Lecture on Victorian fashion. Sample containing about 4657 words speech recorded in educational context

11 speakers recorded by respondent number C858

PS5V5 X f (sb, age unknown) unspecified
PS5V6 X f (a, age unknown) unspecified
PS5V7 X f (b, age unknown) unspecified
PS5V8 X f (c, age unknown) unspecified
PS5V9 X f (d, age unknown) unspecified
PS5VA X f (e, age unknown) unspecified
PS5VB X f (f, age unknown) unspecified
PS5VC X f (g, age unknown) unspecified
PS5VD X f (m, age unknown) unspecified
KRJPSUNK (respondent W0000) X u (Unknown speaker, age unknown) other
KRJPSUGP (respondent W000M) X u (Group of unknown speakers, age unknown) other

1 recordings

  1. Tape 139401 recorded on unknown date.


sb (PS5V5) [1] This is the second talk in a series following the history, sort of Victorian fashion, but not just what people wore but hopefully explaining why they wore it, both the actual manufacturing, physical why they wore it and perhaps some of the psychological reasons behind the changing fashion.
[2] erm You missed last week's talk, which actually was quite lucky because the projector broke down, so it wasn't a great success; but last week, erm I talked about the beginning up to the eighteen thirties, Victorian costume, and really what I was trying to put across last time, was the fact that the nineteenth century saw the beginning of fashion for the masses.
[3] Instead of fashion being mainly, well almost totally an upper class preoccupation, it became, because of the ease of manufacture and because more clothes were more readily available and cheaper, it became one, something that was worn by the middle classes, gradually sort of percolated downwards.
[4] With the invention of things like the spinning wheel, spinning jenny, the spinning mule, erm mechanized weaving, the Jacquard loom which wove patterns, all these helped the manufacture of cotton, the manufacture, the manu, the spinning and weaving of cloth.
[5] erm We saw the beginning of the factory, industrialization, big manufacturers where lots of people worked and where cloth could be churned out at a very fast rate, and therefore, cloth was cheaper.
[6] From America, the development of the slave plantations, cotton plantations, meant that far more cotton was being sent over to England, so as well as wool, you also have the choice of cotton garments, which were much more popular because of course, they washed very easily.
[7] And as long as you didn't choose something that had a very bad dye, in which case it would all run, but mostly it was very light, it was easy to wear, even easy to clean, so it was an immensely popular fabric.
[8] The eighteen twenties and thirties saw fashion moving from the Empire line, which was, had a very small bodice and a skirt that [...] flowed down straight to the ground to a lower waisted dress with big sleeves and a shorter skirt, and the impression of a little girl, a little sort of bouncy girl who was all skippy and everything, which reflected really the feeling of optimism at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
[9] The growth of the middle classes as industrialization became, got under way, men, more men earned their money, so instead of having two classes, the working class and the upper class who spent their lives in leisure, in idleness, you got another class of people who had to earn their living, but who still made a lot of money.
[10] And the reason for a, a lot of fashion and a lot of change in the fashions, one of the reasons is because these men had, needed some way of showing off their wealth.
[11] Previously, in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries, a man himself could dress and show how wealthy he was, and when man started going to work he had to wear a respectable, responsible suit; he had to put across the image of honesty, of, you know, I'm, I'm a respectable man, I'm decent, I'm down to earth.
[12] So really man's costume changed very little, and in fact, apart of the cut of the jacket, and the type of hat you wore, it carried on right up to the present day.
[13] So the man needed a way of showing how wealthy he was, and he did that by having a large house, by having lots of servants, and also by dressing his wife, I mean by having a wife who didn't have to work, who could stay at home, and wore clothes to show this, so you get the beginning of incredibly impractical clothes which showed that the woman obviously didn't do any work, because it was completely impossible to do any.
[14] Now the eighteen-forties sees the development of manufacturing process, clothes are getting easier and easier to make, cheaper and cheaper, so fashion is changing faster because people can afford to, whereas in earlier times, if you wore a woollen dress, it had been you know, you know, somebody had done the sheep for you, had spun the wool and woven the wool and you were damned if you were going to take this dress off until it fell to pieces round you.
