June 01, 2010

A Passion for Fashion

Women have always been drawn to fashion, and the Texas frontier was no different than any other setting. From wealthy ranch wives to schoolmarms to women working on the farm, females shared a common thirst for fashion. Practicality won out for slopping the pigs or hanging out the wash, but for church, a picnic, or party, every woman wanted to look her best. And with the advent of fashion magazines becoming readily available through the post, a woman need not live in the fine cities of the east to know what the latest styles dictated.
Harper's Bazaar, Peterson's Magazine, The Delineator, and Godey's Lady's Book were some of the favorites during the latter half of the 19th century.
1867                                            1877                                             1880
Many women longed for a dress of their own to match the pictures in the magazines but did not have the talent necessary to recreate the lines without a pattern. So they skimped and saved in order to pay a professional seamstress to create the look for them. Hannah Richards built a business on granting these desires.
In 1881, the bell-shaped skirts of the Civil War era had been left behind and the bustles of the 1870s had not yet made their comeback, so the style of the day exemplified slender silhouettes with feminine flounces and frills.
This sample from Godey's (at left) shows the slender lines, layered flounces on the skirts, and the vibrant colors women of this time period enjoyed. The women on the ends are wearing the snug fitting basque bodices that extend to the edge of the hips while the dresses on the women next to them exemplify the longer polonaise style bodice that becomes more of an overskirt as it drapes past the knees or even the ankles.

At the right is a fashion plate from the September 1881 issue of Peterson's Magazine. Note the tiny, corseted waists and gathered, draping fabric across the hips and upper leg area of the two models on the right. This horizontal draping was very indicative of the early 1880s. Some of the most popular fabrics included silk (lightweight for eveningwear, faille, lampas, and gros grain varieties for walking dresses), wool (merino, cashmere), satin (often brocaded), and velvet. Of course, women with a more modest budget had to make do with linen, muslin, and calico. Yet in the hands of a capable dressmaker, the results still translated into fashionable ensembles.
In A Tailor-Made Bride, when the town's new seamstress, Hannah Richards, befriends Cordelia Tucker, she itches to get the poor dear out of the drab brown and navy work dresses she wears every day. No wonder she hadn't caught the eye of the gentleman she favors. Everything about her image whispers shy, nondescript, boring. She needs an ensemble to reflect the warm, playful personality that resides beneath her quiet exterior and colors that bring out her natural beauty. When Cordelia approaches Hannah with a plea to make her beautiful in time for the Founder's Day Picnic, Hannah eagerly embraces the task—inevitably putting herself in the path of Cordelia's opinionated and overprotective brother, Jericho.
So what 1881 fashion best describes your personality?
·    The fine merino wool walking dress - You like to wear the latest styles, presenting an elegant, refined, and professional image.
·    The calico work dress – High fashion is just not practical for your everyday life. You've got too much to get done and prefer being comfortable while you're doing it.
·    Britches and cotton – You've got a bit of a rebel streak in you. You'd rather be off with the boys fishing, riding, or doing anything outdoors. Skirts of any kind are just a hassle.
Thanks for stopping by today. I'll be giving away a cope of A Tailor-Made Bride to one of the people who leave a comment. And for a chance to win other Christian historical fiction titles every month, visit my website (http://www.karenwitemeyer.com) and sign up for my newsletter.




Sherrinda said...

Oh goodness, I think I'm a merino wool walking dress wannabe. I'd love to always be in the latest fashion, but alas, our finances don't allow for it! lol So I fluctuate between the calico and the rebel britches. I have my plain jane work clothes and come home to a pair of comfy jeans.

I absolutely LOVE the cover of your book! It is beautiful in detail and color and it sounds like a fabulous read!

Virginia C said...

Hi, Karen! Thank you for a very enjoyable post! Congratulations on "A Tailor-Made Bride". What a lovely cover! I am a "calico work dress" : )

I learned to sew on my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine, which was passed down through the family to me. I still have it and it still works! My grandmother could sew and do all types of needlework. She made her own patterns from brown paper bags and used flour sacks for cloth. She made many "broomstick" skirts for my mother and her younger sister. I have made clothes for myself and others in the family. I've done many types of needlecraft work and given them as gifts and also sold them at craft shows. For a time, I made custom-fitted Western-style shirts with embroidery and pearl snaps. I made hundreds of cloth dolls and "country" animals, most of them custom ordered. I have also made quilts, both large and small.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Loved your post. Just one thing, in the 1800s Harpers magazine was spelled Harper's Bazar.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Sherrinda and Virgina. Thanks for commenting. I'm a calico girl myself, though I do like to get dressed up once in a while. Glad to have you here today.

