Victorian

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.

Fall TBR Roundup

As some readers know, I moved to London last May after nearly nine years of living in New York City. While I was excited for new adventures, one thing I was decidedly not excited about was saying goodbye to most of my books. Romance readers—and really any hardcore readers—know that it's really only a matter of time before our books take over our lives. I was definitely at max capacity for books in my old apartment on the Upper East Side. (One of my best friends once told me, "I worry that I won't hear from you for a few days and I'll come over to find you've been crushed to death because one of your book piles has fallen on top of you.") I wound up giving a ton of books to a used bookstore run out of my local library's basement so at least they were going to a good cause.

Unfortunately all of that moving and writing—I handed in The Taste of Temptation to my editor seven days after arriving in the U.K.—I lost track of what I was reading. I've been tracking my reading in some form or another since I was in college, but for whatever reason I just wasn't writing books down as I whipped through them this summer.

I restarted this fall using a pretty notebook, and oh boy can I see a comfort reading trend, especially when I was on deadline and working extra hard to get manuscripts to my editor this summer. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Shell Seekers, by Rosamund Pilcher

This was my first Rosamund Pilcher novel, recommended to me by my mother. It's a sweeping story about several generations of a family. At the center of it is a painting that's a mother's legacy but which most of her children don't appreciate until they realize its value. Throughout the 600+ pages, readers realize that there's far more to the mother's life than she's ever told her children, starting with her childhood in Cornwall and winding through World War II.

 

 

 

The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Another British World War II saga, this book focuses around an upper middle class family as the threat of war and then the reality of it change relationships and fortunes. I actually read the first four books and thought I was done with the series, but then I found out there's a fifth called All Change, written some years after the first four books. That's right up there on my TBR.

 

 

 

Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn

I'm talked a lot about my love of mystery on this site. The Lady Julia Grey mysteries tick a lot of boxes for me: amateur woman detective, Victorian setting, hero who is just outside the bounds of propriety and has secrets in his past. I've actually read the first three, but Silent in the Grave is the place to start.

 

 

 

The Silent Companions, by Laura Purcell

This was my Halloween read this year. I always get the urge to read something slightly spooky (although not too scary because authors need beauty sleep too). A Gothic novel seemed like just the thing, and this one was about as Gothic as they come. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving away the twisting, turning, always-leaving-you-doubting plot, but it's worth giving this one a shot if you love historical reads. (US readers: this book is available for preorder now and comes out on March 6.)

Get a Sneak Peek of The Look of Love

I'm thrilled to be launching a new historical romance series, The Matchmaker of Edinburgh, this fall! The Look of Love comes out on October 9, but I'm giving my readers an early look at the first chapter of this friends-to-lovers, marriage of convenience romance! You can click here or on the book's cover to download the first two chapters of The Look of Love for free and start this book early readers are calling "one that fans of historical romances will devour."

COVER REVEAL: Book 1 in a Sexy New Scottish Romance Series

If you've been reading my newsletter or my website for awhile now, you know I've been hinting at the new Scotland-set historical series I've been writing. Well, the first book in the Matchmaker of Edinburgh series is now available for preorder, and it has a gorgeous cover!

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Isn't she beautiful!? The cover designer did an amazing job with this one, and I couldn't be happier!

I loved writing this heroine who is a fiercely independent sculptor who's near ruination lands her in a marriage of convenience with her best friend.

Here's a closer look:

An accomplished sculptor with secret ambitions, Ina Duncan has managed to avoid marriage for years until an accidental encounter at a party leaves her near ruin and in need of a husband. Fast. Determined to find a willing husband for Ina, Edinburgh’s most powerful matchmaker, Moira Sullivan, quickly realizes that the solution to Ina’s problem might be right in front of her.

Ina’s best friend, Gavin Barrett, has a secret no one knows: he’s loved her for years. As the second son of a baronet, however, he knows he has little chance with his brilliant, beautiful friend. All that changes when Moira convinces Ina to propose a marriage of convenience to Gavin to save her from ruin. Ina only wants two things from him in return: a vow she can continue to sculpt and a promise they’ll remain in Edinburgh.

After a rocky start, happiness—and maybe passion—seems on the horizon for the newlyweds until a twist of fate bestows the title of Sir Barrett on Gavin and forces him to assume responsibilities he’s never wanted. Forced to mold herself into the perfect baronet’s wife, Ina must choose between her dreams and the man she’s learning to love.

This book is slated to come out on October 9, and you can preorder it now so you don't miss it's big release day! Just click on one of the links below.

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The Governess Was Wild Is Out Now!

Readers, The Governess Was Wild, the third and final book in my Governess series is out at ebook retailers now! Here's a quick look at the book: The Governess was Wild

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When Lady Margaret Rawson is caught trying to elope with the thoroughly unsuitable James Lawrence, Lord and Lady Rawson decide it’s time to send their daughter away from the temptations of London. The job of delivering the headstrong girl to the family’s isolated Yorkshire estate naturally falls to her governess, Jane Ephram. It should be an easy task, but with the wild Lady Margaret, nothing ever goes according to plan. To make matters worse, Lord Rawson has made it clear that if anything happens to his daughter along the way, Jane will be dismissed without a letter of reference. When Jane finds Lady Margaret’s inn room empty and the charming Lord Nicholas Hollings’s horse missing one morning, she must embark on an adventure of her own with the devilishly handsome baron. Will Jane and Nicholas find Lady Margaret, the scheming Mr. Lawrence, and the missing horse, or will they discover something else entirely?

For more about how the Governess series came to be, go here. To see who I'd cast as characters in my book, head over to XOXO After Dark for a GIF-filled look.

And to listen to a podcast where I talk all about governesses and why I decided to write the books, check out the XOXO After Dark Cast.