[15] Now that clothes were, had become cheaper, people could afford to change them more often and buy new ones, so the fashion changes became more rapid.
[16] And another way of showing how wealthy you were was to keep up with the fashion ‘look, I can afford to wear this year's dress, I'm not wearing last year's or the year before's’.
sb (PS5V5) [18] I'll start the slides.
a (PS5V6) [19] Is this in your way?
sb (PS5V5) [20] erm No, it's not, [...] , I can manage to squash round.
[21] I'm just trying to focus it actually, [...] .
[22] Right, that's as good as it gets I'm afraid.
[23] This is a very out of focus picture of a drapers' shop. [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [24] And the picture is actually to show you how people bought their cloth, how people bought their dresses.
[25] Until well into the eighteen forties, they didn't actually buy dresses, they bought lengths of cloth and had them made up, either by a member of the household — a servant perhaps, or more often by a dressmaker, either a couturier or the local dressmaker.
[26] So they would actually do the shopping for the material, and then they would go away and look at pattern books and decide what sort of patterns they wanted, what sort of dress it was that they wanted to make.
[27] By the eighteen forties, you just had the beginning of home dressmaking.
[28] Now I think this came around, about, because you get the, the people, the women who want to wear fashionable clothes, it's getting broader and broader and we're sort of expanding downwards as it were, so you get women who have enough money to buy the material, to buy patterns, who have the skill to make dresses, but haven't the money to actually get a dressmaker to do it for them.
[29] So it becomes very much more common with, among sort of lower middle classes, the people who are working their way out of the working classes.
[30] Also in the eighteen-forties, you actually get the beginning of department stores.
[31] Previously, if you wanted a dress for example, you'd buy your cloth at the drapers, you'd buy your bits and pieces at the haberdashers, erm you'd go to the milliners and the glovers and all those different sorts of shops.
[32] In the eighteen-forties, the department stores really came into being with places like Debenham and Freebodys and Selfridges, where everything could be purchased under one roof, which made things much easier.
[33] erm I think it made things a lot cheaper, because you had larger firms able, able to buy in bulk, and also the beginnings of the ready-made market.
[34] Now in a big department store, say like Debenhams, you could go in, and you could select your cloth and get the ladies round the back to make it up for you.
[35] Or you could buy dresses, one or two dresses that were all complete except for the seam down at the back and the seams under the arms.
[36] You know those skirts you can buy in Liberty's, the skirts and blouses that all you need to do is zip up the back?
[37] It's that sort of thing.
[38] They weren't terribly popular, I don't think, because of course, the women were used to a personalized fit, and when you get, start getting mass production like that, then obviously a lot of the very good fitting garments that, I mean that's just not possible.
[39] And fashions of the eighteen-forty did rely quite a lot on very close fitting garments, so I don't, I think that's the reason why they weren't more popular and didn't develop faster than they did.
a (PS5V6) [40] Oh good.
b (PS5V7) [41] That's better
a (PS5V6) [42] It's back to front, [...]
c (PS5V8) [43] Oh yes!
sb (PS5V5) [44] Now look, you can't have everything! [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [45] Right, this is an extremely good slide, I did take this myself, erm of the actual dress of the eighteen forties, I'll just sort of point out its components.
[46] You've got a quite high neck, it was a lower for the evening, I mean most dresses all the way through the nineteenth century, and now being lower for the evening.
[47] But most of them would have a neck that was quite high; modesty was getting to be a really important factor, so we're covered from head to toe.
[48] The sleeves and shoulders are very sloping — can you see it's sort of, the line's gone very drooping, I mean somebody said it gave the impression of melting butter, and, and that's really the sort of figure that you've got.
[49] Any fullness of the sleeves at all, and as you go through the eighteen-forties, the sleeves gradually get tighter and tighter; what little fullness there is comes either below the elbow or, or just on the elbow itself, so you can see the fairly, they are gathered sleeves, but the actual shoulder piece is very tight.
[50] The bodice itself is very well fitted, very closely fitted and the women were very tightly corseted.
[51] This again, from the health problems of the early eighteen hundreds, eighteen-twenties, which caused a great deal of pneumonia and chills and fevers and all that because women would insist on wearing muslin and very little else.
