Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Milady's Wrap

    The Victorians were very good at many things. One of them was piling lots and lots of decoration onto whatever they got hold of.  This tendency expressed itself quite handily in how women's evening wear, and in especial, the outer garments meant for evening were designed, and enhanced.  At no time before or since have the coats, cloaks, mantles, wraps  and dolmans women wore been as lavishly adorned as during the second half of the 1800s.
    There is a simple reason for this; conspicuous consumption, and display.  When the lady in question was going to the theater, or to an important ball, it wasn't enough to dazzle with her gown, jewels, and hair dress.  She had to impress upon everyone from the instant she exited her carriage that she was a woman of wealth, station, and most importantly, of fashion.  So the evening coverings were the outer shell, the gift wrapping at it were, for the luxurious present soon to be revealed once indoors.
    The more trimmings, lace, feathers, fur and beading you could add onto your mantle, the better.  So, these garments soon became edifices of design exuberance, and of complex, artful taste.  That so many of them managed to be truly beautiful, when overburdened with so much is amazing.  Of course, seeing them as we do here, without the rest of the ensembles they were worn with allows us to appreciate them more. 
    They also stand as a tribute to the clearly talented ladies who devised them, and sewed them up into reality.
    Another thing to note while looking at these is the vast array of ready made trimmings that were available at the time through milliners and department stores.  Endless numbers of over the counter appliques, laces, guimps, braids, tassels and fringes were out there, just waiting to be  fitted out on a lady's evening wrap.  Some of them, as you see here are incredibly complex.
    So enjoy the view. These are amazing examples of the form, and fitting samples of a life and time that has vanished utterly.


  1. These are all insanely fabulous. : )

  2. I have always wondered how the invention of the sewing machine contributed to this. Women spent the same amount of time making a garments they had prior to the advent of the machine and were able to do so much more.

    1. You are quite right to think along these lines. The invention, by Elias Howe, of the sewing machine, made it possible for more and more fabric and trimming to be added to clothing with no additional time spent. Now it is true that at the top levels of construction, hand work was still king. In fact, until his retirement form the house of Valentino, the head of house insisted on nearly the entire garment being assembled by hand.
      That being said, it became possible for middle class ladies to have far more elaborate costumes than before, which only pushed the upper classes to display even more affluence that could not be created by home sewers and small dressmakers.