Friday, 7 March 2014

c. October 1899 / 23 December 1899 - 'The Trousseau of Today' by Dora de Blacquiere

I am unsure of the date of issue of this article, as my volume is missing the front pages. But it is some time late October. Puzzlingly, the body of illustrations of the articles described doesn't appear until a much later issue, on 23 December. Go figure. I have transcribed and scanned everything here for coherency. But anyway, as the title suggests this is an article about what a Nice Young Lady's trousseau should ideally constitute. Miss de Blacquere is cheerfully aware that the purses of the vast majority of her readers will not stretch as far as she proposes. So it's nice to know that fashion articles haven't changed very much.

The amount allowed for the purchase of a trousseau differs with the circumstances of the family and the number of it, and is governed also a good deal by the kindly generous nature of the parents. To some cases where a marriage is in prospect which is remarkably good in a worldly point of view, the parents will probably desire to provide more handsomely than they would otherwise do were the prospects less brilliant. The amount of dress needed will be far more considerable in one case than the other; although the number of dresses may be the same, the style of them will be more expensive.

We will take a family of fair position with comfortable means, the daughter marrying an officer in the army or the navy, or a professional man of good position; and here we shall find that the sum set aside for the bride’s trousseau will will range from 100 pounds to 150, up to 200, the latter being a very usual sum, especially when a girl has no fortune, or very little to take with her to her new home.

The cost of the trousseau of today may be rated rather higher, I think, than it was ten years ago; that is, so far as regards the purchasing power of the amount allowed, which is not so great as it was; or rather, perhaps, I should say that we have advanced in our ideas of what is required and thus dresses cost more than they did formerly. On the other hand we can manage to do with fewer of them; for we unquestionably think it wiser to have less than we did. This rule seems to apply even to the trousseaux of Royal ladies. The number of unmade gowns in them is very large, which shows that the varying moods of fashion are taken into account; and it is evident that there are many materials which can be purchased and laid aside for a time without injury, and also without becoming old-fashioned. But here the commonsense view of the matter steps in and inquires
"Why buy them before you need them, if you are not ‘A Royalty’? In their case we can comprehend the necessity - there are so many people, institutions and nationalities that must be patronised on the occasion of a Royal wedding.”

Well, the true answer seems to be, I am sorry to say in that well-known phrase “Take it while you can get it” - in other words, while people are in the mood for giving. There is also something in the fact of the fixed sum which is laid aside to be spent on the one object. It is best to use it. Perhaps if any of it be laid aside, circumstances may require it elsewhere. Life is uncertain, and the father and the mother alike know human nature, and as it is their own money, and a kind of last gift to their child, they prefer it to be used as it is intended. To avoid having too many made-up things laid by which may grow out of date, it seems better to purchase the materials which may be useful in the future, and which are excepted by ever-varying fashions.

Now, serge, blue and black, is one of these materials, and a little consideration will give us others: white-dotted muslins and other thin materials, if our steps were likely to be turned to India or any other hot climate; or they would be useful even in England if we continued to have the hot summers of the last three years; and more especially if the heat were to extend into August, we would require quite a stock of clothing.

Perhaps, for the sake of argument, it is well to say that our trousseau allowance consists of 200 pounds. Of course there are very many girls who do not get more than half or a quarter of this sum, but still there are certain things that every girl must have and every trousseau must contain, and so one sum is as good as another; for where one girl would be entitled to afford ten guineas for a gown, another would need the same, but would only be entitled to pay five pounds.

Certain fashions obtain in one class which do not in another, it is true; but there are many girls who have to look as well as their richer sisters on half the annual income. This is done at the expense of personal thought and exertion, and of a patient determination which carries all before it. It is done by calculation and attention to the minor details of expenditure, by a knowledge of where to buy, and how to buy in the cheapest market. One girl will look smart and stylish, where another, with far more money, will look dowdy and plain; her gowns will have mysteriously lost their freshness as soon as worn, and nothing will be at its best in her wardrobe.

That mysterious thing what we call style seems to be both a personal attribute and an acquired virtue, as some girls have it by nature, and from their earliest days we know they will look well in whatever they wear - with a touch here, a pull there, and under the magic touch of their deft fingers, the most untoward garments look well. It is also acquired by many observant girls in a suitable environment, and I think it means that they have the initiative faculty strongly developed.