The Language of Flowers

Bunch of red romantic blooming poppy flowers isolated vector illustration

I've always been fascinated by flowers. Not just the bunches of roses that I get from my local bodega to decorate my apartment. I love the complexity of roses, the endless varieties of lavender, and the usefulness of herbs. Flowers are so much more than a fleeting bit of beauty.

It’s no surprise then that when I learned the Victorians had an entire silent language they gave to flowers, I was fascinated and wanted badly to find a way to incorporate it into a book.

The Governess Was Wanton is a twist on the traditional Cinderella story. Some elements are the same — there’s mistaken identity, a woman who is down on her luck, and an item that’s lost and must be returned by a handsome man — but I decided to flip the story to give the fairy godmother her own happily ever after.

Because I was changing the formula, I also wanted to change up the all-important glass slipper. I decided that instead of Cinderella losing her shoe, my heroine, Mary, loses her handkerchief. But it isn’t just any handkerchief. It’s unique, one of a set of twelve given to Mary by her own governess back when her life was very different. Those twelve handkerchiefs are edged in a pattern of ivy and pink geraniums.

Those flowers aren’t an accident. I chose them because in the Victorian flower language ivy stood for friendship, fidelity, and marriage. Geranium had several meetings but the ones I drew on were gentility and esteem as well as true friendship (this last one applied to oak leaf geranium specifically).

What I enjoyed the most about incorporating these flowers was that they were sort of like the Easter eggs you spot in an episode of Doctor Who. If readers know anything about flower language, it’s a fun little thing to pick up in the story. If not, the flowers were just a pretty embellishment on a handkerchief.

The thing to remember is that authors rarely chose to put something as symbolic as the glass slipper — or in this case the embroidered handkerchief — into their story without thinking a bit about the details.

If you're interested in reading more about flower language and Victorians there's a wonderful article from Atlas Obscura all about it. The next time you see a flower pop-up and romance novel maybe you can find some deeper meaning in why the author chose that flower in particular.

20 Victorian Romances (Plus a Kindle Fire) Are Up for Grabs

victorian-romance-kellyIt's been a busy few weeks (and looks like there are a few more busy ones on the horizon) so I'm going to keep things short today. I've got a fun surprise for my readers. More than 20 historical romance authors and I have teamed up to give away a huge collection of novels, PLUS one lucky reader is going to win a Kindle Fire!

I love events like this because readers get to discover new authors that could be the next on their instabuy list — and this one's even more fun for me because all the authors write Victorian romance.

You can win my novel The Governess Was Wicked, plus all those other books by entering this giveaway: http://bit.ly/victorian-rom

The contest runs until Monday, November 7, so be sure to enter!

Good luck!

The Governess Problem

I’ve written a bit here about how I came up with the idea to write about three friends who are all governesses and each find their happily ever after in their own time. What I haven’t talked about is why governesses? The answer is simple: governesses occupied a fascinating space as educated, well-bred ladies who earned a wage but weren’t servants. That status on the fringes of society makes them all the more interesting to write about.

"Marian Hubbard 'Daisy' Bell and Elsie May Bell with governess," 1885, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Who Was the Victorian Governess?

If you’re only vaguely familiar with who governesses were and what they did, here’s a primer. They were often educated, respectable women who’d fallen on hard times, the daughters of parents who couldn’t afford to keep them at home until they married, or other down-on-their-luck widows armed with a good reputation. These women could make an income by educating the girls of a well-to-do middle- or upper-class families until their charges were married and became the mistresses of their own households.

And intentionally or not, governesses were subversive as hell.

It’s important to remember the context of the time period we’re dealing with here. During Victorian England society was governed by a phenomenon called “the two spheres.”

Convention dictated that men occupied the public sphere and could go off into the world and do things like manage businesses, enter into politics, or work. Women got to stay at home.

“The prevailing ideology regarded the house as a haven, a private domain as opposed to the public sphere of commerce,” writes Elizabeth Langland in her article, “Nobody’s Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel."

White, straight, cisgender women of the middle and upper classes occupied this “private sphere,” but at the same time their money allowed them to delegate many of the duties that would have traditionally fallen to women. In households that could afford it, you hired a maid-of-all-work, or if you had more money specialized servants like chamber maids, ladies maids, and a cook. Families who could afford it hired a nurse and, for the education of their young girls, a governess.

The Governess as a Sexual Threat

Governesses, by professional necessity, were not married. They lived in their employer’s homes and therefore had an intimate knowledge of a family regardless of whether their actual relationships with the individual members were warm or not.

Even though governesses were a status symbol of a certain degree of wealth and class, they were still looked on with suspicion. Having an unmarried woman in close proximity to a husband or older sons was seen as a direct threat to domestic peace. The historian M. Jeanne Peterson quotes at length from Mary Atkinson Maurice's Governess Life (1849) in her article “The Victorian Governess: Status Incongruence in Family and Society:”

Frightful instances have been discovered in which she, to which the care of the young has been entrusted, instead of guarding their minds in innocence and purity has become the corruptor—she has been the first to lead and to initiate into sin, to suggest and carry on intrigues, and finally to be the instrument of destroying the peace of families…

Because the governess wasn’t the “traditional” Victorian woman who stayed within the confines of her own home and therefore the private sphere, she was seen as threatening to the very structure that held society in check.

Even more concerning — and surely ridiculous to modern readers — was that Victorian womanhood was wrapped up the idea that the ideal woman was modest and retiring when it came to sex. The accepted model of female sexuality can be most easily seen in the works of the much quoted and undeniably naive Dr. William Acton who believed that that “the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feelings of any kind" (The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs, 1857). If a woman lived outside of the bounds of her traditional role, she must be a threatening, oversexualized figure. This is where the governess-as-seducer trope you see with characters like Vanity Fair's Becky Sharpe gets its bite.

