If you are writing a historical novel, be sure to dress your characters in the fashion of the period. One 19th century fashion writer advised to be courageous and wear a violet tux – or just about any color except for black.
“For twenty years the leaders of fashion have been trying to kick the black dress coat out of good society for evening costume. Attempt after attempt has been made, and courageous gentlemen of means have appeared from time to time magnificent in swallow tails of gray, olive, salmon, buff or violet. But it was no go,” The Morning Star of Glens Falls, NY reported on October 7, 1890.
“One more attempt, emanating from Paris this time, will be made the coming season to introduce the colored dress coat for men. Maybe it will be successful at last.”
And by all means, don’t wear suspenders.
“A recent book on correct dress and manners for men says that men who do not wear suspenders walk better than those who do,” The Morning Star reported on April 11, 1894.
In other 19th century fashion news collected from Northern New York historic newspapers:
A collar-style in the early 19th century was named for Lord Byron – known for his fashionable clothing style. But the collar, frequently worn in high-society sessions, felt out of favor.
“The Byron collar, which the manufacturers are trying to introduce, has not proved successful,” the Ticonderoga Sentinel reported on April 7, 1876. “The English collar with ends sloped off and the upright collar with ends slightly pointed and rolled over are popular.”
“French ladies have thrown their fashion over-board in the matter of coiffure. They dress their hair as they like, but there is a marked tendency to discard false hair,” according to The Commercial Advertiser of Sandy Hill, now Hudson Falls, of May 26, 1880.
“If you insist on your dressmaker facing your gowns with velvet or velveteen instead of braid, you will lessen your shoemaker’s bills and be saved from the purple blemish on the instep caused by the movements of the skirts in walking,” reported The Morning Star of Glens Falls on July 18, 1890.
“The fashionable London woman now dyes her hair a mahogany color,” The Morning Star reported on November 4, 1890.
“’I don’t want to give the impression that I believe in discarding skirts entirely, but I would like to have public opinion reach such a point that a woman could discard skirts when they are out of place,’ says Mrs. Lizzie Cheney Ward, teacher of gymnastics, who wears Turkish Knickerbockers without a skirt when she goes bicycling,” according to The Morning Star of August 21, 1893.
“For the ladies, all dress collars are very high,” The Morning Star said on March 22, 1887.
“There are fewer whole birds seen on hats and bonnets this spring,” The March 22, 1887, Morning Star reported. This refers to the fashion of wearing birds, feathers and carious plumage in the late 19th century.
According to Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, by 1886 “more than 5 million birds were being massacred yearly to satisfy the booming North American millinery trade. Along Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile — the principal shopping district, centered on Broadway and Twenty-Third Street — retail stores sold the feathers of snowy egrets, white ibises, and great blue herons.”
“Ball gloves [worn at formal dances] are worn very long, often reaching to the elbow” The Ticonderoga Sentinel of May 5, 1876 observed.
“It is now an absolutely settled fact that for a hostess to wear at her afternoon reception full ball dress is very bad form,” at least according to the The Granville Sentinel of March 16, 1894.
“New plaids in silk and wool are constantly appearing and those who admire them and can wear them have fine scope for choice. The Fornes, the Mackenzie, the Gordon and the famous Forty-second tartans are all favorites,” The Granville Sentinel reported on April 6, 1894.
“Someone has said that ‘an ill-devised bonnet is unpardonable,’ which must mean an uncommon one, for if a bonnet is becoming it is a success, no matter how many eccentricities it may display,” The Morning Star told its readers on May 10, 1894.
“Many of the spring creations of millinery art, with their wide-spreading bows, extended wings, upstanding feathers, and marvelous combinations of color, look like miniature windmills in the shop windows, and have every appearance in the hand of being badly devised. But when they are put on the right woman they have and air of beauty and style which is as surprising as it is irresistible.”
“Jackets of the latest cut are shorter and not quite so full in the shirt. Black is the most useful color, but a fawn coat with a black moire vest can be worn over almost
any dress,” The Granville Sentinel reported on May 4, 1894.
“Embroidered lisse and embroidered silk muslin are to take the place of guipure lace in the frill-like style of diminishing waists. They are more easily arranged into fullness.”
Illustration: William Powell Frith’s “A Private View at the Royal Academy,” 1881.