After the Napoleonic wars became
a memory, French fashion was dominated by a new wave of Anglomania.
writings of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron helped popularise a thirst for a
more romantic image. There was a snobbish attraction on the continent for all things
English, cultivated and refined.
Many of the attitudes toward the 'Art Of Dress'
had been codified by Beau Brummell in his relationship with the Prince Regent.
The rules and refinements of manners set at that time were built on and developed
by the middle classes of Europe who sought to gentrify themselves.
Until 1820 dress waists had
been round, but in 1828 the bodice waistline took on a V-pointed form. Even so
it was the late 1830s before every lady sported the fashion for long pointed bodices. Evidence
in museums suggests that real women were still wearing and making dresses with a
slightly raised waistlines well into the 1830s despite the low waist
illustrations of fashion plates.
Beret sleeves were cut
from a circle. There was an opening in the centre for the
arm and this was gathered and bound into a band. The outer circle was gathered and set into
the armhole. Sometimes a sheer oversleeve of silk embroidered shimmering gauze
covered the beret puff. Generally the beret sleeve was worn for evening.
arms and décolletage along with the
highly desirable and visible sloped shoulders left some women feeling quite
undressed and exposed. So gauze sleeves became very
fashionable by the mid 1820s and were worn until the sleeves subsided to new
The sleeves of the
Romantic Era are the main feature and were built on an inverted triangle bodice.
The bodice décolletage was so exposed by the pull of the wide sleeves that it really
showed off the chest, throat and the sloping shoulders.
The full length gigot
or leg of lamb sleeve or the gigot de mouton known as the leg of mutton sleeve, was first
seen in 1824. The long sleeve pattern was cut on the true cross of the fabric.
It was rounded at the top, increasing to greater size.
Left - Romantic gigot sleeves C1826
After 1825 the decade saw sleeves billow to huge
proportions by 1833. They came to typify the look we now associate with
the costume of the Romantic Era.
By the mid 1830s the
enlarged top cap was sagging with its own enormity. There was so much material
that the fullness initially held up with inner stiff buckram support or 'crin'
horsehair fabric began to
flop. The buckram was replaced with either whalebone hoops in a cotton cover or
feather filled pads. When by 1835 the supports stopped being effective the
sagged fabric volume collapsed down the arm and merged into a new sleeve fashion.
Over a few years after
1836 the Romantic sleeve fullness inevitably worked its
way down the sleeve giving a much tighter top arm and more fullness at the
elbow. Next the elbow fullness dropped to the wrist and excess material was
gathered into a rouleau or band creating a new sleeve shape.
early Victorian day sleeves could be quite slim fitting.
1845 the shoulder line of dresses
showed that a new fashion era was in the making. Tight sleeves were set into a
low small armscye restricting women's arm movements and increasing the demure
mannerisms we associate with Victorian women.
Large romantic wide hats, ornately
trimmed with feathers, loops of ribbons and bows complemented the wide shoulder
lines of the 1830s. For evening many married ladies liked to wear gauzy silk,
satin and velvet exotic turbans or berets especially on one side of the head.
The turbans they twisted up from scarves, but as a fashion they were dead by the
Bonnets were virtually
interchangeable with hats, so little difference was seen between the types. Loose
uncut ribbon ties were a feature of the bonnets and by 1828 both bonnets and
hats were quite vast affairs. Coal scuttle bonnet styles with deep crowns accommodated the high
Apollo knot coiffure and were a great feature of the Romantic Era.
Pelerine collars came
in several variations. Their similarity was that each covered the very
wide shoulders and could aid modesty. The first style was a
fine white collar embroidered or lace trimmed and which looked like a cape. The
pelerine grew wider as it spread over the increasing shoulder line of gigot
sleeves. It accentuated the shoulder width and made the waist of the 1830s look
very small and was a popular feature of dress in the Romantic period.
The width of the lace pelerine reached about 31 inches when at its
widest fashion and the pelerines were sometimes attached to a chemisette
was a sleeveless side opened blouse fastened at the waist. Another name for this
item was a tulle canezou.
Skirts were a source
of endless variation. Skirts were gored into panels between 1820 an 1828, so
that width could be added to hemlines whilst keeping the waist clear of bulk.
They were first stiffened with horsehair about 1815 and gradually padding adding was
added. The padding backed the lower six inches of the skirt.
stuffed rouleau tubes, Italian quilting and flounces and frills were added to
push out the skirt hem width in an architectural way. It also shortened the
dress to reveal the ankle at the same time. Women's fashions took on a pert
When all forms of
decoration had been exhausted just the padded hems remained by about 1828.
disappeared at the same time and from then on skirts were made from straight
panels of dress material pleated and gathered to waistbands. The silhouette
changed and lost its overall puffiness by 1835. The skirts
began to get rounder and more bell like, setting the scene for the Victorian Era.
With the return of the
waist women had to wear stays. Once again they returned to tight lacing to make
the waist look narrow and pinched in to balance the wide skirts and wide shoulder line.
Stays were made from cloth layers that had whalebone inserted in channels.
Corsets were intended to emphasise the natural curves rather than create a false
silhouette. Little gussets at the hips allowed for roundness rather than trying
to flatten the line. Small shoulder straps were made detachable and the wearer
could wear the stays with more revealing necklines.
Over the stays women
wore a chemise and a waist petticoat. As the skirt expanded the robust linen or
cotton petticoats increased in number. They supported crisp firm silk or woollen
materials and in summer or indoors cotton chintzes and muslins.
By 1831 the pelisse robe
fashionable since 1818 was worn almost as a house dress.
After 1848 this day coat-dress was called a redingote as fashion writers had
called it for many years.
As a dress the pelisse
robe was supplanted by the pelisse mantle in the 1830s. Sleeves on the pelisse
robe were too big to wear under coats so shawls and cloaks were more practical. The pelisse mantle was the ideal answer
during the Romantic Era. It was an interlined
warm deep cloak and was the most used outer garment in chilly weather remaining
fashionable until 1845.
Women's hair between
1825 an 1845 was elaborate and ingenious. The most modish hair fashion was the
'Apollo Knot', a striking style tending to lean to one side. Another lesser style was the
'Madonna' coiffure with the centre parted and built up with ringlets at crown
and sides. Some even thought this style too elaborate, even when it was mostly
worn for evening.
Compared to eras where
the dating of dresses can be confusing the Romantic Era has quite definite
periods of style variations that make it fairly easy to date garments to within
a few years.
confuse the period
fashions because of the similar fashion for leg of mutton
sleeves. They are similar, but if you look really closely you will see they are
not at all alike. As I have suggested elsewhere on the Fashion-Era.com site
always look at the hairstyles and headwear of the wearer of the garment.
Hairstyles and hair ornamentation give a very definite feel of an era.
The frizzed and curled
hairstyles of the Naughty Nineties are quite different from the demure centre
hair partings, coiled Apollo top knots and ringlet loops of the Romantic Era.
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