Fashion History

Here Comes the Royal Bride

With the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle just days away—and the speculation over who will wear what at the wedding of the year at its max—I thought it would be the perfect time to take a look back at four of Britain's royal brides of the Victorian era. 

Queen Victoria

10th February 1840: Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) and Prince Albert (1819 - 1861) on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London. Original Artwork: Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock. Courtesy of  WikiMedia Commons

10th February 1840: Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) and Prince Albert (1819 - 1861) on their return from the marriage service at St James's Palace, London. Original Artwork: Engraved by S Reynolds after F Lock. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg on February 10, 1840, in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace. She famously proposed to him, befitting her status as the monarch. Queen Victoria's wedding is also notable for setting the trend of wearing a white wedding dress.

Victoria, Princess Royal

The Marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal, 25 January 1858, Courtesy of  WikiMedia Commons

The Marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal, 25 January 1858, Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Queen Victoria's eldest daughter was married to Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future German Emperor and King of Prussia Frederick III). The marriage was arranged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Frederick proposed to Victoria in 1855 when she was 14 years old. Their betrothal was announced in 1857, and the wedding took place on January 25, 1858.

Alexandra of Denmark

The wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and Alexandra of Denmark, London, 1863,  Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

The wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and Alexandra of Denmark, London, 1863, Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Princess Alexandra of Denmark, or "Alix" as she was commonly known to her family, married the Prince of Wales on March 10, 1863 at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. That same chapel will play host to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding.

Princess Louise

 Princess Louise at her wedding, 21 March 1871, Courtesy of the  Royal Collection .

 Princess Louise at her wedding, 21 March 1871, Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

Princess Louise (my favorite of Queen Victoria's daughters for her work as a sculptor and her love of the arts) married John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and the heir to the Duke of Argyll. This was extraordinary for a few reasons:

  • Louise chose her husband, expressing no desire to marry a prince as had been proposed by several members of her family
  • It was the first marriage between the daughter of a sovereign and a British subject that had been given official recognition since 1515

The pair were married at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on March 21, 1871. Her veil was made of Honiton lace which she deisgned herself.

Celebrating the Woman With Two Birthdays

A very happy birthday to the woman who has, well, two birthdays!

Queen Elizabeth II was born on this day in 1926. It's her actual birthday, but she also has an official birthday or June 9 when the weather is usually better for Trooping the Colour. This has been a common practice among the British monarchy for several rulers.

If you'd like to celebrate the queen's actual birthday, I strongly recommend you head to The Court Jeweller. The blog chronicles the royal jewels of royal families across the world and, as you can imagine, the queen features heavily.

Many happy returns of the day, Your Majesty.

Women and the Victorian-Era Tennis Dress

Tennis, anyone? It seems ridiculous to us today to look at fashion plates from the Victorian era and realize that some of those huge, voluminous dresses with full bustles and flounces were meant to be tennis dresses. In the modern era, tennis players look like this:

via GIPHY

So how do you get to Serena's nearly complete domination of the women's game for the last decade in a totally functional tennis dress (or skirt and top) from these ladies?

"Tennis-Costumes." 1889. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

 

During the Victorian era an increasing number of women picked up a wooden racket and hit the courts (in full-length gowns of course). Women of the upper and middle classes began to take an interest in sport — croquet in the 1860s, tennis in the 1870s and 1880s, and the daring sport of cycling in the 1890s, according to Catroina M. Parratt in her article "Atheltic 'Womanhood:' Exploring Sources for Female Sport in Victorian and Edwardian England."

The growing popularity of sport among women came about during a time of hyper-masculinity among Victorian men.* But it was also a time when women's education reformers were pushing for healthful — although moderate — exercise for girls. They argued that girls could also learn lessons on the field much as boys did while playing cricket and rugby.

However, Parratt argues that womanhood and athletics were not necessarily compatible, and so sporting women had to find a way to reconcile those two things by "project[ing] an image of moderation and becoming femininity." While women who supported Victorian dress reform might have tried to argue that shorter skirts and bloomers would have been more rational uniforms for playing tennis, feminine modesty won out. Reformers couldn't rock the boat too much by putting girls in functional athletic clothing, so instead women continued to swathed themselves in the hyper-feminine dresses of the era while playing sport. As Parratt puts it, the sporting woman's experience was "at one and the same time, a liberating and constraining one."

"Lawn-Tennis Gowns, Swiss Belt, Yoke Jersey." 1888. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

 

"Toilette De Tennis." 1895. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

"Woman And Girl With Tennis Rackets." 1895. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

 

*The Victorians were remarkably preoccupied by masculinity, especially in relation to the empire. There's a ton of scholarship that's been done on this topic, particularly about male education and masculinity, that's worth tracking down if you're interested.

PHOTOS: A Walk-Through ‘Manus x Machina’ from The Met’s Costume Institute

Last weekend I spent the day at the Metropolitian Museum of Art's "Manus x Machina" exhibit from the Costume Institute. The exhibit, which focuses on the marriage of machine produced fabrics and effects with handworking in couture and high fashion — is grouped into themes like lace and sequins rather than being ordered chronologically. That means you'll see a wedding dress from 1870 next to a dress from 2015 which makes it easy to see silhouettes and styles reflected over and over in the garments even as eras changed.

There's nothing like seeing an exhibit like this in person, but if you can't  make it to New York City, here's a walk-through of some of the dresses.

If you want to see more dresses from "Manus x Machina," you can check out the exhibit album in my Facebook group, Really Old Frocks, which celebrates historical fashion in all its forms.

A Most Fashionable Facebook Group

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Happy Monday everyone! I'm almost one week out from heading on vacation and I'm itching to grab my passports and go, so it's going to be a short post today.

I wanted to let you know about an incredible and growing group of readers that have joined me on Facebook in the last couple weeks. I started a group called Really Old Frocks that's all a celebration of everything we love about historical fashion. Historical romance readers are especially welcome, but the group is also for costumers, history nerds, and period movie aficionados who want to gush over the beautiful gowns and accessories we all love!

I'm starting to put together some documents in the file section with recommendations about resources for writers or curious fashion fans, and we've got some great themed days like #MovieMonday, #20sTuesday, #RogueFriday, and #SinfulSaturday to look forward to.

So head on over to Really Old Frocks and join our little growing community! I post regularly (even on vacation, I promise), and I'd love it even more if I could see what you guys have got!