Fashion from the 1880s

Evening shoes, ca. 1875-1885. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fashion from the 1880s are recognisable by two things: big bustles and slim waists. Unlike the half-hoop skirts of the 1870s, the 1880s emphasised a less volume overall and focused the bulk and weight of the gown on the bustle which could grow to startling proportions. Necklines crept upwards and shoulders remained covered at balls and certainly also during the day. 1880s corsets emphasised an hour-glass figure, tightening the waist so the bulk of the bustle would stand out in contrast. The sleeves of the gowns remained smooth, wholly unlike the enormous sleeves the 1890s would introduce into ladie’s fashion.

Exercise like croquet and tennis grew increasingly important but exercise gowns were conservative when compared with what would happen some 10-20 years later. Ladie’s hats grew small and focused their attention on the back of the lady’s head, growing into a style called “capote” which emphasised a small brim and big ribbons tied under the chin. Would you believe that I have an extant example that once belonged to a great-great grandmother of mine? As soon as I am able I’m going to take pictures of it.

Corset, 1885-1895. The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Bustle, 1884. The Victoria and Albert Museum. This bustle is relatively small!

Bustle, ca. 1885. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


In action, the size of the bustle varied from the truly enormous to a more sublte collection of cloth around the hips and back.

Evening Dress. 1884-1886. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Dress. 1884. The Kyoto Costume Institute


Ensemble. 1885-1888. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Evening dress, ca. 1884. The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Dress. 1880. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Dress. Charles Fredrick Worth, 1888. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


From the front, dresses emphasised slim waists and well-defined hips. The fabric of the skirt was flat and tight over the legs, a big change from the crinolines of some 20 years sooner and even the half-hoop skirt of the 1870s.


Dress. Charles Fredrick Worth, 1888. The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Dinner dress, ca. 1880. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Evening Dress. Charles Fredrick Worth, 1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This dress is a bit more free with its shape but then it is Worth.



Bathing and swimming dresses were only just coming back into fashion in the 1880s, so tennis and croquet were the sports of the day. Croquet outfits could be pretty much any day dress, but it was important that a tennis dress could be moved in. I couldn’t imagine playing tennis in either of these dresses, though.

Tennis dress ca. 1885-1888 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Tennis dress ca. 1885 via The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


It is highly unlikely bustles were worn under tennis dresses, but the bustle effect would be created by pulling the fabric back and creating a modest hump.

Emile Pingat jacket ca. 1885 via The Victoria & Albert Museum


Outwear would also have to be loose to make room for the bustles, or like in the example above, be altered so the back of the dress wouldn’t be compromised.

Capote Bonnet. H. O. Hanlon, ca. 1887. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Capote bonnet, 1883. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


1880s bonnet, Musee Mccord.


Often ribbons would be emphasised to compensate for the lack of shade, and tied in big, soft knots under the wearer’s chin. The one I own is a mourning bonnet and is primarily made up of black velvet and black ribbons. I really have to take photos of it for this blog.

That’s a small look into the fashions of the 1880s! Next up: the 1870s.


We Are Not Amused, or Are We?


Or are we? And by we, I mean Victorians. The early days of photography saw the subjects of the photographs quite still and stern. The reason was the slow response time of the camera, which necessitated that the people being photographed sat still for a long amount of time, usually a couple of minutes. Which as anyone can tell you, can be hard.

As you can see above, sometimes Victorians failed at being quite as stern as we perhaps expect them to be. Wonderful, isn’t it?

A Royal Prussian Summer Home

Yes, I know this blog is called Writing The Renaissance and I promise you that it will actually contain content pertaining to said period. But it just to happens that I spent part of my summer holiday in Berlin, and once in Berlin I couldn’t resist visiting the old 17th century Charlottenburg Schloss, or Castle.

Charlottenburg was erected between 1695 and 1699, and originally named Lietzenburg, it was intended as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte, wife of the Elector Frederick, who in 1701 went on to become King of Prussia, Frederick the First. It was upon Sophie Charlotte’s death that the castle was renamed Charlottenburg.

The castle is built in the Italian Baroque style, and seperated into two wings, which are nowadays called the Old Wing and the New Wing. And I will say, that if there was one thing that annoyed me upon visiting, it was that you had to be two admission tickets, one for the Old Wing and one for the New Wing. And they were both 10 euros, and then extra if you wanted permission to photograph. As a result, knowing that I’ll be back in Berlin soon enough, I only visited the Old Wing. I do regret not visiting the New Wing, but being a student I simply couldn’t defend spending 20 euros on admittance to one museum alone.