Amanda said...

Hi Karen! Oh, I just LOVE bygone fashion! Period costumes are probably half the reason I love period dramas so much ;) And like I told you before, your BEAUTIFUL book cover is what first caught my attention!!

I would have to say I’m more of a fine merino wool walking dress kinda girl. I love elegance and fashion. Gosh, I’d run a mile in 5inch heels for an opportunity to wear one of those dresses ;)

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE your book and couldn’t wait to write a review for it on Amazon and Christianbook the second I was finished! T-MB was one of the best books I’ve ever read and I’ll be getting my little cousin a copy for her b-day (hmm, maybe I could win her one?). She and I are the only members of our family that got bit by the bookworm and I know she’s just gonna love it too!!

Great blog and thanks for the inside look into 1881 fashion- you really gave me a deeper love and appreciation for it :)

Amanda Stanley

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Lena. You are absolutely correct. That extra a in Bazar snuck past my editor. Thanks for the catch!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Amanda! How fun to meet up with you here. Thank you so much for your kind words about A Tailor-Made Bride. I'm so glad you enjoyed Jericho and Hannah's adventures. Have a blessed day!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

What a gorgeous cover! Love the fashion illustrations!

Janet Bly said...

The britches and cotton suit me just fine. . .around the house. But Id' sure like to wear the merino wool once in a while for special occasions. Wouldn't have much use for the calico.
Janet Chester Bly

Kaye Dacus said...

I'm definitely a calico work dress myself, but I love looking at all of the fashions from this as well as the other fashion-eras of the late 19th century.

But, sigh, the period my next historical series (proposal) is set in is the late 1840s/early 1850s. Another transitional time . . . but at least there's a little more to the fashion than the white empire dresses of my current era!

Can't wait to read A Tailor-Made Bride!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Carrie. I'm a sucker for those fashion plates, too. I could sit and admire those dresses for hours on end.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Janet - I'm with you on those special occasions. Every woman likes to look her best and make her man proud to be seen with her.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Kaye - so good to hear from you. The 1840s and 50s may not have been quite as "gussied up" as the later years, but I bet those women still did all they could to look their best. You'll have room to work your magic.

Cindy W. said...

I love the cover of A Tailor-Made Bride. I love historicals and would love to win a copy. Thank you for the opportunity.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Carole said...

As someone who finds it a challenge to sew a button on, I love the seamstress concept of A Taylor-Made Bride and can't wait to read it. Congratulations on being published, Karen!

The calico dress is definitely my type. Casual and comfortable - that's me!

Thank you for the chance to win a copy of Karen's book.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Deb said...

Hi, Karen. Thanks for a fun post. I used to be a merino wool woman, but now that I'm a mom, I'm going to have to go with the calico work dress.

Brenda said...

The calico dress suits me these days. I used to be a merino wool woman. I definately love the cover of your book!

Katey said...

I absolutely love the cover of the book. It is so so pretty. :)

Vickie McDonough said...


Very interesting post. Though I love reading and writing historicals,I have to admit, I love my blue jeans and am so glad women no longer have to wear dresses all the time.

I'm reading Tailor Made Bride right now. It's fabulous! I love the banter and yummy sparks between J.T. and Hannah. Great job!!

Carla Gade said...

Karen, your book sounds so much fun! I just love those historical fashions. Sometimes I scan ebay just to look at the fashion plates. The cover, btw, is beautiful!

carlagade [at] gmail [dot] com

cas said...

Ohh my goodness! I am so excited about this book. I cannot wait to read it :) please enter me in to win :) thanks you!

Jo said...

What a interesting cover for your book "A Tailor-Made Bride". I love reading historical romance and this looks like a very interesting book. Please enter me


Nora said...

Thanks for giving me a glimpse into this book. I Love the cover, it's eye catching.

I'd love for my name to be put into the hat for this book.

Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
norafindinghope (at) gmail.com

A J Hawke said...

Hi Karen,

A Tailor Made Bride is the next book to be read from my pile. I love fashions of any era. As I look at the pictures of the beautiful dresses I can understand the appeal to be a part of a reenactment group and get to wear all those pretty dresses.

As I have a copy of the book, do not include me in the book drawing.

A J Hawke

Karen Witemeyer said...

Thanks so much to everybody who stopped by to leave a comment. I appreciate you all so much.

I used Random.org to select a winner, and the autographed copy of A Tailor-Made Bride goes to ... drum roll...

Carla. Congratulations! I'll be emailing you soon.

Amanda said...

Congratulations Carla! You lucky duck you ;)

You're gonna LOVE this book!!

Amanda Stanley