1850s, fashion, fashionable, dress, clothes, photographs, dating
Paisley dress with shawl, designer unknown, 1845-50. Museum no. T.849-1974
Dress and shawl
Printed wool, lined with linen
Museum no. T.849-1974
Given by Mrs Geoffrey Myers
The popularity of cashmere shawls reached its peak from the 1840s to the 1860s. Originally imported from India in the late 18th century, British manufacturers were making woven and printed versions by the early 19th century, based on the Indian designs. A key motif was the boteh or pine cone, what we know today as the paisley. This design was popular as a dress fabric. This example was printed by the company Swaislands of Crayford in Kent, and registered in the Patent Office between July 1845 and April 1847. The bodice of the dress has vertical slits fastened with buttons on either side of the centre front. This indicates that the owner wore it while nursing her children.
Silk satin dress edged with braid, with lace shawl, designer unknown, 1845-1850. Museum no. T.856-1919
Silk satin lined with cotton, edged with brush braid
Museum no. T.856-1919
By the end of the 1840s, the wide neckline had closed up to a high, round opening. The waist remained long and narrow, ending in a point below the waistline. This particular example is made of silk satin, striped in a complex arrangement of purple, crimson, magenta, grey and white. The sleeves are beginning to widen at the wrist into a slight bell shape. This dress was probably made in the mid-1840s and then altered about five years later to accommodate a change in style. The sleeves have had gores inserted at the wrist to bring them up to date with the new fashion.
Block printed wool day dress, designer unkown, 1848-50. Museum no. T.797&A-1913
Dress (skirt and bodice)
Block-printed wool, lined with cotton and the bodice boned with whalebone
Museum no. T.797&A-1913
Given by Messrs. Harrods Ltd
Curling tendrils separated by undulating lines and a lattice work of simulated trimming adorn this block-printed wool day dress. The delicate scrolling shapes of the tendrils reflects the mid-Victorian interest in 18th century Rococo design which incorporated scrolling naturalistic motifs and a lively sense of movement.
The vertical emphasis of the pattern suits the fashionable shaping of the bodice which is pleated over the bust into a V-shaped point at the waist, while its lighter horizontal stripe complements the fullness of the skirt. Many dresses of this date were decorated with trimmings of self-fabric, focusing the eye on the fabric pattern or richness of the material as well as the fashionable silhouette. On this dress, bias cut strips of fabric decorate the bell-shaped ends of the sleeves, and the neckline, shoulder seams, sleeve head and hem of the bodice are carefully finished with self-piping.
Day dress of moiré silk, about 1858. Museum no. T.90&A-1964
Day dress (bodice and skirt)
Moiré silk trimmed with chenille and lined with silk; with metal buttons, and whalebone strips
Museum no. T.90&A-1964
Given by Miss Janet Manley
This eye-catching day dress formed part of the trousseau belonging to Miss Janet Gilbert. It is beautifully constructed in the latest style as would befit a young fashionable woman, although its pristine condition suggests it might not have been worn. Made of moiré silk, it has a lustrous rippled sheen accentuated by the rich Prussian blue dye, applied chenille flowers and sparkling metal buttons. Box pleated trimmings stand out in relief along the bottom edge and seams of the wide pagoda sleeves, emphasising their width. Had Miss Gilbert worn this dress, white 'engageantes', or undersleeves tacked to the armholes would have covered her lower arms and a lace collar might have decorated the neckline.
Graceful movements and a perfect silhouette were promoted by the introduction of spring-steeled hooped petticoats in 1856, often referred to as crinolines. Although frequently ridiculed in the press for their cage-like structure and size, they were also hailed as a blessing. Effective, lightweight, economical and comfortable, they ensured women could wear dresses like this one without having to contend with layers of hot and heavy petticoats.
Bracelet by Pierre-Jules Chaise, enamelled gold and diamonds, about 1850. Museum no. M.12:1-3-1955
Bracelet with portrait miniatures
Enamelled gold, rose and brilliant-cut diamonds, ivory and mother-of-pearl
Museum no. M.12:1-3-1955
Bequeathed by Mrs. H. Digby Neave, granddaughter of Mr and Mrs Ralli
This portrait shows a typical hairstyle of the 1850s. Hair was worn parted in the middle and loosely swept over the ears into a low bun at the back.
This miniature portrait is part of a bracelet that was made to take the portraits of Mr. Pandeli Ralli and Mrs. E. Ralli. Mr. Ralli appears as a client in the ledgers of the Royal Goldsmith's R&S Garrard in 1838. He bought a diamond head ornament for £200 and a matching bracelet for £45.
Photograph of unidentified sitter by Horne & Thornthwaite, about 1850. Museum no. PH.151-1982
Horne & Thornthwaite (photographers)
Museum no. PH.151-1982
This photograph, of an unidentified male sitter, shows men's dress typical of the 1850s. The sitter is wearing a high upstanding collar with a high single breasted waistcoat cut straight across the waist. His dark necktie is tied around the collar with a small bow at the front.
He wears a newly fashionable sack coat, a slightly looser fitting coat than the more tailored frock coat. The sack coat would become increasingly popular over the following decades, worn most often for leisure activities or informal occasions.