"A sufficient reason," S.D. Ehrhart, Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1894 January 10, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Governess and The Economic Threat

Governesses didn't just offend society's ideas about womanhood because of they lived close to men or their perceived sexuality. They subverted strictly gender roles for middle-class women by earning a wage. This gave the governess access to money, economic independence, and choice — all hallmarks of what we would later come to know as feminism.

Woman in Victorian England had little say over their own money. It wouldn’t be until a series of Married Women’s Property Acts* increased the legal rights of women under British law throughout the 1800s that a woman could inherit and maintain control over her own money within her marriage. Before then she was essentially beholden to first her father and then her husband and sons for the duration of her life. She was essentially a charity case who had little legal recourse if the man who was supposed to be providing for her was instead frittering away her money.

By living outside of the traditional father-daughter or husband-wife structure and earning her own wage, a governess could exercise a degree of independence by having power over her money.

I don't want to paint too rosy a picture for the Victorian governess. She didn't earn much money so the independence she did have was limited. “Her working life was not likely to last more than 25 years, at a starting salary of 25l, rarely reaching 80l” (Liza Picard, Victorian London: The Tale of a City, 1840-1870, p. 262).

While teaching was one of the few respectable ways for a middle-class woman to earn her living,** the governess was relegated to a lower social status than her charges. Still, she was earning money and was beholden to no man which meant she had legal control over her income — something married women couldn't boast of until well into the 19th century.

Making Them Heroines

The conflict built into the governess's life — whether it's the perceived threat to the fidelity of a marriage or her uncomfortable limbo between lady and servant — makes her the perfect romance heroine. There's conflict built into her story from page one because she doesn't fit neatly into the boxes that Victorian society assigned women. No matter who the hero (or heroine in the case of F/F) is, there is going to be a tension regarding her non-traditional role in the home and in society. And great romance comes out of great tension.

*You can read more about these acts in Mary Lyndon Shanley’s Feminism, Marriage, and Law in Victorian England, a dry but fascinating book.

**Another was writing. Mary Wollstonecraft and Frances Milton Trollope were just two of the women who picked up their pens to earn money during the Georgian and Victorian eras.

Further Reading

Feminism, Marriage, and Law in Victorian England, Mary Lyndon Shanley

“Nobody’s Angels: Domestic Ideology and Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Novel," Elizabeth Langland

“The Victorian Governess: Status Incongruence in Family and Society," M. Jeanne Peterson

Victorian Sexualities,” Holly Furneaux

Photos: London and The Governess Was Wicked

"This room, with its green-and-white wallpaper and big bay windows looking out over Onslow Square, would continue to be the center of her world until Cassandra was old enough to wear her hair up and marry." —The Governess Was Wicked

I love books that are strongly grounded in their setting. I want to hear the rush of traffic and feel the breeze from the subway (disgusting though it may be) when I'm reading a book set in New York City. Likewise, if a book takes place during a London winter, I want to know that the characters are chilled to the bone from the damp that sets in around autumn and doesn't leave until spring.

It was important to me in writing The Governess Was Wicked that readers feel that my characters really do know their way around the parts of Central London that make up their whole world. Here are just a few locations readers will encounter:

  • The Nortons' home in Onslow Square in South Kensington with its beautiful, perfectly symmetrical houses.
  • Dr. Edward Fellows lives in the just-becoming-fashionable neighborhood of Chelsea on Sydney Street where a bachelor doctor could have had his office with rooms above
  • There's Mrs. Salver's Tea Shop in Pimlico, a working class neighborhood where people who served the wealthy in Mayfair and Belgravia would have lived
  • Elizabeth sends two very important letters from a huge hotel just off Rochester Row near the bustling travel hub of Victoria station
  • And finally the book ends in Lady Crosby's Eaton Square home

Since my family lives in this area of London, I asked my father, a talented photographer, to take some photos to show readers a little of the world of The Governess Was Wicked. Enjoy this virtual stroll through the streets!

What They Wore: The Governess Was Wicked

I love historical fashion from pantaloons to pelisses, and over the years more and more of it has made its way into my books. Clothing can be a wonderful way to ground a scene in a time and place, and it can also tell you a lot about a character.

Afternoon dress, ca. 1855, French, cotton, from @metmuseum

A photo posted by Really Old Frocks (@reallyoldfrocks) on

When I started writing Elizabeth Porter, the heroine at the center of The Governess Was WickedI knew I'd set myself a particular challenge. Governesses typically wore simple clothing in a limited range of colors (think functional colors like greys and dark blues and greens) and with few embellishments. She would have had a few dresses including her "best" dress that would have been worn to church or on special occasions. Otherwise, her clothing would have had to last as long as possible to maximize on cost.

Dress, ca. 1856, British, from the Metropolitian Museum of Art

Most of what we see in museums are beautiful examples of exquisite — and exquisitely expensive — gowns. The more workman-like dresses weren't necessarily preserved for history. That means that you'll see a lot more of Mrs. Norton's wardrobe when you go to museums than you will Elizabeth's.

While her clothing might not have been as luxurious and fashion-forward as the woman whose children she educated, a governess did share something in common with her mistress: they both wore the same silhouette.

Cabinet photograph, Aug Linde (photographer), 1850-1860, from the Manchester City Galleries

The late 1850s was characterized by large, bell-shaped skirts that flared out from a tightly cinched waist. One big development in undergarments allowed women to achieve these huge skirts: the cage crinoline. Up until this point, ladies would have piled on petticoats to create a full effect. Although they look horribly impractical to us, crinolines of wire covered with cotton actually created a structure for a dress to lay on top of and flare out from the body.

