Excessive Fru-fru of the 1890s

In the late 19th century, women wore boas, made from lace, silk, and/or feathers. I guess it’s been obvious for others, but for me, I didn’t realize that these existed until recently – existed in reality, that is, and not as a part of polyester can-can costumes for Halloween. *gak*

This is one of my great-grandmothers, Elise. This picture was taken around 1896, in NYC. Elise is wearing a white boa, with flower-like lace ruffles at the shoulders and lengths of narrow tapes at each end. The color of her boa matches the shirt she’s wearing.

Wide shoulders were hugely fashionable during the mid-1890s, and it’s a little surprising to see that Elise is wearing a shirtwaist that doesn’t have gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves – rather, she’s wearing the ‘bishop’ type sleeve, with fullness at the lower arm and wrist. It’s a nice visual reminder that not everybody wore massively puffed sleeves during this decade. That being said, her boa is placed around her shoulders, with the ruffle exactly where leg-of-mutton sleeves would begin. Visually, the boa is creating a similar silhouette.

Boas from the late 19th century seem to usually be the long, feathery type.

The image above is from England, and is dated 1892.

69.94_CP1

The feather boa above is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. So fluffy. The Met has handfuls of feather boas from this decade, in crazy colors like black, red, black, blue, black, pink, and black. I think they may have some in black, too.

Above: the Met has this boa too, which looks pretty similar to Elise’s boa, except it’s just the floofy part. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Elise’s boa.

Vera Jenning's mother 1

And then there’s Mary, another of my great-grandmothers. She also lived in NYC, in Greenwich Village, in the 1890s. Her hairstyle, a bun with a curly puff of hair at the front, seem to have been most popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. So I’m guessing that this picture was taken between 1888-1895.

In this picture she’s wearing a colored shirtwaist with little circular black appliqués on the folded collar, and what looks like either a boa (made from the same appliqués, maybe lace) or some sort of decoration on the front of her shirtwaist. Because it was the 1890s, and floofy, fluffy, fru-fru-y clothing was totally in.

I’m not entirely sure what Mary is wearing here; a boa or just a fancy shirtwaist. If she’s wearing a boa, it matches her shirt (like Elise’s) – but more than that, it is identical to the decoration on the collar. Maybe she had a boa specifically for a certain shirtwaist? I can believe that – if any decade had shirtwaists with matching boas, it would have been the 1890s, right?

 

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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