[52] Now you get the health problems caused by over tight corseting, which led to constriction of lungs, of ribs, in some cases, punctured lungs, a lot of cases of T B in the eighteen forties were in fact where the corset had compressed the ribs so tightly, that they'd actually punctured the lung.
[53] Not [...] .
[54] erm This also meant that you couldn't move around very fast, the clothes were so tightly made, that for a large part of the time, you were immobile and glad to be, glad to be so.
[55] And dresses are getting fuller — haven't actually reached the crinoline stage, but a more uncomfortable sort of stage where layers and layers of petticoats, so, over your undergarments you'd wear like eight or nine flannel cotton petticoats to give an impression of fullness.
[56] So in fact the crinoline, although in some ways it had its disadvantages, I think it was a good deal more comfortable than, than wearing a lot of petticoats and being very restricted like that.
[57] The colours were very subdued, very, very sombre, erm dove greys, muted blues, nothing bright at all, now this wasn't because of dyes, although later on in the eighteen-sixties when chemical dyes really took off, the colours were correspondingly garish and bright.
[58] This is really to sort of reflect the feelings of the times, which I will come to, so that's basically fashionable dress in the eighteen-forties.
sb (PS5V5) [59] That's even better, but I didn't take it.
[60] This is a picture of Florence Nightingale and her sister who has an unpronounceable name, this is in the eighteen-forties, and this really summarizes I think, the psychological reasons behind the changing of fashion; this shows the ideal woman of the eighteen- forties.
[61] You had to be the, the perfect woman who was one, who had grown up from the little girl of the eighteen-thirties who was all bouncy and skippy and optimistic; now she had to be very quiet, she was admired for her innocence, for her delicate nature and her dainty physique.
[62] And it was her duty to be guided by an intellectual judgement and authority that was superior to hers — in other words, her husband's or her father's.
[63] She was supposed to be very, very quiet, she had to, I think complete submission was really the key point of women in the eighteen-forties.
[64] And the costume itself enforced this, if you can imagine, you can see, see their upper sleeves, this is actually quite full round here, but the upper sleeves are quite tight, which means that you can't move like this very easily.
[65] You were very tightly corseted, which makes any exertion almost impossible because if you can't fill your lungs to take enough air then obviously you can't take enough exercise, which is why a lot of women would faint with shock or horror because any sort of sharp intake of breath, and they'd be flat on their backs, unconscious.
[66] Full skirts — goodness knows how many petticoats made walking very hard, so all this almost enforced leisure upon them, and this was again part of the duty of the woman to show that she didn't need to work, she didn't in fact even have to lift a finger because the man or her servants would do all this for her.
[67] In eighteen oh six, erm a law was passed which said that all property of a woman went over to the man on their marriage, including herself, so the woman was no longer an individual, she was just the property of the man and she could be disciplined and punished if the man felt like it.
[68] Obviously, I think there was, erm sort of a thin line between grievous bodily harm and a good beating, but a lot of women, a lot of middle class and upper class women, were in fact beaten and disciplined quite severely, and we have records of this, you know, from people's diaries, that actually talk about it in a very manner of, matter of fact way.
[69] There's a quotation here from one of the ladies' magazines at the time: ‘woman was given to man to be his better angel, to dissuade him from vice, to stimulate him to virtue, to make home delightful and life joyous, in the exercise of these gentle and holy charities, she fulfils her high vocation’— pretty inspiring stuff!
[70] The ideal woman was of, was purity and doing your duty and domestic.
[71] I think it was copied from Victoria, Victoria had a lot of influence upon women obviously, she had a lot of children; women too, women, apart from the fact there was no effective contraception, it was the duty of woman to bear a lot of children so that they could carry on the line, which was also why woman had to be very chaste and pure so that man could be sure that the son that she produced was actually his legitimate heir.
[72] So there was another sort of factor of passing down your wealth that made the women's chastity so important.
sb (PS5V5) [73] I've called it, the talk, ‘Little Dorrit’ because I think the character in the book by Dickens really shows the ideal of womanhood in the eighteen-forties.