Cage crinoline, ca. 1862, British, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Crinolines were relatively inexpensive, so women of all classes eventually adopted them (although the massive yards of fabric needed for truly huge skirts would be a fashion statement only very wealthy women could afford).

Dinner dress, 1855–59, British from the Metropolitian Museum of Art

The shape crinolines created was so popular that reports were 200 pound of product was lost in the Staffordshire potteries in 1863 due to the wide skirts of working women accidentally sweeping shelves clean.

Cabinet photograph, H J Whitlock (photographer), 1850-1860, from the Manchester City Galleries

If you're interested in fashion history (or just really like all of the pretty pictures of dresses I've shown), join my Facebook group Really Old Frocks and follow my @reallyoldfrocks Instagram for more beautiful old-fashioned fashion.

And last but not least, I'm giving away two huge prize packs to celebrate The Governess Was Wicked thanks to a little help from my author friends. You could win ebooks, signed paperbacks, audiobooks, and an Amazon gift card!. All you have to do is enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BONUS: I had to include this stereoscopic picture I ran across in doing my research for this article. It's both creepy and flirtatious with the older gentleman kissing the hand of a young woman who is fending him off coquettishly with her fan.

Stereoscopic photograph & stereograph, 1851-1860, from the Manchester City Galleries

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.

A Most Fashionable Facebook Group

  nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e1-3ace-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

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!

Meet the Governesses!

I'm thrilled to finally be able to reveal the gorgeous covers for my new Governess Series, coming this fall!

This delightfully charming and saucy historical romance series features three best friends employed as governesses for different families, who all find themselves wanting loves they can’t have.

All of the books are now available for preorder from your favorite ebook retailer.

The Governess was Wicked

Elizabeth Porter is quite happy with her position as the governess for two sneaky-yet-sweet girls when she notices that they have a penchant for falling ill and needing the doctor. As the visits from the dashing and handsome Doctor Edward Fellows become more frequent, Elizabeth quickly sees through the lovesick girls’ ruse. Yet even Elizabeth can’t help but notice Edward’s bewitching bedside manner even as she tries to convince herself that someone of her station would not make a suitable wife for a doctor. But one little kiss won’t hurt...

The Governess was Wicked releases September 12, 2016

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The Governess was Wanton

Mary Woodward is London's own "fairy godmother," known for her expertise in transforming awkward, shy girls into marriageable society belles. Her new position teaching the daughter of Eric Bromford, the Earl of Asten, should be just another job — until she meets Lord Asten. He's just the sort of man to tempt her to break all her rules, and she does just that when she dons a mask and spends a moonlight night in a garden with the earl. Torn between the temptation of passion and the security of her position, Mary must risk it all for love in this retelling of Cinderella that gives the fairy godmother her happily ever after.

The Governess was Wanton releases October 10, 2016

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The Governess was Wild

Governesses aren't supposed to lose their charges, but that's exactly what happens when Jane Ephram wakes up and realizes that her pupil, Lady Margaret, has eloped from their inn room as they're traveling. Even worse, Lady Margaret's taken Sir Nicholas Hollings's horse, and the disarmingly handsome gentleman is hell-bent on getting the beast back. Racing against time, Jane and Nicholas take to the road again, determined to find the errant Lady Margaret — and maybe even love — along the way.

The Governess was Wild releases November 14, 2016

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A Closer Look: Crinolines in the 1850s

When you're a historical author, you do a lot of research. Pair all of the book-specific research with a degree in Victorian British History with a focus on gender and sexuality, and I've got more random facts kicking around in my head than I know what to do with. Today we're taking a closer look at a game changing fashion trend in Victorian Britain. Courtesy Emily Hudson - Costume Construction http://emilyjanehudson.blogspot.com/2011/04/research-undergarments-from-period.html

Of all of the fashions that jump to mind when one says "Victorian England", the crinoline is probably the most distinctive. The massive, bell-shaped skirts of the late 1850s are iconic in both their size and impracticality (sitting in one of those must require great skill and a well-timed prayer that the hoops didn't go flying over your head). They are romantic because nothing we wear now bears much resemblance to the floor-length skirts that ladies adopted during this era.

Fashion plate from Le Monde Elégant, 1859 (from thecostumersmanifesto.com)

Skirt Size and the Development of the Artificial Crinoline

Undergarments are what makes much of women's fashion in the 1800s possible. The crinoline is no exception.

Horsehair crinoline, Mid-19th Century (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In the first half of the 1850s, women relied upon layers upon layers of petticoats to hold out their skirts. Check out 0:26 of this clip from Gone with the Wind. Scarlet pulls on a petticoat made of layers and layers of flounces.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92kLpKuRJfo

Often horsehair warp or wool weft was use, but the problem was that these material are both heavy and hot. Women were quite literally weighed down by their undergarments not to mention the yards of fabric required to make up their actual dresses.

The artificial crinoline was a game changer. It's essentially a large cage of wire hoops held together by vertical tapes, and it did away with the need to layer petticoats on in order to fill out a dress. That in turn kept the layers of fabric forming a woman's skirts out of her way, allowing her greater mobility (Cunnington, 188).

Cage Crinoline, Mid-19th Century, American or European (Courtesy The Metropolitian Museum of Art)

There are conflicting stories about who introduced the artificial crinoline into society. Elizabeth Ewing credits the Princess Eugenie, the wife of Napolean III, with both wearing one and bringing a grey one covered in black lace and pink bows as a present for Queen Victoria on a visit to Windsor (Ewing, 47). C. Willet Cunnington disagrees, claiming that it was in use before Princess Eugenie got her hands on the style and that she is simply the most prominent early adopter.

