian women also dress in layers, but during the day their undergarments are a combination of drawers, chemises, corsets, and decorative petticoats. The style becomes “more elaborately trimmed and progressively prettier and more alluring” (Victorianweb). Rich froths of white lace adorn the delicate fabrics and accent low necklines. The petticoat is an underskirt with a well matched hem that is occasionally allowed to peep below the gown at a social function. A Victorian day dress adds a bustle or train to the Georgian gown. The more tailored style allows amply bosomed ladies to show off the effects of their corset; Victorian women find the more curvaceous figure desirable. Victorian’s pride themselves on the creation of their fashionable, wide brimmed hats; the Georgian bonnet is considered a grave faux pas.
While the Victorian corset is more decorative in the evening, it retains the same function as its Georgian counterpart; it restricts and confines. Deviating from the pastel or natural colored gown, the ladies of this era choose bolder, brighter colors. This choice is made possible by the new discovery of aniline dyes. In a book entitled Letters from England, the satirical author, Robert Southy, addresses the attention Victorians give to different hues:
Colour as well as shape is an affair of fashionable legislation. Language is nowhere near
so imperfect as defining colours; but if philosophical language be deficient here, the
creative genius of fashion is never at a loss for terms. What think you of the Emperor’s
eye, Mud of Paris, and Le soupir etouffe, the Sigh supprest? These I presume [are] exotic
flowers of phraseology, imported for the use of the ladies. (Southey 213)
More literally, “Vivid colours such as deep red, peacock blue, bright apple green, royal blue, purple, mandarin, and sea green [are] used alone, [or] in combination” (Fashionera). The three most commonly used fabrics are muslin, satin, and silk; unlike the Georgian era, fabric is not a major focus of fashion. The Victorian headdress is nothing like a satin bonnet or interesting compliment, but a zoo with jewels and plumes and yards of satin festooning the head.
An undergarment consists of the chemise and “drawers of scarlet flannel” (Victorianweb). Here again, Victorian’s show their confident use of color by contrasting white and red. The simple shift also serves as a nightgown; while it is also white and wide sleeved, it is more decorative than the Georgian version. Embellishments soften the neck and wrists, and embroidery and ribbon are laced along the drawstring neckline. The very unfashionable mobcap is also in use during Victorian times. Greases and oils are not predominant in woman’s hair fashions (as in Georgian England), but the cap’s purpose is still to prevent long hair from tangling.
Georgian and Victorian England differ greatly in women’s fashion. One period
embraces a risqué, debonair style, the other relishes embellishments and bright, rich colors. In
spite of their differences, they are both high-paced fashion societies that influence the styles of
today; Georgian’s through their cloth and materials and the Victorians with their discovery of
aniline dyes. Geoffrey Beene sums it up with, “Fashion is treated too much as news rather than
what it is, what it does, and how it performs” (Brainyquote). Style is an extremely important
and influential aspect of our society, yet it is decided by the fantastic and capricious minds of