[74] Now, I'm not going to go into a discussion about Dickens' view of women, which was fairly peculiar, but I do think that the popular feeling of the times was very much inclined towards the ‘Little Dorrits’.
[75] I've got some quotes here that I've taken from the book which shows not only how Dickens thought women ought to behave, but how the readers, since he was writing for a public market, the readers too thought the ideal woman ought to behave.
[76] We have heard her described as: ‘a diminutive figure with small features and a slight spare dress; she was little and light, noiseless and shy’.
[77] And another: ‘it was not easy to make out Little Dorrit's face, she was so retiring, a delicately bent head, a tiny form, a quick little pair of busy hands, what affection in her words, what compassion in her repressed tears, what a great soul of fidelity within her, how true the light that shed false brightness round her’.
[78] It's a bit unfair on Dickens taking out such incredibly ghastly stuff from his book, but I, I do think it shows, it shows how women were expected to behave.
sb (PS5V5) [79] Right, this is a fashion plate; a ball dress in the eighteen-forties, and I'm just showing this actually to make another point; sort of change of direction maybe, because I'm now going to almost undo everything that I've just said, and say that this was the fashion, high fashion of the eighteen forties.
[80] But please don't go away thinking that every Victorian woman in the eighteen- forties went around dressed like this.
[81] I think that's like saying ‘every woman in the nineteen nineties went round dressed in Chanel and Yves St Laurent, or something equally as wild as that.
[82] I know in, was it eighty-nine, there was a fashion Yves St Laurent put, putting, was putting out a fashion for women to walk around with one breast bared, now in Oxford I just saw nobody dressed like that! [people laughing]
sb (PS5V5) [83] I don't know about you, but maybe they were dressed like that in London, but I don't think so.
[84] And I think where the confusion sometimes comes, is that the costume you have, the, the actual evidence of what people were wearing, a lot of it comes from fashion plates, and it's like saying, erm judging what people in the nineteen-nineties wear from Vogue magazine.
[85] It doesn't give a very realistic picture; again a lot of the costume in museums, it gives a distorted view because the clothes that people keep are generally their best clothes — their ball dresses, their wedding dresses.
[86] The collection at Woodstock has goodness knows how many silk wedding dresses, but it would be wrong to assume that every Victorian woman went round dressed in a white silk wedding dress, because they didn't.
[87] I actually have at the back which I will show in a minute, a costume that was worn by a woman in the eighteen-forties, and it shows how she has kept up with the fashion; it is a fairly fashionable dress, but it is adapted for real life, for day to day life, for for the life of an ordinary middle class woman who had perhaps one or two servants, but had to do the running of the household herself.
b (PS5V7) [88] Could I just ask you, did those bodices do up at the back with hooks and eyes?
sb (PS5V5) [89] Yes, that's one of the interesting things about this.
[90] When I first saw it, when I was looking at it, I was amazed at these huge great hooks and eyes, and I thought ‘gosh, they can't have been very good at making hooks and eyes if they had to make them so big’.
[91] But actually, because they were very tight, they had to be whacking great things so that they wouldn't bend under the pressure. [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [92] Yes so they're actually the least attractive bit of the dress, I think is the fastening and the boning underneath.
[93] Here we are: now this was worn by one of the Dew family who actually donated a large collection to Woodstock.
[94] And it was worn in the eighteen forties, and they were a very ordinary, ordinary family, I can't remember what Mr Dew did, but I mean, it was nothing special, he was he was just an ordinary professional man I think.
[95] Maybe they had one or two servants, but a lot of the household, running, was left to her.
[96] You can see it's, it's quite short actually, and I don't, I mean, she wasn't that small, because you can tell by the, the rest of the, the size of the bodice and the length of the arms that she wasn't as small as this dress would make her out to be.
[97] So it's actually quite short, and you can see here that it has in fact been shortened, and also you can see the terrible stitching with which it was done.
[98] And this is another fallacy that really struck me when I saw this; you imagine Victorian stitchery to be uniformly fine and perfect, twenty stitches to the inch and that sort of thing.
[99] Now we do have some dresses that are like that, but the ordinary ones, I think were made in, because she needed a new dress and she needed it pretty soon, so some of the sewing is just terrible. [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [100] And particularly, erm you'll be able to have a look later.