It is a great thing to find out your style and what suits you, and stick to it. Many girls look their best in a coat and skirt, and they appear smart and well set up, while we all know the other girl, who looks and feels untidy and messy and comes unscrewed at her waist. Perhaps really good style consists in an exquisite tidiness, a dainty sweetness and cleanliness which is never forgotten or omitted: bathing and brushing, and a strictness in mending all the tears, and sewing on all the buttons and [illegible because of tear and stain on page] …

The sum we have selected, first, must be divided into two parts; the first hundred pounds must be applied to the dresses of the trousseau, and the second to the underclothes and the numberless other accessories - bonnets and hats, boots and shoes, stockings and gloves, etc. - which go to make up the complete outfit of every woman. So we will begin with what seems to be an ordinary amount of gowns for any girl who is in society and therefore requires a certain amount of going out clothes of one kind or another.

In making a list of the gowns we put down the wedding gown, veil and wreath, the going-away dress, evening gowns and tailor-mades, as for a wedding at any season these will be needed, and if in the winter, a mantle, jacket, or coat, in addition, and probably some furs.

Just at present the wedding gown is almost always made of ivory satin, with a Court train, this latter being so long and ample that it is nearly another dress. Of course, if the bride intends to be presented on her marriage, this is a very wise arrangement, for it will thus answer for two purposes and do for two events. Otherwise, having a Court train strikes me as a clever way of obtaining a second white satin gown, which, if you are to go out much, will be useful. But there is no need of the Court train, and you can have a very handsome wedding gown without it.

It quite depends on your after use of your wedding-gown how much you spend upon it. Thirty-five guineas, if made of the best satin at about 15 shillings a yard, would be a handsome sum; but out of your hundred pounds it would be quite excessive. So I should advise you to look carefully at the satins, and if you can get the rightly-coloured ivory - the true hue of old ivory - in the linen-backed kind, do not take a silk one, as the former will wear quite as well and will look very nearly the same. About 7 shillings or 8 shillings a yard would be enough to give at a really good shop. If you have any old lace, use it for your wedding-gown, at least for the neck and sleeves. The tulle veil and wreath together will cost about 2 pounds and after this you need to consider the shoes and stocking, petticoats and gloves.

What is called the going away gown is, next to the wedding gown, of the most importance in a trousseau, for this reason - that it will be for most women the out-of-door piece de resistance for the summer or winter trousseau. A fair sum should be allowed for it, and it should be carefully chosen. I have seen two this season which have pleased me very much. The first was a summer gown of mauve voile, lined with a slightly darker silk, and trimmed with a flat garniture of white lace with an edging of narrow black velvet. On the skirt there were two rows of this, and the same was on the bodice, which had a white lace vest and revers, and one of the new lace collars that are quite transparent and stiffened by means of whalebones at the sides, back and front. A hat to match this gown was intended to be worn with it, but I should have preferred a black hat as the wearer was fair and the contrast would have been effective. A petticoat was made to match of the same silk, which is just now a very usual thing.

The other gown was what is called a tailor-made. It was of the palest grey cloth, the bodice being also simple, with a front of white satin and lace, and revers of the satin, which were braided with black and white. The hat worn with this was one of those gathered ones of chiffon or tulle in the prettiest pale blue, with a petticoat of the same.

It will be seen that either of these gowns were of a character to be useful afterwards. Perhaps, instead of the blue hat or toque, one might have preferred one of the grey-coloured tulle, or a white one. These two are specimens of what is required in the going away gown of summer and the conditions vary but little in winter, for the cloth may be slightly heavier and some fur may be used. But the gown is a smart and dressy one and, if needful, additional warmth may be procured by means of a cape or mantle: or the gown itself may be cool, and the skirt handsomely fur-trimmed, but suitable for afternoon wear.

As a general rule, three tailor-made gowns would be a fair allowance in such an outfit as this, including, of course, the going away dress, if that were of cloth, and tailor-made.  We must consider the exigencies and requirements of our daily life, and these would demand a knockabout, everyday coat and skirt of a tweed, serge, or homespun, and another slightly better and more dressy, but not so dressy as the one I have mentioned. The tailor-made gowns may be classed as good, better and best, and therefore it is well to look about us and try to find such models for each as we may like. The cost would vary from three guineas, for the everyday one, up to six or even seven, for the best. The tailor you employ would of course make a difference in charge. if extremely fashionable or of a more quiet order.

