Figure 1.--This American boy was photographed by E.M. Collins in Syracuse, New York. The portrait is undated, but we believe he was photographed in the early 1860s. Notice the baggy fit. The wealth of such photographic images provide a very accuarate view of the clothes boys wore at mid-century and how significantly fashions had changed by the 1870s.
A variety of techhnological ans sociological trends coverrged in the 1860s to mark a major change in the clothing and fashion industry. Before the 1860s boys tended to wear rather formless poorly fitting clothes. After the 1860s boys tended to wear much better fitting stylish clotges--in fact to stylish for the tastes of most boys. The impact on clothing can not be overstated. Fashion changed significantly in the 1860s. The change can be seen by comparingbthe generlly poorly fitting clothes seen in 1850s photographs which the much better fitting and more stylish clothes that adults and children were wearing by the 1870s. A variety of factors were involved here, such as rising income levels, the increasing popularity of fashion magazines, the invention of the Singer sewing machines (1850-51), expanded production of ready to wear clothes, and other factors. Expanded publication of fashion magazines was especially important. Subtanial improvements occurred in the ability to publish illustrations during the late 19th Century. The cost of reproducing illutrations declined. Thus publications were able expand the number and the detail of their illustrations.
The impact on clothing can not be overstated. Fashion changed significantly in the 1860s. The change can be seen by comparing the generlly poorly fitting clothes seen in 1850s photographs which the much better fitting and more stylish clothes that adults and children were wearing by the 1870s. These changes are especially apparent in the photographic record. Artists and illustrators often tailor their images to apease to the client. Also it was the affluent class who could afflors to have their portraits painted and they could aford stylish, well tailored clothing. Photographs shows how clothes were actually styled and fit for the majority of the population--people who could not have afforded a high-quality portrait. The cost of a photographic portrait by tyhe 1860s had declined to a point that many people could afford them, many more than were having their portraits painted. Thus we have a larger number of images availabnle from an ever-widening range of societa sectors.
A variety of factors were involved in more stylish clothing. One of the most important was rising income levels during the Victorian era. Every decade of te 19th century saw an amazing series of new technical developments, only one of which was photography. These developments were creating whole new industries and the creation of wealth unparalled in histyory. Fortunes were being made. Even more important than the fortunes was thecexpanded incomes of ordinary people. The new industriesd created a demand for both middle-class staff and workers. There was a huge expansion of the middle class durting the Victorian era and that shift was increasingly significant by the 1860s. New entrants to the middle class not only had more money to spend on clothes, but they wanted to dress to show their new status in society. Dickens and other writers of the day describe the apuling conditions of the urban workforce in the 19th century. As dreadful as conditions were, workers generally had more cash income than ever before and a substantal part of that income went to buy clothes from the family.
The increasing popularity of fashion magazines was changing the accessibility of fashion information. Expanded publication of fashion magazines was especially important. Subtanial improvements occurred in the ability to publish illustrations during the late 19th Century. The cost of reproducing illutrations declined. Thus publications were able expand the number and the detail of their illustrations.
Several very important technical developments made possible a dramatic improvement in the quality and styling of the clothes worn in Euroe and America.
Elias Howe is credited with inventing the first sewing machine. But his machine was hardly practical for the average mother. A constant seies of inovatiins during the early 19th century made that inovation an increasingly usefuk and afordable. In was the Singer continuous stitch sewing machine developed in America, however, that put an effective machine in workers habds (1850-51). An increasing number of women by the 1860s had sewing machines allowing them to rapidly create a very professional-looking product. Sewing machines also played a major role in the development of the readt-made clothing industry.
Ready-made, cheaply-produced clothes were invented in the middle of the 19th century. Of course tailors and seamstresses could make wonderfully designed and tailored clothing. Most people, however, could not afford to buy tailored clothing. There clothing was made at home. Without sewing machinmes and greaded patterns, however, these home made clothes were often formless and poorly ftting. The developments mentioned here helped even the inexperienced home sewer create a quality product. In addition, by the 1860s, ready made clothing was beginning to come on the market. There were factories making ready made clothes as early as the 1830s, but production increased substatially during the 1860s. Commercial ready-made clothing began to appear in the 1830s. It was the American Civil War that gave the ready-made clothing industry a significan boost. The demand to equip huge armies with uniforms resulted in larger orders and expanded production. After the War when manufactures began targetting civilian markets the concept of standardized sizing helped to promore sales. This innovation was one of the key developments expalaining the growth of the ready-made clothing industry. The appearnce of increasing quantities of well-made, reatively inepensive ready-made clothes in the 1860s was possible because of a series of technical improvements in te garment industry. One of course was the sewing machine. These developments helped make well madeand fashionable clothing less expensive and more readily available.
Inovations in marketing also evolved at mid-century that yhe clothing produced was made avialble to consumers in an increasingly efficent system which allowed for futher economies making affordable clothes available to the public. Department stores began to appear in the 1850s and by the 1860s were offering reasonably priced ready-made clothing in the major cities. Mailorder houses by the 1870s were offing the same mercahndize to rural residents as well.
Department stores began to appear in the 1850s and by the 1860s were offering reasonably priced ready-made clothing in the major cities. Department stores are one of the many phenomenons that developed in the 19th century Victorian era and is in large measure a result of the rise of the middle class. One historian maintains that as department stores like Le Bon Marché in Paris first opened their doors in mid-nineteenth-century,
shoppers not only had access to racks of ready-made frock coats and crinolines. The modern shoper was created giving them the chance to acquire a whole new lifestyle as well--that of the bourgeoisie. [Perrot] The rise of large department stores represented a entirely new era in commercial retailing. But much more was involved. Department stores accompanied the developent of industrial mass production techniques for consumer goods. The stores also had a major imapct on the way in which men and women spent leisure time. They made shoping much more convenient. But department stores were than a huge emporium for
purchasing a wide variety of goods. The stores strove to create an attractive if not glamorous environment in luxurious spaces that fundamentally changed the shopping experience making it much more enjoyable. Department stores came to epitomized the rise of the middle clas and the consumerism of modern life
Mailorder houses by the 1870s were offing the same mercahndize to rural residents as well. Thus mothers in the most remote rural area could order clothing every bit as fashionable as in the largest city. Montgomery Wards was the first large mailorder firm. It was founded in America during 1872.
One of the most important developments affecting the changes in fashion during the1860s was Buttericks invention of greaded patterns. Fashion before the 1860s
was limited to the wealthy in the larger cities could follow fashion developments and afford to engage seamstresses. The Butterick patterns were inexpensive and
enabled a woman in the most remote corner of America to but a pattern clothing styled with latest fashion. Even more importantly, the pattern made it realitively easy
for women of only limited talent and training to make very stylish garments for themselves and their family. significant and far-reaching. Before the graded patterns,
women would take apart a dres they already owned (and thus fit them) and use it to cut out the pieces for a new garment. Obviouslly this was not a process that
allowed women to make fashionable garments. The Butterick patterns not only enble any women in America to have fashionable clothing for the family, including
families of modest means, but greatly simplified the process of making those clothes.
Perrot, Philippe. Translated by Richard Bienvenu. Fashioning the Bourgeoisie:
A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton University Press: 1996), 286p.
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