[101] But the bit fastening the waistband to the skirt is huge great stitches and very coarse thread, which is actually a bit of a shame.
[102] But she put it up here, I think probably to make it easier, I mean if anyone's had, I don't know if anyone had children in the seventies when it was the fashion to wear very long skirts, or even as I find going up and down stairs in my nightie, you're more than likely to fall and break a leg and the baby's neck at the same time, if you wear a long skirt.
[103] I think they found that it just wasn't practical to wear very long dresses; it was alright for dressing up, but not for every day.
[104] The bodice is quite small, but it's actually not as, you read about eighteen inch waists, I mean this is nowhere near an eighteen inch waist, and although she would have worn corsets, she obviously didn't wear, you can see there, so much corseting that she couldn't move, and that she couldn't bend down if she had to.
[105] So that the, the dress reflects fashion, you can see we've got a slightly puffed sleeve and it's quite full here, but it is tight at the shoulder, and the shoulder itself, here we are, sort of slopes down, so you've got the basic line of the full skirt, a bodice at the waist, and this is very pretty, this pleating here.
[106] There it is.
[107] But it's been adapted, it's been worn by an ordinary person doing everyday things, and I think that's, it's something that's, it's very important to remember when you're studying Victorian fashion and Victorian costume, that actually a lot of the documentary evidence gives a very biased picture and that to find clothes like this, I think you get a much more realistic picture of what people actually wore.
[108] And sort of, I think it shows a lot the timelessness of, of costume and clothes, because this could be worn, I mean I'm, you'd get a few looks, but I mean it could be worn today and it's quite, it's awfully Laura Ashley isn't it
c (PS5V8) [109] Mmm
sb (PS5V5) [110] I mean it, perhaps that's where she gets it from. [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [111] But I mean, I could wear this, especially in Oxford, you can wear almost anything.
[112] And, and not look extraordinary or out of the way at all, and I think all true clothes, I mean true sort of timeless costume, you can wear at anytime.
[113] Right, that's it; next week we'll move on to the eighteen fifties and sixties.
[114] Does anyone have any questions?
d (PS5V9) [115] Well a comment really, I was sitting browsing at Blackwell's sale, and they've got at half price, a beautiful book I was skimming through, with photographs of Victorian fashion, if you're interested
sb (PS5V5) [116] Oh right, is that on sale
d (PS5V9) [117] A great big tome of a book, ++ [laugh]
e (PS5VA) [118] But erm, again a comment, she's not a very good dressmaker.
[119] Look at the difference of the pleating at the, of the tucks at the bottom
sb (PS5V5) [120] Yes,
e (PS5VA) [121] They vary enormously
sb (PS5V5) [122] We can see yes, yes [people talking]
sb (PS5V5) [123] Yes, and she's obviously tacked that up, but you can see the stitching round the waistband, and she's repaired it, but even here
f (PS5VB) [124] You don't think it could have been the lady of the house's dress shortened for a maid
sb (PS5V5) [125] Possibly
f (PS5VB) [126] It's got a false hem on it you see, so it's obviously
e (PS5VA) [127] That would give it weight as well.
sb (PS5V5) [128] Yes, I mean this would help to keep it down.
f (PS5VB) [129] But if you'd got enough fabric, you would have just done the same
sb (PS5V5) [130] Yes.
f (PS5VB) [131] With the same fabric.
sb (PS5V5) [132] I know this was actually worn by her, I don't, I, I'm not sure whether it was given to her maid, I don't think so.
[133] erm I think she did actually just put it up.
g (PS5VC) [134] I thought the erm department stores didn't get here until eighteen-sixty.
sb (PS5V5) [135] Well not according to‘the book’.
g (PS5VC) [136] I mean, Selfridges obviously came much later, that's was absolutely correct with that.
sb (PS5V5) [137] Yes, yes.
g (PS5VC) [138] But I thought erm, I didn't realise that they'd got the
sb (PS5V5) [139] Fineoak , Fineoak and Silkcounters
e (PS5VA) [140] It looks like the Army and Navy have been going for hundreds of years, Army and Navy Stores
sb (PS5V5) [141] Yes, I, I've got this from the History of Debenhams, Fineoak and Silkcounters
b (PS5V7) [142] When, when did actually Debenhams start then, do you know [...]
