The author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this passage from the second edition of her Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000 (2000), published by A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd., which retains copyright. Readers wishing to obtain of the complete book can e-mail the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org .
he intensity of mid nineteenth-century fervour for social reform is exemplified in its attack on the whole concept of fashion but demands for change only gave rise to new fashions. Though aware that fashion extended into other forms of expression, progressive thinkers felt the need for reform in dress, especially for women, to be the most urgent on hygienic, artistic and rational grounds. Dress reform for men came from such sources as William Morris, Walter Crane writing in his journal Aglaia, and Dr Jaeger, Professor of Zoology at Stuttgart University, and resulted in such outfits as the somewhat 18th-century style with silk knee-breeches worn by Oscar Wilde when touring America in 1882, and in the craze for wearing wool (from the skin outwards), considered by Dr Jaeger to be cooler than any other material and taken up by intellectual circles. George Bernard Shaw bought a complete Jaeger outfit of brown knitted wool and another of silver-grey woollen stockinette in the 1880s and continued to wear similar suits all through his life. G. K. Chesterton, writing of him in 1910, said, 'his costume has become part of his personality: one can come to think of the reddish-brown Jaeger suit as if it were a sort of reddish brown fur ... his brown woollen clothes, at once artistic and hygienic, completed the appeal for which he stood; which might be defined as an eccentric heal thy-mindedness'. But few men had any desire to change their image, while for women the need to show their position in society was a spur.
The demand for rationalization in women's clothes came from those like Mrs Bloomer and other strong-minded women in Germany, England and America who were also working for their emancipation, but the growing popularity of sport added impetus to the movement, giving rise to tailored and 'masculine' styling. Since the 17th century women had adapted male garments for riding, and this inclination was now followed for golf, sailing, country walking and cycling. The movement for artistic reform, started by the Pre-Raphaelites, was taken up by The Council of German Women and by such people as Walter Crane and Mrs Haweis (author of The Art of Beauty), and particularly by Arthur Lazenby Liberty, who opened his shop in Regent Street, London, on 17 May 1875. The name Liberty is inextricably interwoven with the Aesthetic Movement and its influence on interior design, clothes and manners; although particularly English, and restricted to a limited section of society, it carried a social cachet to which the Pre-Raphaelites had never aspired. 'Aesthetic' or 'artistic' dress was based on a liking for Greek drapery or other costumes of the past with a natural, flowing line and an interest in Japanese or Eastern art and colours in what W. S. Gilbert derisively called a 'greenery-yallery' range. But many of the oriental fabrics, at first imported and then manufactured by Liberty's, were in very beautiful colours, and their soft, easily-draped texture was an essential part of the Aesthetic style. Dresses illustrated in a Liberty catalogue of 1905 (a little later than the period covered by this chapter) are simple, charming garments in excellent colours. The movement had some ridiculous and unfortunate imitators and received much comment and ridicule from George du Maurier in Punch and from W. S. Gilbert in Patience (1881).
Alongside women's demands for greater intellectual and physical freedom and the desire for an 'artistic' style of dress came admiration for a new type of beauty: the tiny, frail creature with minute hands and feet, represented by Dickens' young heroines, gave way to the type painted by Watts and Leighton and described by Mrs Oliphant in her novel At his Gates in 1872 as 'a full-blown Rubens beauty, of the class that has superseded the gentler pensive heroine in these days'. But however strong these various feelings were, it was to be many years before easy, practical and beautiful clothes were generally accepted, and in fact this ideal has been very rarely achieved. [Nunn, pp. 137-38]
Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
Last modified 17 August 2001