After the tailor-mades would come the consideration of summer piques, drills, and flannels, with the muslin blouses to wear with them. Most girls have a stock of these already, and there is nothing to prevent them making such additions as will bring them up to the mark. These piques and drill dresses can be purchased at very moderate prices during the sales, and so they need not be considered as expensive. Indeed, most of the girls I know have the skirts and muslin blouses either made at home or done, by some “little dressmaker” to whom they supply patterns and materials. A pique skirt, however, it is better to purchase, unless your little dressmaker can manage the strapped seams, for which there is an obligation at present if we would be in the fashion.

As regards the coats of these white gowns, I do not think we, any of us, find them of great value, and we wear out ten skirts to one coat. Frenchwomen wear them sometimes with black or coloured skirts, and I have noticed that they are worn in this way in England; but if you must have a jacket, or do not know what to do with those you have, I should advise you to have something between an Eton and a Bolero made of them. You can purchase a shape to suit you, and have the transformation carried out by any good dressmaker who works by the day, or who will undertake such small renovations and alterations.

The next important question is, I think, the gown for functions or for dinner parties and small evening reunions; and my experience leads me to say that black satin is the best for these, and that a black satin with three bodices is the most useful. We illustrate two of these made this season for a trousseau. [I will not be scanning and uploading one of these pictures. I inherited this volume from my mother, and her brother drew boobs on it at some point during their childhood.]

The first had a yoke and sleeves of white lace; the second, an evening bodice with a white lace top; the third bodice was in black, and could be worn out of doors. It was trimmed with sequins and chiffon. A good quality of black satin should be selected, and you must be guided as to price, and whether it should be a silk or linen backed one also, by how much you are likely to require it, as a black satin shows wear rather more than a white one. The less trimming on the skirt the better, as trimmings so often mark the date of a gown, and you will be anxious that your trousseau gowns should render you as long service as possible.

So you must be careful only to select designs that are not of an extreme character; and both materials and patterns should be fashionable, but not too “loud”. In this you will need wisdom and if you patronise a good shop they would help you. The extreme of style one year will often become the special fashion of that which follows.

The next gown is one which, while suitable for a dinner at a hotel or restaurant, could also be made suitable for a very smart garden party. It is of white silk and chiffon, with white lace over it. The bodice was a square with transparent lace sleeves. These lace gowns were much worn this year, and I have always thought them perfect epitomes of smartness and beauty. The gown illustrated cost about ten guineas, I believe, but this expense could be lessened in various ways, as the shop was a very fashionable one, and nothing was grudged in its construction as to the material.

The other gown which was prepared for the trousseau, was a white, satin-faced foulard, with a tiny mauve design on it of leaves and spots. This was an afternoon visiting and concert gown, and was not very costly, only about six guineas. It was made with a painted double skirt, and the trimming was tiny gathered ruchings of white silk. In the winter the place of it would be taken by a handsome tailor-made gown of cloth. I think that, taking into consideration the garden parties of summer, the trousseau of the winter would probably be less expensive. But still, if you were wise, something would be laid aside, or some preparation made for the summer gaieties that are sure to follow.

The next thing that I must dwell upon here is the hats and bonnets. The fashions of this present season seem to require a hat or a bonnet for every costume; but, on the other hand, we never had such a year for black hats, and they were quite correct for any costume, so the law was abrogated in its original sternness, which spelt ruin for some moderate allowances. Still, the going away hat or bonnet looks better when not black; and it seems more suitable, too, that it should either match the dress or contrast with it. This year the drawn chiffon hats were so much in vogue that they were often chosen. Otherwise, a white hat is the prettiest possible choice for a youthful bride. The tailor-made travelling gown must be considered in the choice of a hat or bonnet, which would be of a quieter style, and one that would be afterwards the ordinary walking headgear. The bonnet and hats for this trousseau would cost from seven to eight pounds.