The downstairs of the Old Wing is kept in a very recognisable rococo-style, with everything that entails of gilded ceilings, tapestries and chinoiserie. Being that Charlottenburg is a summer residence it’s not a very big castle, and walking through the wing you’re following a very natural path, taking you through the private and public rooms of the royal family. It’s not incredibly big, and the reason for that is probably that the castle wouldn’t have been used for anything beyond socialising. At any rate, the castle has a very intimate feel about it.

As I mentioned the nod to China, the so-called chinoiserie, was ever-present throughout especially the rooms belonging to the female members of the dynasty. Above is a detail from a spinet where you can see Chinese ladies playing in their gardens, presumably at the Imperial Chinese court or something similar.

There even was an entire room, walls entirely covered by mirrors for some reason, where what I presume to be original china (I can’t really tell the difference, but as it used to be a royal castle I don’t think my assumption is entirely wrong), was proudly displayed in golden cases in displays like the one above. Yes, even complete with the figurines. Yes, all four walls. I admit that I did quite a double-take upon entering the room, which made a curator look at me like he thought I was rather odd, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.

Of course, no castle is complete without a chapel, and this is where the Prussians worshipped in the summer. I found it quite beautiful, though there seemed to be quite a lot going on to my Protestant eyes. I’m not averse, by any means, to decoration in churches, I actually find it quite beautiful, but I’m not used to it from visiting Danish churches.

On the opposite end to the altar and pew, there is this display and if anyone held any doubts as to whether the monarchs themselves believed in the divine right of the sovereign ruler, I think they can be put to rest quite gently upon seeing this.

This is a painting which hung in the first room you entered once upstairs – from the chapel you entered into a sort of grey area, with restrooms, and then out under the (very low, watch your heads!) staircase which was set in a very bright and white passageway in which there also hang some terribly racist paintings that I didn’t get any good shots of. Otherwise, there’d be a whole post on the Western perceptions of the Noble Savage, right there.

The painting portrays either a coronation or a wedding, but as there were no plaques on any paintings in the castle (by far, the most annoying thing), I couldn’t say. I think it’s a wedding though. I got really close to it, though, and it had some very lovely details of the crowd gathered.

Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria

The upstairs of the Old Wing were held in a decidedly different style than the downstairs, post-French Revolution and neo-classicist entirely. Where the downstairs was very colourful, lots of tapestries and such, the upstairs left a much paler and whiter impression, with white walls and so on.

I think this is Elisabeth of Bavaria again, and her ladies, dressed up Medieval ladies. Elisabeth’s husband became king in 1840, right when Romanticism in Europe was at its heights, and there was a raging fascination with all things Medieval. They look rather lovely, don’t they?

The German eagle, so sadly hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis, but lest we forget, it’s no different from the American bald eagle and nothing makes me happier than seeing Germans use it to express pride in their nation, for example in relation to the World Cup which had just ended (with Germany winning bronze and not gold as they should have, grrr) when I was in Berlin. Young Germans aren’t as afraid as their parents and certainly grandparents were, of using their flag and other national symbols nowadays, which is really a step in the right direction.

An Angelic Muse of some sort.

This is what his plaque says, anyhow. Homer, Horatius, Shakespeare, Dante, Calderon, Someone I Can’t Make Out, Goethe. When I explained this painting to a friend he casually remarked that it was the equivalent of hanging an Andy Warhol or somesuch, poster on your wall. It says a whole lot about you in the way that it communicates your desire to show how into art or literature you are. Either way, I had a good chuckle over this.

A lovely marble bust that I’m very sorry to admit that I can’t id. I love her nose, it’s so full of character. (If you know who it is, please let me know, I hate not knowing these things.)

The medieval headdress on this one and the complete lack of writing on the bust leads me to believe that this is a woman playing dress-up, or perhaps just an imagination based upon a courtier.

The upstairs also included a room where all the paintings where of the Virgin Mary, and one where all the paintings where of Roman locations, such as the a church with nuns praying, the Pope’s chair and a river with sailors sailing by a church in the morning. It had a slightly chaotic but quite lovable feel to it, altogether.

This is the view from the gardens, which are now a public park right on the Spree and quite a lovely spot indeed. How’s that for a first proper post?

Next time I’m in Berlin I vowed to myself to not only visit the New Wing but also Sanssouci, the German Versailles. Until next time, fair readers~