Whoever is responsible for the crinoline, that woman changed the silhouette and undergarments of Western women for decades.

Taken at a recent trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum

A word about typical trends in crinoline-reliant dresses. From 1857-1859, fashion favored dome-shaped skirts. Dressmakers did away with the flounces, tucks, and fussy details of an earlier era (they did not suit the new line of the skirt that thrust out into space on its own). Instead, double and treble-layered skirts with vertical trimmings were commonly seen. Short corsets with a highly defined waist and little hip definitions were also common in this era.

Day Dress, ca. 1860 (Courtesy Christies)

Crinolines, Class, and Gender

First advertised in England in 1856, the crinoline exploded in popularity in a few short years. Looking at the dresses made to accommodate this kind of undergarment, you might think that this would be a fashion exclusively worn by wealthy women. Dresses could reach four or five yards in circumference and required 18 yards of expensive fabric to construct a dress. But as Cunnington writes, "It served as a barrier against the aggression of the Lower Orders, who were kept at arms' length--until even the Lower Orders themselves adopted the fashion" (170).

Women went crazy for crinolines. An often-cited fact to show the popularity of the crinoline is that in 1863, Staffordshire potteries lost 200 pounds worth of product due to the wide skirts of working women accidentally sweeping shelves clear (Willet & Cunnington, 154). That is a lot of smashed pottery, but it didn't persuade workers to leave off their crinolines.

Woman's Dress, 1855, France (Courtesy LACMA)

Aside from the fact that crinolines kept women's skirts clear from their legs and relieved them from the burden of petticoats to hold out their dresses, historians argue that the fashion gains popularity during an era when women were demanding greater recognition in public life. Much of the rhetoric around women's roles at this time talks about the separation of the public (male) and private (female) spheres. A woman was expected to be the Angel in the House and leave things like commerce and politics to her husband. Yet in the 1830s, the men and women behind the early suffrage movement forced British politicians to debate the idea of a woman's right to vote during the Great Reform Act of 1832. Women wouldn't win the right to vote for decades, but they continued to make small but significant strides in the meantime. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 granted women the right to divorce and abolished adultery as a criminal act.*

1857, Blackwood's Lady Magazine

Red Crinoline, Taken at a recent trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum

Some historians of fashion argue that as women asserted themselves in the public sphere, they also asserted themselves through their choice of these massive, crinoline-enabled dresses. The skirts literally take up more space, demanding that people watch out and make way for their wearer. It's impossible to ignore a woman walking down the street or gliding into a ballroom when she has a five-yard circumference. She demands attention.

Dress, ca. 1857, probably American (Courtesy The Metropolitian Museum of Art)

Walking dresses, 1855 France, Journal des Demoiselles

The Fall of the Crinoline

"The notion that ease and comfort must be sacrificed in order to express social rank, had previously governed the design of fashionable clothing. Now, at last, it seemed too great a price to pay." (Willet and Cunnington, 152)

American, cotton, 1873 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As with every fashion, the crinoline had its heyday and then was set aside for another trend. First, the crinoline was reshaped. In the 1860s and 1870s, it starts to push towards the back, putting more emphasis on the fanned back as opposed to the large, domed sides. Then, skirts eventually slim down. The crinoline was simply too big to be practical.**

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More Victorian fashion is available on my Tumblr ReallyOldFrocks.

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*Up until 1857, obtaining a divorce was a difficult, expensive, embarrassing task. It required an Act of Parliament, and few people had the means to pursue a case. Unsurprisingly, it was also doubly difficult for women to successfully petition for divorce. A woman had to prove two complaints against her husband such as adultery, abuse, and neglect. A man? He just had to prove one of those complaints during the proceedings. Making such a case would be embarrassing, but he had the chance to bounce back socially. A divorce case would almost guarantee a woman's ruin whether she was the party at fault or not.

**The physical dangers of the crinoline range from the very real to the ridiculous. There are anecdotes about skirts catching fire and women falling over only to wind up with their skirts over their heads (one story even includes the Duchess of Manchester). Even with quilted petticoats draped over the cages, in the winter the skirts were drafty with nothing hanging around legs legs to keep them warm. There was also a problem of propriety. If you sat down the wrong way in a crinoline, the entire drawing room got a very clear look at your undergarments. This was not an era where anyone got to look at a lady's undergarments. How scandalous!

Sources

Cunnington, C. Willett, English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations, Dover Publications, 1937

Cunnington, C. Willett & Phillis Cunnington, The History of Underclothes, Dover Publications, 1951

Ewing, Elizabeth, Fashion in Underwear: From Babylon to Bikini Briefs, Dover Publications, 1971

Under the Pear Tree

***UPDATE: YOU CAN NOW DOWNLOAD THIS STORY TO YOUR KINDLE OR IBOOKS APP*** I have a present for you, dear reader. This holiday season I wanted to write a free short story to say thank you to everyone who has read my work and followed this blog throughout the year. Out of that came the idea for the 12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Blog Hop, hosted with my dear friend Alyssa Cole, and this Victorian-set historical. "Under the Pear Tree" is the story of two people taking a leap of faith to see if they can find their happily ever after together. 

Happy holidays, everyone! 

12 Days Revision

 

Under the Pear Tree

December 24, 1883

“We could play charades,” suggested Lady Hawley.

“Mamma, we played charades last night,” said her daughter, Margaret, in an indulgent tone. “It wouldn’t do to bore our guests. Don’t you agree, Eleanor?”

“Hmmm?” Eleanor asked, for she hadn’t been attention at all. Instead she’d been trying her best not to let her eyes fall on Lord Michael Hawley. Normally his rather handsome face would be a pleasant distraction, but not now. Not on this very disappointing Christmas Eve. “I’m sure whatever you pick will be quite enjoyable.”

