Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slightly Sensible- The 1840's

A handful of hallmark moments in world history took place in the 1840's. Queen Victoria married Prince Albert on February 10th, 1840, a milestone in one of the most beautiful and interesting real-life romances in history. Later that year, Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate the queen while she and Albert were riding in a carriage (and contrary to the end of "The Young Victoria," nobody was hurt). There were two more attempts on the Queen's life before the decade was out (and one attempt to shoot her with a pistol stuffed with tobacco. I don't get it, Wikipedia), and another in 1850. Meanwhile, in the United States, President William Henry Harrison died after a whopping thirty days in office, and his Vice President John Tyler took over the office, earning the nickname "His Accidency."

Despite the ever-present confusion and chaos in the political world, the 1840's saw a return to something like simplicity and sanity in fashion. For instance, the astronomically high levels of poof located around the sleeves narrowed down to a slimmer, more natural style, commonly going off the shoulder.

It's a little hard to see in the above picture, but check out the pointed tip of the bodice at the waist. This became very popular very early in the decade (mostly for eveningwear, it looks like), and once it was there, it was there to stay.

Samantha Tuck is my homegirl.
A slight change in the shape of skirts surfaced near the middle of the 1840's. They were slowly gaining volume, from the narrow, natural skirts of the Regency to the conical skirts of the 1830's, and now grew to a bell-shape, making way for the hoop skirts that would come later in the 1850's and 60's.

While it seems like short to elbow-length sleeves are still the norm for evening, and long sleeves are the norm for daywear, it looks to me like colored silk is coming back into fashion for the day, which is something we haven't seen overwhelmingly since the late 1780's - early 1790's.

One thing you may have noticed from the first two images in this post is that we have a new hairstyle on our hands. Gone are the wide and tall, accessory-decked curls of the 1830's. During the 1840's, hair was worn parted down the middle and pulled into a bun at the back, with full, long ringlets framing the face. This is sometimes referred to as "spaniel curls."

Source. Check out the off-the-shoulder sleeves in both images.
A slightly fuller version.
Now this is the fun part. I get to introduce you all to a good friend of mine. His name is Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and he is (was, whatever) the most amazing court painter that ever lived.

Check out the pointed waist, off-the-shoulder sleeves, bell skirt, spaniel curls, and what looks like Spanish lace accents.
Victoria herself.
This is only his early work, you guys. He did portraits of almost every European royal for the latter half of the 19th century, and he only gets better with practice. And most of his subjects are women in gorgeous dresses. Jackpot.

Next week we get a look at the 1850's, a decade full of... well, fullness. The hoop skirt, the bell sleeves, and tiers and patterns galore. Even after a slight return to sense in fashion, the general grandeur of the past few decades in comparison with the simplicity of where we began leaves me in awe of how drastically things can change in 50 years.

See you next week.

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