sb (PS5V5) [143] I can't remember the actual year, but I know, I mean it's by the eighteen forties, it's the eighteen forties.
b (PS5V7) [144] Yes. [people talking]
d (PS5V9) [145] Did they have sewing machines in the eighteen-forties
sb (PS5V5) [146] Eighteen-sixties.
d (PS5V9) [147] Eighteen sixties
sb (PS5V5) [148] It wasn't until eighteen sixty-five that you got one that didn't, you know, erm that did lockstitch and not chainstitch.
d (PS5V9) [149] That'd make all the difference, didn't it?
sb (PS5V5) [150] Yes.
e (PS5VA) [151] But that was terribly expensive, terribly expensive, I mean in eighteen ninety-nine, they were six pounds and a farm labourer then was getting seventeen shillings.
sb (PS5V5) [152] Yes, I know, I think, I think hand stitching went on for, I mean, I mean certainly further, where you need vast quantities of linen, like baby linen, a lot of that sort of hand [...] .
b (PS5V7) [153] Could you say something about the gloves?
m (PS5VD) [154] I take it
sb (PS5V5) [155] I wear gloves when I'm dealing with costumes
b (PS5V7) [156] Oh! [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [157] No, though these are my gloves, it's so that I don't get perspiration on the, on the dress, yes, or rings or anything, so
b (PS5V7) [158] I thought they looked still modern!
sb (PS5V5) [159] Yes [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [160] Yes, they're surgical gloves, but they're just to stop, to stop them, erm, it, it erm rots the fabric.
f (PS5VB) [161] How've you stopped the material rotting, anyway, it's lasted very well, hasn't it?
sb (PS5V5) [162] Yes it has
f (PS5VB) [163] Do you hang them up, or?
sb (PS5V5) [164] They're hung, they're hung up on polished hangers usually, I mean it's packed in acid-free tissue paper, and I wear gloves when I, I mean, you know, handle
f (PS5VB) [165] Generally when they're folded they just go, just like that, I mean
sb (PS5V5) [166] Perforated silk, I mean silk, even if it's hung up and looked after very carefully, it just cracks with age, which is very sad, I mean some of our wedding dresses are just, the skirts are literally in shreds, you know, where they've just got
f (PS5VB) [167] How many dresses does the County have in the collection?
sb (PS5V5) [168] Ooh!
[169] Actually, I mean, we've got a big costume collection, I mean it's sort of, you're talking thousands of garments altogether.
[170] They're not on show because displaying costume is very difficult, because you have to have very strict environment control; and light has to be very dim and you have to watch the relative humidity.
[171] And you can't let people touch them so they have to be in glass cases which are hugely expensive and take up a lot of room, and the director is not very interested in costume. [laugh]
sb (PS5V5) [172] Which I think is the main reason actually.
b (PS5V7) [173] So you send people over to Bath, do you, to see it.
sb (PS5V5) [174] Well, when it's open, it's not open at the moment, I think it's opening in April, re-opening in April ninety-one.
e (PS5VA) [175] How long does you happen to have in his family, how long have they been in the collection?
[176] I mean, amazing that that lasted so long through [...]
e (PS5VA) [177] Yes, you'd expect
sb (PS5V5) [178] Seventy-four, they came in to the collection in seventy-four.
e (PS5VA) [179] So they've kept a very long time.
sb (PS5V5) [180] George Dew was a collector, I mean, he gave his whole collection to us, I mean, he just collected everything.
e (PS5VA) [181] Oh I see, I see
sb (PS5V5) [182] All sorts of things.
Unknown speaker (KRJPSUNK) [183] I, I just wondered you know.
sb (PS5V5) [184] Yes, that's why we're very lucky, I mean because, because people don't keep stuff like this, so erm yes, we're very lucky to have it.
e (PS5VA) [185] Good, thank you.
a (PS5V6) [186] Thank you very much
sb (PS5V5) [187] Right
e (PS5VA) [188] What's, what's next week?
sb (PS5V5) [189] The eighteen fifties and sixties.