Of course he was the reason for her disappointment, she thought as the other ladies went back to discussing the night’s agenda. He was the reason for everything. Sitting in spindly chairs at ball after endless ball, she and her London friends liked to dream of the day she became Lady Hawley—something that her family's annual trip to the Hawley family's home had confirmed would never happen. Ever.

Despite wearing her best dresses and putting on her brightest smiles, the baron had been nothing but polite and warm to her, almost brotherly. One afternoon she’d spotted a tiny package under the tree with her name on the tag, and her hopes had soared. Perhaps Michael had thought of her after all. But by evening it was gone again, no doubt mistakenly labeled for her by one of the servants.

Eleanor was coming to accept that difficult truth that all Michael saw when he looked at her was the little girl he'd once fished out of Blackburn Pond after her youngest sister, Charlotte, planted a frog in the bottom of Eleanor's rowboat. She'd capsized in all her humiliated glory as he and Julian lounged on the bank watching and laughing.

Now, Eleanor sat contemplating how she could quietly slip out of the drawing room and retire to her room. Perhaps she could beg off with a headache.

She nearly had her escape route planned when Charlotte called out from across the room, "Let’s have carols, Lady Hawley!"

"Charlotte." Her voice was a low warning that did little to hide her annoyance at her sister’s imperiousness.

Margaret clapped her hands, "That is just the thing!"

“I think that carols would be a lovely way to end the evening. Miss Morris,” Lady Hawley said, “will you accompany us? We all know you excel at the piano."

So does every other gently-born lady in Britain, she wanted to respond. But Eleanor rose anyway. When the Hawley matriarch asked something of you, you snapped to it.

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A dull pang throbbed in Michael's chest as he watched Eleanor move to take her seat at the piano. He raised a hand to surreptitiously rub at the spot even though nothing was going to ease the ache. The plain truth was that he wanted this woman. He'd wanted her since visiting the Morris after his Grand Tour with Julian two long years ago. Eleanor had breezed into the drawing room fresh from a walk in the park, and his heart had dropped through the floor. He'd never quite found it again.

No doubt Mrs. Morris would be as overjoyed as Julian would be horrified if her eldest daughter formed an understanding with a baron, but Michael wasn't sure how Eleanor felt. With friends and family she was all warmth, her joy radiating out with such brilliance that it was a wonder every man wasn't in love with her. Around him, however, her smile seemed brittle. She grew stiff, as though his very presence made her uncomfortable.

And yet, he refused to go down without a fight. In the pocket of his dinner jacket, he touched her present wrapped in red and gold paper. It was a frivolous thing, but the idea struck him a month before and he'd been unable to shake it. He'd told himself it didn't matter whether it pleased her or not, but it did. It mattered more than anything in all of England.

From his seat next to Julian’s, he watched Eleanor sit at the piano bench, the long skirts of her bustled dress fanned out behind her. Every instinct screamed at him to drag her up into his arms and finally claim her with a kiss. Enough of this waiting and watching, wondering if she could ever love him. He wanted answers.

Without another thought, Michael was on his feet and striding towards her. "Eleanor, you need someone to turn the pages for you."

He hadn't asked whether she wanted his assistance because he wouldn't entertain the thought that she might banish him back to the corner of his own drawing room.

She didn't look at him, instead turning her head slightly to expose the long, graceful slope of her neck. "Thank you."

The rest of the guests began to gather around the piano. Michael slipped a hand back into his pocket and grazed her present with his fingertips again.

Soon.

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Quiet had settled over Blackburn Manor by the time Eleanor opened the door of the room she shared with Charlotte and stole out into the corridor. Her back ached for she'd played late into the night. The merry little party sang every Christmas song and hymn she knew. "Deck the Halls", "O Come All Ye Faithful," even "Away in the Manger" although hardly any of them knew more than the first verse to the new carol. Despite her exhaustion, her whole body pulsed with energy.

She blamed Michael, of course. He'd stood so close to her, it was a wonder she’d been able to play at all. The scent of wool and spice enveloped her every time he reached over to turn the pages of her sheet music. Once he leaned a little too close and the cuff of his jacket brushed the bare skin of her neck. Awareness exploded through her body like fireworks, and her fingers missed a chord. She wanted to feel those sparks again.

Rather than stay in her room running through the evening over and over again in her head while her sister slept, she'd pulled on her dressing gown and slippers and escaped.

Eleanor crept along the corridor with nothing but the low flicker of gaslights to light her way to the library. There at least she could find comfort and distraction among the books. Softly, she twisted the doorknob and let herself in. The dying embers in the fireplace warmed the room, and the pine garlands that hung along the mantle scented the air. She closed her eyes to breath in deep. "Peace."

"Is that what you've come looking for?"

Eleanor's eyes snapped open, and she watched, stunned as Michael unfold himself from a wing-backed chair facing the fire. He wore no jacket or necktie. His shirt was undone at the collar, the sleeves pushed up to reveal forearms corded with muscle from years of riding.

It was all utterly indecent and thoroughly tempting.

Eleanor knew that she should turn around, march back upstairs, and hide under the counterpane. Instead, she swallowed her propriety and closed the door.

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Michael had cursed himself when he'd been unable to separate Eleanor from her family at the end of the night. They'd tumbled upstairs in a ball of mirth, leaving him alone in the drawing room, her present still in his pocket.

But now she stood before him with her hair tumbling down her shoulders like a Burne-Jones painting, ethereal and angelic. She'd cinched her pale green dressing gown tight around her waist, but it gapped open a little at the top giving him a glimpse of the embroidered edge of a white nightrail. He wanted to slip his fingers along the edge and feel the smooth skin underneath.

