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The 1830's: Charting a decade of change

In this article, I hope to pay homage to the great Nancy Bradfield. For, although I have a comprehensive library of antique costume reference books, I almost always turn to her book 'Costume in Detail: 1730-1930' for final confirmation of my findings when examining antique clothing for women. {See Links & Research for full reference]

She began with the glorious 'Snowshill' garments of the the Charles Wade collection, and widened her search out from there. With every piece, she sketched, in tiny details, aspects of clothing that provide the vital keys to date it. Most importantly, she understood that 'the inside of a dress is often as interesting as the outside, and at times more complicated, and to understand a period of dress fully, a knowledge of the inside, with the correct foundation and underwear, is essential.' 1968 - Introduction v.'

So, although far behind her on the road to understanding antique dress, I have always examined the inside of clothing carefully, and thanks to her book, I can recognise what is correct and what might not be!

Such a volume of knowledge! We have measurements, placement of bones and darts. The beginning of piping, the types of hook and eye. The linings, the shapes, the pointed or straight waists, The inner ties & integrated foundation pieces such as bustle pads and sleeve puffs. Pleats or stroked gathers to the waist or a combination of both -essential elements of garment construction in different era's. If we follow Bradfield, we cannot go far wrong.

Once we are beyond the 18th Century, my major love for research, I am devoted to the 1830's. This makes me cross with myself in a way. Am I a feminist or not? Was this not the decade where women were most treated [in fashion terms] like dolls? Shapely & precious dolls! Terrible! The fashions of the 1830's were so ridiculed at the time. They are ridiculed now! But, it wasn't called 'The Romantic Era' for nothing. And yes, I am smitten, being a lifelong romantic!

This image of a dress, 1830-34, is a perfect example of fashion in the early decade. Isn't she beautiful? Note the essential belt [sometimes a sash], with huge buckle.

V & A Museum, Image reference 2006BG4483. Museum number T.168&A-1915. Apologies for my grainy photo - go straight to the V & A Collections to see it far more clearly!

This year I have been extraordinarily lucky to find several 1830's garments. They are usually so rare to find. And so, for the first time, I am going to use the guidance of Nancy Bradfield to chart the rapid changes that took place from the late 1820's, through the '30's and just into the 1840's.

An amazing period of change, with so much social history to research, and no less than three British Monarchs on the throne. Maybe I can enthuse some of you to love the 1830's as much as I!

All the garments in this Blog [apart from those referenced] have been examined here in Poppies Cottage. Some are now safely and happily in their new homes, with dedicated collectors across Europe; France, Italy & Germany.

I do so love to find them wonderful resting places!!


George lV 1820 - 30.......... William lV 1830 - 37 ........Victoria 1837 - 1901

The Kings and Queens during this period, with such quick succession over so few years, will have played a vital part in fashion changes during the late 1820's to the early 1840's. Because their values and tastes dictated what was worn at Court. And what was worn at Court dictated the fashions for the rest of society [well, at least those with the means to purchase fashion]. And where did the English Royals look for inspiration? The French Courts of course! France being the centre of fashion throughout the developing World.


Increased travel and trade Worldwide..... Laws on imports & exports .....

Advances in textile weaving, printing and increasing ease of mass production ....

and views on MORALITY [perceived and not always straightforward below the surface!]

So many avenues to research and explore in this short period of time.

So, looking back at the 1820's, was it the endless chill of wearing barely-there fabrics, often dampened down to expose the body just that little bit more, in freezing cold and draughty homes, the main factor in a distinct movement in fashion style? Had the ancient Greek Empire lines, with no waist at all and barely a chest lost it's appeal? We can be sure there were a whole range of factors, but we start to see them in the second half of the 1820's with a complete change in focus and shape, as shown here:

NB: This gathering/pleating to bodice typical 1825-28. See Bradfield pages 129/130. 1968.

Did I mention a doll earlier? Well, this little treasure is probably for a 2-3 year old child and is exactly the same as would be worn by her mother. Dating to the circa late 1820's, we note the following 'new' key fashion features:

The boat neckline, the gathered bodice, the huge, elongated sleeves that slope from the shoulders to a narrow cuff at the wrists, the straight waistband which would always be covered with belt or sash and most of all for the coming decade, a printed cotton for the fabric.

The shape, as you can see, is now a slightly high waist that shortens the upper torso to suggest fragility. The wide sleeves accentuating the tiny, vulnerable waist. The bell-shaped skirt, over-enhancing the shape of woman-hood, without actually revealing the hips at all.. So doll-like. So feminine. A female could not move a muscle without a real man to look after her!And in this decade, ladies shoes were in view and consequently her feet - a hint of sexual fantasy not to be seen again until the 1880's.

And here is her grown up version, circa 1829-33 - very little difference between them!

Yet, there are differences. By the turn of the decade, sleeves were truly at their widest, although still extra-long. Again, implying fragility. The above gown, again printed fabric, is cotton & wool mix and so amazing to have survived with no moth damage! Extensive piping began in the 1820's, but now we see wide-scale use of double piping, as well as piping in the most unusual places - this gown has even piped inside sleeve seams! See Bradfield: pages 151/152. 1968 [sketch of the sleeve at it's widest.] We also start to see pleats moving to around the neck, which is still boat shaped and 'off the shoulder'. Pocket slits still remain but just one by now. The lady wore a single pocket to one side of her 'undress', unlike the 18th Century practice of wearing double pockets.

Dress skirts are pleated to the front of the waistband, and tightly gathered to the back. [Bradfield reference as above.]

Have you noticed that, if properly mounted and displayed, the style of this gown is exactly the same as the one in the V & A Museum? I wish I had a belt for her!

This gown came with internal SLEEVE PUFFS! OH MY!!!! These deserve a Blog of their own, so please be patient! So excited!!!!

Our lady would need the sleeve puffs to keep these huge ballooning sleeves in place, but they are so heavy! She must have felt very worn down wearing them. Bradfield shows her entire underwear on page 128 - the sleeve puffs, the corded petticoats to give the bell shape, and the single pocket - 1825-35. There is even a 3-flounce bustle tied around the back waist. I have never seen one!

Both the baby version and the grown up each have a pelerine to accessorise the gown;

Although one is double layered, and the other single, these are rare to find for more robust wear. The indoor versions of whitework embroidered muslin are more available to buy these days. Bradfield shows us the indoor type in muslin, on page 157. Commonly they have the huge width, to fall over the entire upper sleeve width of the dress. [I recently sold a mantle, shown on the same page of Bradfield, through Ebay. It was an amazing black and vivid red! Showy is not the word!!!]

To be continued .......

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