Silk satin shoes with ribbon rosette, Latham, London, 1855-65. Museum no. T.562&A-1913
Silk satin with rosettes, ribbons and elastic
Museum no. T.562-1913
Given by Messrs. Harrods
Shoes with high heels were almost non-existent in women's fashions during the first part of the 19th century. Instead simple flat satin slippers or 'sandals' with a bow or rosette at the throat and ribbons or elastic loops to fasten them round the ankle were all the rage. However, by the 1850's the heel had begun to make a comeback.
This elegant pair of blue and white low-heeled shoes illustrates how the sandal form evolved. The satin upper with square toe and throat, decorative rosette and elastic ties are all features reminiscent of the dainty flat shoes of the early nineteenth century. However, with the addition of a small heel and some striped decoration the form is updated to something more in keeping with modern tastes.
Wool coat with velvet facing, designer unknown, 1850. Museum no. T.176-1965
1845-1853, United States of America
Wool faced with silk velvet, lined with wool
Museum no. T.176-1965
Given by Capt. Raymond Jones
This coat is an example of men’s formal daywear from about 1850. The sleeves are long and tight, the collar is wide, and the front has a deep fastening in order to show off the waistcoat. Although at this date the frock-coat was gaining in popularity as formal daywear, the cut-away coat was still worn. This coat is reputed to have been worn by William Pierson Johnes, a linen merchant of New York City.
Promenade dress of silk plush with fringing, designer unknown, 1855-7. Museum no. T.324&A&B-1977
Promenade dress (skirt, bodice and mantle)
Silk plush trimmed with silk fringe and braid, lined with silk and whalebone
Museum no. T.324&A&B-1977
Given by Madame Tussauds
Luxurious velvet dresses embellished with fringe trimmings were highly fashionable during the 1850s. In 1857 the 'Illustrated London News' announced: 'Fringe was never so greatly in demand as at the present time…Fringe may be said to be the most becoming of all trimmings on a lady's dress; it seems to possess the power of imparting lightness and suppleness to the movements of the wearer.'
When applied in rows, fringes also simulated flounces and made skirts look even wider. In this example the bodice is made with a basque, which was a separate extension below the waist, flaring out over the hips. The skirt is composed of two layers, with the top tier extending from the waistband as far as the fifth row of fringe. The bottom tier is attached to a taffeta underskirt. This accentuates the flounced effect of the fringe and helps to distribute the weight of the heavy skirt over the dome-shaped crinoline cage which would have been worn underneath.
Photograph of Maharaja Duleep Singh in formal day dress, about 1850. Museum no. PH.192-1982
Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh
Horne & Thornthwaite
Albumen print from collodion negative
Museum no. PH.192-1982
This is a portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh, photographed by the London firm of Horne & Thornthwaite around 1850. He is dressed and bearded according to the fashionable formal English style. He wears a dark double-breasted frock coat over a high buttoned light waistcoat. His collars are starched and upstanding, with a necktie tied in the distinctive 'four-in-hand' style where the corners of a folded kerchief create pointed wings. This necktie style was newly fashionable in the 1850s.
Photograph of Richard Ansdell, by William Henry Lake Price, 1857. Museum no. E.1383-2000
Portrait of Richard Ansdell, painter
William Henry Lake Price
Albumen-silver print on card
Museum no. E.1383-2000
Transferred from the British Museum
William Henry Lake Price, himself a painter and printmaker as well as a photographer, has portrayed his fellow artist Richard Ansdell (1815-85) with the traditional tools of his profession and a still life composed of characteristic materials of the genre in Victorian times.
His clothing is typical of 'Artistic' dress, fashionable with artists and intellectuals of the time. Artistic dress is characterised by loosely fitting clothes, made of plain, muted fabrics coloured with natural dyes, which they wore in deliberate contrast to the tight and starched rigidity of Victorian formal dress.
This portrait was first seen at the Photographic Society of London exhibition held at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) in February and March 1858. This was the first photographic exhibition held in any museum in the world.
Printed cotton summer dress, designer unknown, 1858-60. Museum no. T.702-1913
Printed cotton, trimmed with whitework embroidery
Museum no. T.702-1913
Given by Messrs. Harrods
This is an example of a fashionable summer day dress of the late 1850s. Typical of the period are the full ‘pagoda’ sleeves and the bodice gathered from the shoulders into the lower front waist. Tiered skirts were popular in the 1850s. The fabric was printed with a decorative border expressly for use as tiers of a dress. It was known by the French term 'à disposition'.
Cream satin slipper, designer unknown, about 1850. Museum no. T.272&A-1963
Satin slipper with ribbon, leather sole
Museum no. T.272&A-1963
The delicate flat satin slipper with ribbon ties first became popular during the last decade of the 18th century. It signified a move away from what were considered to be the extravagant excesses of the late eighteenth century towards a simpler, purer style of dress and footwear influenced by classical antiquity.
By the middle of the 19th century slippers or 'sandal shoes' were still widespread although by the 1850s they were worn largely only for formal wear in black or white. This pair of shoes is a typical example of that style. The thin leather sole and delicate silk and satin uppers were relatively simple and cheap to produce. They could then be personalised with rosettes or other decorative embellishments if desired. These were simply tacked on to a piece of gauze which was then stitched on at the throat over the top of the existing standard bow which was already in place.