He shook his head to clear the fog of lust clouding his mind. "Were you unable to sleep?" he started again.

"Perhaps I'm too excited for Christmas Day," she said.

He grinned. "At least you're wearing slippers this time. I remember one year you were caught creeping downstairs in bare feet to look at the tree."

Her nose scrunched up. "How was I supposed to know that your father would keep to his early riding schedule even on Christmas?"

"He was like that."

Her face softened, and she looked up at him through thick, black lashes. "I'm sorry to have mentioned him. It must be difficult."

He shook his head. "We miss him, but we have your family with us."

"And we make a cacophony loud enough to distract anyone. I do apologize," she said in a wry tone as she brushed an errant strand of hair away from her face.

They stood there, the air humming with unspoken tension. Her state of dress was just this side of respectable, and he wasn’t much better. It should be so easy to just kiss her and find out whether she welcomed it, but there was something he had to do first.

Screwing up his courage, he stepped forward. "Eleanor, I have something for you."

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Eleanor froze as she watched Michael picked something up off of a low table next to his chair. It was a small, flat package wrapped in red and gold striped paper. The same one she’d spotted that afternoon and hoped was from him.

He held the present out, standing close enough that she could see the shadow of his beard coming in. She wanted to feel the rasp of his whiskers against her fingers. She could too if only she reached across the gap between them.

"I’ve been waiting to give this to you, but we’re so rarely alone,” he said, saving her from herself.

Excitement bubbled up in her. "Michael—"

"Take it. Please."

She took the package, undid the gold ribbon bow that held the paper together, and opened the box. Nestled on a bed of white tissue was a thin golden twig with a pin affixed to the back of it. Her heart beat a little faster. He'd given her a broach. A lovely broach.

"Do you remember coming to Blackburn Manor one summer when you were just sixteen?" he asked.

She turned the piece of jewelry over between her fingers. "Of course."

"You used to sit under a pear tree and read," he said in a rush as though he, Lord Michael Hawley, was nervous. "The tree was dying and had to be removed this autumn, but I asked the gardener to keep a little bit of it for me. I had it made up into a broach because it reminded me of you."

She blinked in surprise, hardly knowing what to say. It was such a little thing, and yet for him to remember...

"Michael, it's beautiful," she whispered.

He looked almost bashful now. "I hoped that you might like it."

She let out a low, long breath. Then, before she could stop herself, she went up on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. Her lips brushed his skin, and she started to pull back but his hand caught her around the waist. He gathered her to him, tilted his head just the slightest bit to the left, and finally—after years of hoping he would—he kissed her.

Michael's lips worked over hers as she melted into him. He tasted like nothing she'd imagined. He was cool and fresh, and she opened for him just a little more so he could run his tongue over hers. The sensation left her just a little drunk on something she didn't know the name of. When he finally let go of her she had to lean into him for support.

"Was that okay?" he asked, his thumb coming up to trace the line of her jaw. She nudged her cheek into his fingers until his palm opened.

"That was exactly what I wanted for Christmas."

A low chuckle rumbled in his chest. "I've waited far too long to do that." Joy filling her so fully that she felt as though she might float out of the room. "I think I've loved you from the moment I saw you eating berries with your book beneath that tree."

Her breath caught in her throat. He loved her? All of those nights wondering if he would ever look at her as anything but Julian's sister evaporated. Toying with the fabric at his collar, she confessed, "I've loved you from afar for so long."

He dropped a kiss to her forehead. "I wasn't so very far away."

Her fingers clutched at the fabric. "It didn't feel that way."

That earned her another kiss, this one as breathless as the last.

"I want to court you, Eleanor," he murmured against her lips. "I would marry you tomorrow if I could."

"On Christmas Day?" she asked with a smile.

He laughed. "Happily, but not without dragging the archbishop out of bed for a special license and risking gossip. I want everyone to know how proud I am to have you for my wife when we wed. I don't want there to be any doubts that this is a love match."

She tilted her head to one side, contemplating his proposal as he ran his finger down the length of her neck. "Julian will be horrified."

"Julian will learn to like the idea. He’ll have to,” he said pulling her even closer to him. "Tomorrow I will ask your father's permission, and if he agrees we can be engaged soon."

Eleanor shot him a look. "Don't believe for a second that Mother will stand for being left out of that conversation."

He chuckled. "I learned long ago to fear the wrath of Mrs. Morris' displeasure as much as my own mother's. I will ask both your parents and then you can make up your mind about me."

This. This moment was the happiest she’d ever been. All of the disappointment and waiting, the wondering and doubt fell away. All she knew was what it felt to be in the arms of this man—the man she loved.

She draped her arms around his neck and tilted her head back to smile at him. "Michael, I made up my mind about you a long time ago."

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Thank you so much for reading! This is the first day of the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop. I'm sharing the day with the talented Falguni Kothari. You can read her story by clicking here.

To see a full schedule of the authors coming up on the 12 Days Blog Hop, just click here or follow #12DaysHop on Twitter.

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I Went to the Death Becomes Her Exhibit at the Met

Death Becomes Her, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Sunday was Marathon Day here in NYC. I, like many New Yorkers, live right near the route. While I love the marathon, sometimes the crowds can get a little rough. This year I cheered on some of the runners earlier in the day and then left the neighborhood to do something I never do. Dear Reader, I went to the Met on a Sunday and took a boatload of photographs.

Normally the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a mess on the weekends (even more so when it's raining). I try to avoid it as much as possible, but I was determined to see the museum's new exhibit Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. Victorian fashion? Death? Mourning? This is pretty much right in my wheelhouse, so off I went to a delightfully empty Met thanks to all of the crowds being diverted to the marathon.

