Accessories of the 19th Century

A few weeks ago, a subscriber asked for some ideas on what to include in her 1860’s ensemble as the “finishing touches.”  I shared some accessories examples and realized that this would be a fabulous topic for a post highlighting the whole century!

Much like today, accessories are both useful and fashionable.  And they also differ for each individual.  So unless you are portraying a specific individual or social class, feel free to let you current view of accessories guide you in your journey for historical ones.  For example, I am a very minimalist person.  I have a few outfits, wear my hair in a few simple ways, and prefer simple studs or hoops for the extent of my jewelry.  I find that I continue this same viewpoint in my living history wardrobe as well.  One pair of earrings, one pair of shoes, and three dresses I alternate based on weather and event.  However, I have a friend who believes options are the only way to live and has secured quite the historical accessory inventory.  Whatever your style and tastes, there is a look and piece for you!

I have divided the century up into the following categories: Regency (1800-1820), Victorian Goth and Romanticism (1840-1856), Age of the Hoop (1856-1866), Age of the Bustle (1870-1890).  I included a brief overview of the fashion seen during each time period to help “set the scene” so to speak.  I also believe the best way to find out what was worn is by looking at original photographs, paintings, and fashion plates.  Therefore I have included a lot of images!  Click on any image to expand.  Enjoy! 🙂

Regency Era

Light, airy, and often figure forming styles are complimented with equally dainty chemisettes, caps, and shawls.  Jewelry ranged from pearls, fine jewels, and pendants.

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Primary Source: Excerpts from “The Work Woman’s Guide” 1840

I love reading sewing and dressmaking sources from the 19th century.  Well, any century for that matter, but especially those decades and time periods which I love to recreate.  Pre 1850, they are few and far between.   Not until Godey’s Lady book and eventually Harper’s Bazaar did ladies have plenty of options to learn about newest styles for the family and their home.   That’s what makes this primary source so interesting.  The Work Woman’s Guide (see citation below for the official name) is a wonderful, albeit dense, source.  With details on how to create all types of garments, it really does give a glimpse at how items were made…all by hand.  This whole book is online through google reads (link below) and while it lacks in visual aids, it does give steps, instruction, and advice.  

I selected a few pages from the book that give further insight on basic sewing, unique hand stitches, and items to have in your sewing box.  These are great for those looking to create and stock an historical sewing basket as well as some techniques to work on.  I myself will be revamping my sewing basket after reading that section!


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General Rules of 1860’s Fashion: Part 2

Below is the second part General Rules of Fashion and Advice by Florence Hartley.  This particular section features topics and advice that are truly timeless for women of any century, but especially those looking to create a living history profile.  Again, my commentary will be featured underneath each image.

 Hope you enjoy!

Style and form of dress

“Be always careful when making up the various parts of your wardrobe, that each article fits you accurately. Not in the outside garments alone must this rule be followed, an ill-fitting pair of corsets, or wrinkles in any other article of the under-clothes, will make a dress set badly, even if it has been itself fitted with the utmost accuracy.”

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General Rules of 1860’s Fashion: Part 1

As you begin to explore and dive into the exciting field of living history, referring back to original sources is vital.  Not only does it help you find and create the necessary pieces to recreate your own look, it helps with the mindset of the time.   Like many fashion magazines of today, use a good dose of caution assuming that every women in all social structures followed such rules.  While many did, others may have not had the luxury to either adhere or afford all the items and pieces listed.  In addition, take into  account that if you are focusing on American Civil War reenactment, the war itself (based on location) would have also impacted a woman’s ability to dress as she may have wished.  Although this book was published before the actual start of the war, it was no doubt read and used by many women for years after.  

With all that said, there is still a wealth of information here for the living historian.   Pay close attention to the proper way to store and hang your garments.  In addition, the Harmony and Fashion section is full of sage advice for not only the time, but in creating your own appropriate historical look.  You will see my notes below each image to help add context and examples to the core content.

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Ten Fashion Guides for the 19th Century Woman

I spent the weekend exchanging winter clothes for my summer clothes.  In addition to a deep sigh of relief that the clothes still fit, I took a long hard look at each piece, evaluating it’s condition, design, and fashion.  A strong 90% was able to stay, but a few found their way into the give-away pile.  While I believe in buying pieces that have multiple seasons in them, fashion often changes too fast.

With numerous fashion magazines, both modern and historical, offering advice and tips, it is always fun for the fashion conscious to explore the “rules” no matter what the year.  I’m dealing with a lot of number 5 with modern fashion right now!

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