In the matter of gloves we are very fortunate, for it seems to be the fashion now to wear white for every toilette. I see some black worn, however, as well as grey and lavender and for the evening Swede are still used. White are to be obtained as low as 1s 11d a pair, and if you are to go to a well known shop they are very good, and can be cleaned two or three times, but they must be kept mended and the buttons sewn on. Of course your evening gloves cost more, but with care they can be made to last. Of gloves you would need - one kind and another - perhaps two dozen; and you should select a supply of all those suitable for the various purposes you may need - riding, driving, cycling, ordinary walking in the country, best, second best and evening, and when you have got them please remember that you must see to their preservation and keeping and find a suitable basket or box and a dry place to keep it in.

Veils, parasols, waterproof, en tout cas, umbrella, pocket handkerchiefs, neck ties, feather boa, and endless small lace additions to dress - all of them cost money. IN fact, one of my recent brides, on going over these last things, declared that her trousseau consisted of sundries; and that, when she added the boots and shoes and stockings, she might as well have 25 pounds at once. This was the girl I have always admired for her straightforward consideration of the subject, as she said that it was the only time in her life she was sure to have all she wanted - a regular outfit - and she meant to have it.

"If I were only one of the boys!" she said. "They always have outfits for somewhere, if not Ashanti, it is India. And just see what they want. Bullock trunks and theodolites; and if the War Office changes a button or a tag, there is a new uniform at once. Oh, you don’t know about boys! Their millinery is so excessive!”

And after this outburst the boys assured me with groans that it was really dreadful.

[That is the end of the October article. Here is the 23 December article, with all the illustrations.]

The very best thing for ordinary wear is a tiny kind of Bolero jacket (see Fig.1) made of muslin and lace, which meets with a button or ties in front over the chest, and is long enough to cover the stays to the waist at the back. Fine nainsook for ordinary daywear, and a good strong muslin for best, with a Valenciennes edging round it, and an insertion too if you like to go to the trouble and expense it will occur. With this little addition you will look quite presentable when you go to your dressmaker’s. No one knows what some women look like when they go to be "tried on" at their long-suffering couturiere’s. The French call them cache-corsets, a far better name than ours, and much more descriptive.

The model in Fig.2, with crossover fronts, is a useful one, for if you do not like it as is, you can remodel it into a Bolero, with rounded fronts, by merely standing in front of your glass, and pinning it into shape. In silk, some of these are really beautiful, being made of pink, pale blue, or white, with insertions of lace, and trimmings of pink baby-ribbon. This, however, is also to be seen as an additional ornament to the batiste and cambric ones. In fact, there is no extent of luxury to which you cannot go, in the extravagance of your linen, and I must not omit in this article to illustrate and to tell you all about these beautiful things.

At Fig.3 we find the drawers to match, the upper pair being of white China silk. All are wide at the knee, and cut in the French style, without bands at the waist.

Fig.4 represents three chemises, made of fine flowered batiste, lace-trimmed, with baby ribbon runnings and bows. The designs and trimmings are novel.

Fig.5 shows three more chemises, made of cambric linen, embroidered in flat embroidery and pink silk, with a lace flouncing round the shoulders. Wide lace is mostly used for silk underclothing, and tucks ornament it in great abundance, but not much insertion.

In Fig.6 we find some examples of fine longcloth petticoats, edged with both lace and embroidery.


At Fig.7 there are some beautiful flounced and laced skirts, some of these with an upper and under flounce, which makes the effect fuller and more transparent.

"The three nightgowns shown at Fig.8 are severally of nainsook and of silk. The one at the top, on the left, is of white silk, with wide lace, and a narrow insertion; the one below it, of fine nainsook and very fine embroidery, is cut square at the neck. A large proportion of our newest nightgowns of superior quality show a tendency to this style, and are either half-high or low; and in several instances I have seen short sleeves, with a sailor collar, opened in a pointed shape. The third model here is of white silk, with frills of silk, embroidered, and edged with real lace."

Fig.9 shows the very pretty new night-dress cases that are often supplied on the Continent with the night-gowns themselves. A very genteel practice prevails, however, of making them of white satin, of a very large size, and edging them with deep lace. In England these ideal sachets have become a favourite wedding present for those young ladies to make who are clever with their fingers, and do not desire to enter into any great expense.

The small dressing jacket so much used will be seen in Fig.10 where three are shown. They are made of batiste, nainsook, and silk, the latter having a tiny Bolero jacket as an additional ornament. These little jackets are extremely useful, when we do not require a larger covering, and have only to smooth our hair and wash our hands before dressing.

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