Early Victorian Era Fashion Chit Chat - September 1855 Godey's Lady's Book
Chitchat upon New York and Philadelphia Fashions for September
"People," in the Grundy sense, are beginning to arrive from watering-places and the country, with the first demand of absentees, fall bonnets. Belgian straws, satin straws of mixed colors, as brown and white, black and white, or Leghorns, are the decided favorites. The first is trimmed with a mixture of ribbon and black blonde as simply as may be, with perhaps a few field-flowers inside the cap, or a bouquet on one side, mixed with lace. One of the most elegant we have seen had a large crimson poppy, with a black heart; buds and leaves arranged around it, as above; the strings were, of course, a rich crimson and black ribbon. This bonnet was appropriately worn with a black silk dress and mantle. Leghorns are much trimmed with straw in bands, bouquets, rosettes, etc. Black and white satin straws are the favorite bonnets in half mourning; they have black taffeta ribbon and straw gimps mingled in loops, bands, and bows. Those who have the transparent straws through the summer sometimes prefer to have them made up over dark shades of blue or green to purchasing entirely new bonnets. Most of the fancy braids will do up to look almost as well as new for a second season, particularly French lace straws, and even Neapolitans. The autumn ribbons are, as usual, very rich in color and variety of shading. Plaids and stripes of moire and velvet, with taffeta, either in the same or contrasting colors, are the favorites. Never was there a season when ribbons were more in use for dresses, mantles, even chemisettes and undersleeves. In all our large cities, "ribbon stores have become a feature." They sometimes have embroideries also; but other establishments deal in nothing else. Every hue of the rainbow - every shade of heaviness or delicacy in material is represented. Velvet, moire, taffeta, gauze, and mixtures of all these, in widths from half an inch to six inches, are to be found.
Dress-trimmings are so varied as scarcely to be described. The fall dress silks correspond with the ribbons, or rather the ribbons are made to correspond with the more substantial fabrics; these things do not come by chance. You choose your dress at Stewart's or Levy's, and send it to Miss Wharton's or Madame Le Place. Youa re surprised at the exact match of the fringe, the galloons, the ribbon-bows employed in making it up; but long ago last spring, when you were purchasing tissues and foulards, the manufacturer of dress goods at Lyons, and the weaver of ribbons at Spitalfields, had planned it all for you and your mantua-maker. The importers' orders had been filled by their cards of designs, and the "Moniteur" in Paris had set forth the due combination of each in bretelles, knots, and flounces, as suggestions for the taste and ingenuity of our oracles of fashion. Alexandrine and Madame Ple Horain are already designing the models ordered by Lawson or Miss Wharton; these are, in turn, recopied by less stylish houses, and so spread throughout our country, from Maine to New Orleans, growing less and less like the original, until, as is the case with more celebrated works of art, the artist would never recognize the work of her own hand.
Nor even in Paris do we find bonnets, dresses, and mantles springing entirely by chance or the inspiration of genius. Manufacturers give the prevailing style of color and material in their stuffs and tissues; these are supplied by artists regularly educated in the School of Design, familiar with all that is graceful in combination of shape and coloring by natural taste and long study. The national costumes of the different countries are all in their portfolios. Titian furnishes a drapery, Vandyke a collar, Watteau a coiffeure. Fashion's wheel revolves as well as fortune's; but the presiding goddess is far from blind. The Empress Eugenie alone - the empress of the nation that dictates for the rest of the world - had the unhappy destiny of being her closest devotee. We believe she is the only woman in the world compelled to wear a new dress on every appearance, no matter how comfortable, or how becoming a robe she may happen to fancy. This is not exacted even of the English queen, who follows far behind her most brilliant contemporary. What weariness of pomps and vanities must creep in with all this pride and circumstance of the toilette! What an inroad upon time and comfort must "tire-women" and ladies in waiting make!
Take, in contrast, the heart-burnings and secret repining of the poor woman, whose highest ambition is one new dress, and perhaps a solitary bonnet, or even bonnet-ribbon in a year, or the more ignoble trials of a would-be city fashionist. If fashion be made the chief object of any woman's life, she subjects herself to unending annoyances and disappointments, while deference to it in some degree, in accordance to the age, station, and means of a person, is not only allowable, but desirable.
But we have suffered ourselves to give a "homily" instead of a "chat," and refer our lady readers back to the clippings of the centre-table for livelier gossip on the never-wearying theme of FASHION.