Arriving so early, I had the gallery mostly to myself which was an incredible experience. The exhibit is small but incredibly details and representative of several trends in mourning attire. The curator's notes addressed some major themes:

  • Women bore the brunt of the responsibility when it came to mourning. Rules for men were much more flexible, but women were strictly regulated in what they could wear and when as well as the social activities they could partake in while in mourning.
  • The stages of mourning and the way that fabrics mirrored the gradual coming out of mourning. The exhibit discusses the use of crepe as well as the incorporation of more lustrous fabrics like silk moire and taffeta in the later stages. Color also comes into play.
  • The tension between fashion and grief. Especially in the later examples of the dresses, the curator's notes emphasizes that the wearer, despite being in a deep state of mourning, was still at the cutting edge of fashion when it came to silhouette.

And speaking of silhouette, I was delighted to see that the exhibit shows the progression of the Grecian-inspired dresses of the 1810s-1820s through the bell-shaped crinolines of the 1850s all the way to the princess cut dresses of the lat 1870s to early 1880s and then into the very late Victorian period (there's even an Edwardian dress or two in there). Oh! And one of Queen Victoria's dresses is on display (which I sadly did not photograph because I was overwhelmed by seeing one of Her Majesty's dresses in the flesh)!

 

 

If you have the chance to see this wonderful exhibit, definitely do. Sadly there is no museum catalog for Death Becomes Her, and photographs do not do these works of art justice (all of the detailing gets lost on black fabric, and these are rich with details).

Death Becomes Her is on until February 1, 2015.

 

A Closer Look: The Natural Form

When you're a historical author, you do a lot of research. Pair all of the book-specific research with a degree in Victorian British History with a focus on gender and sexuality, and I've got more random facts kicking around in my head than I know what to do with. Today I'm taking a closer look at one of the defining fashion trends of the Victorian era.

"The ideal at present is the greatest possible flatness and straightness: a woman is a pencil covered in raiment."

(Harper's Bazar, October 23, 1875)

I've spent quite a bit of time writing about Britain in the early 1880s. It's a really interesting time in history, and it marks a very visible change in women's fashion as well. The silhouette of the typical dress completely changes from the "natural form" of the 1875-1882 to the bustles that dominated fashion plates from 1883 to 1890. Today I'm looking at those natural form dresses, and trust me when I say that it was anything but natural.

Courtesy Emily Hudson - Costume Construction http://emilyjanehudson.blogspot.com/2011/04/research-undergarments-from-period.html

Starting in 1875, women's clothing goes through a transformation. The dresses of the previous era were characterized by larger skirts held out from the body first by crinolines (example A) and then by bustles (example B). I've seen the style of dress popular in the 1860s and early 1870s described as festooned and confection-like, and it's not a bad description. If you can put lace or a ribbon on it, you better believe that evening dress is going to be covered in lace and ribbon.

Evening dress, 1865 (Courtesy Royal Armory and Hallwyl Museum) If that's not a confection-like dress, I don't know what is.

Example A: Day dress and vest circa 1860 Look at that crinoline!

    Example B: Seaside ensemble in cotton, circa 1870 (Courtesy LACMA). Note the soft bustle at the back of the skirt that holds the dress away from the hips.

Starting in 1875, the silhouette of women's clothing in Britain and America began to change. Skirts slimmed way down and that crinoline that we associate with much of mid-Victorian fashion went away. Now, rather than emphasizing the waist, skirts clung to the hips and the thighs. This shows off the body in a new way.

Toilette by Jules James Rougeron, 1877

Fashion plate, 1882. Here you can see good examples of some of the biggest trends of the era including the slim skirts, the long, ruffled trains, and asymmetry in draping.

It's no surprise that the natural form was achieved by completely artificial means. Long corsets that ran from the upper torso down over the hips were needed to achieve the right line for the long-waisted cuirass bodices* and slender princess cut dresses.

images

Petticoats made trains fall correctly, and you often see gathers of fabric at the back of women's undergarments or pads to give a little bit of support to those heavy skirts.

Ball gown, circa 1880 (Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

If you think that slender fashion makes women's clothing in any way more practical than the mid-Victorian styles, you're sorely mistaken. The line of women's dresses became so slim that it greatly restricted their ability to move (sometimes skirts only allowed for a six-inch step when walking).** Also, that large train was heavy and got in the way of pretty much all movement. All of this adds up to clothing that is highly impractical for any women who has to move during her day. Like many of the beautiful fashions that we love in historical romances, we are talking about the clothing of a select few who could afford both the clothing and the lifestyle that went along with this sort of fashion.

Women's tan open-weave linen dress, circa 1880 (Courtesy Charleston Museum)

Some other trends that went along with the natural form include asymmetry in trimming and draping, full-length outerwear with Eastern European and Siberian touches (think fur, fringe, and braid), decorative pockets on dresses, and the lawn tennis apron.

Mourning dress from Mme Roger, 1878

One of the reasons I chose to write about the 1880s is because I adore the natural form. I love the silhouette of these dresses. The very finest dresses from this era are works of art. Researching them is a real pleasure, so much so that I actually created a Tumblr dedicated to historical fashion. It's called Really Old Frocks, and I update it with some regularity.

If you'd like to do some reading and looking on your own, I highly recommend Victorian Fashion and Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867-1898 edited by Stella Blum. It's an incredible resource with full, original descriptions of the fashion plates including fabrics.

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*The cuirass bodice is form-fitting, often boned, and ends below the hips. It didn't make sense to me until I realized that the name comes from the long piece of armor that covers a knight from chest to hip.

**I'm reading over my notes right now and laughing because I actually wrote, "greatly restricted the ability to run." Who the hell is running in one of these dresses?