The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Dress: the background

Amelia Bloomer ca. 1850s.  Wikipedia.
During the 19th century there were many and varied reform movements that involved women.  Women supported and led those movements that dealt with things that were important to their everyday lives, like food, clothing, and education, which connected them to the larger Woman’s Suffrage reform movement, as well as the trend towards national and international religious, political and economic reform.  There was also a growing sense of distaste with the quality and style of things produced by the Industrial Revolution factory system, and the un-healthy living conditions it created. 

When the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848, the dress reform movement was just beginning, with Amelia Bloomer and other women daringly adopting Turkish trousers and shorter (ankle- to calf-length) skirts.  Many of their innovative designs and ideas were lost on the public who, with the help of the media, spent more time staring at and lampooning them than listening to them.  Early designs were almost all condemned as being not only ugly, but indecent because they involved masculine trousers.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood secured a nominally higher level of respect from the public for their designs, because they first appeared in romantic and dramatic pieces of art.  When the women who were part of the movement began to wear similar styles at home and in public, they attracted stares and comments, but escaped the kind of insults that earlier dress reformers received, because of their status as “eccentric artists” and their prominence in the art circles.  The famous artist William Morris said, “no dress can be beautiful that is stiff; drapery is essential,” and the Pre-Raphaelites took that statement to heart. 

To be continued ...


Time Traveling in Costume said...

Ah hah, methinks I influenced you with my new Bloomer gown. :) You must make one! They're so fun! I have more on my planning board. I just wrote about them on my blog.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

You only fed my obsession! I have been planning to make a Pre-Raphaelite gown for the past few years, especially since I got something like 6 yards of forest green cotton velveteen in a fabric swap and started thinking what to do with it. I see a green version of the gown "Mariana" is wearing in Millais' painting, with a wide band of gold "embroidery" (lace) at the hem and narrower ones at the wrists like in "The Accolade" by Waterhouse. Now to find the lace ...

But yes, Bloomer costumes are great, and I do intend to make one sooner or later. I was actually thinking of making a Steampunk costume by basing it on a Bloomer costume ... If women who traveled to California during and after the Gold Rush could wear it for traveling (and a few women recorded in their diaries that they did that), then the Bloomer Costume sounds perfect for traveling in rustic conditions through time and space ...

Time Traveling in Costume said...

With all the research I've done recently I got copies of an article in a California History magazine referring to the Bloomer gown in 1851 that I copied; and the historical notes Saundra is including in the pattern has a lot of documentation on women wearing them in CA, even notes in their diaries about making them.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)