Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Victorian Lionesses: Fashion Plates to be Reckoned With

I’m taking my muse on a fashion sortie while I revise a Victorian manuscript.

Personal dissatisfaction with the costume details in my story scenes have me looking in dusty corner of bookshelves for Victorian era fashion details. I’m compelled, after all, to introduce my heroine where she resides in Spain to the reader while she’s wearing a recently fashionable and detailed style of menswear worn by certain women in Paris at that time. I’m also obligated, therefore, to explain to the reader why she’s in menswear.

What is it that appeals to romance readers and therefore writers about skydropping their heroines into male dominated settings while wearing trousers?. For one thing, it is fun to read and sets up automatic conflict (that necessary component in novel scripting) between the hero and heroine, peppering any scene. I know more than one writer parading their heroines about in some form of menswear, and I’ll admit that I always enjoy reading about this type of spunky romance heroine that has become considered a classic in the genre.

My muse led the search for details on the lioness trend.

Lionesses were originally an elite group of fashionistas in Paris around 1840 and 1850 who went out and about in exquisitely designed men’s styles. They were eventually outlawed from such costume when they’d grown in number but not before their cavalier attitudes caught on. When a woman meant business, therefore, she could feel free to tread out in pants and waistcoat and even riding a stallion. A pistol and sword completed the outfit.

The trend lasted a couple of decades but moved into the West in a different form where we see homesteading and pioneering women traveling about in down-scaled versions of the Parisian Lioness. Paris and Napoleon’s court boasted a nearly unrivalled fashionable court. It volcanically ignited most traceable trends in the imperializing world during the heights of the Victorian era.

Women of high merit and underplayed social status began proverbially wearing the pants in the Lioness trend before the middle of the century in Paris. By the 1860s or 1870s, though, women striding out in trousers were considered of easy moral character in some parts of the world and even presumed to be ladies-of-the-night in other parts. As a romance or historical writer, though, such facts are not deterrents. Rather, they’re tools to authorially use in plotting machinations, of course.

When my heroine, therefore, opens her story in swashbuckling style to encounter the hero. She’ll be in a mildly tattered Lioness outfit that her dearly departed mother had worn as she takes care of family business in a Quadrant that was world famous at the time for both its high caliber entertainments and haute cuisine. And famous for its extreme dangers. Only those skilled in defenses or who could afford body guards dared tread where a Lioness held no fear in going. All aristocratic Spanish ladies were trained well in self-defense and martial arts, so only a hero as strong as my hero, then, can impress her.


Jennifer Ross said...

This whole 'lioness' concept is new to me, Kristin-Marie, so thanks for shedding some light on it!


Nicole McCaffrey said...

Fascinating! I'd never heard of it, but it sounds like something I'd like to learn more about.

Thanks, Kristin-Marie! Great blog!

Susan Macatee said...

Great blog, Kristin-Marie!

I've never heard of this either, but I do know that women did wear men's wear in the 19th century for various reasons, althought it was looked down upon.

Jennifer Linforth said...

Never knew about this part of fashion. Great info!

Much easier than dealing with thoser dreaded hoops...