The trend-sensitive Victorians spent much time and effort on their wardrobes, sometimes due to matters of economy, as well as to keep fashionable. Dressing suitably for each occasion was most admired, because of one of the new trends coming in from Great Britain. That of tailored and conservatively constructed clothing, something which British attire is still noted for today and considered untrendy and classic.
Fashionistas, though, were most concerned with keeping up with the offerings from the House of Worth. Or, appearing to. In reality, very few ladies could actually afford to do so, even from the higher echelon societies around the globe.
Frivolity was kept to a minimum, although there were notable ladies who would only wear a gown once. It was perfectly acceptable for them to wear the same gown to more than one occasion on their social circuit during any given season. In fact, in respectable society they could also attend the same echelon of soirees in past season’s fashions as a statement of their household’s economic condition without losing status or eliciting comment.
Remarking negatively upon another’s economy was considered a low-class behaviour but did become more commonly heard post-Civil War for a variety of reasons that would bear too long an explanation for this brief article.
Of interest to authors and researchers trying to capture the Victorian era lady and her society would be understanding how she handled her attire with challenged incomes. Also, how the characters viewed wardrobe and utilized one can be a subtle but poignant method of layering their emotional experiences in a Victorian era story. A layer beyond the mere weight of a fabric on a heroine.
In my Civil War short story manuscript, Silver Linings, the heroine at the beginning of the story in New Orleans wears highly decorative brocades and silks which befits her station as an opera star. Although she is actually a spy from an impoverished noble household, she expresses the flamboyance expected in her role with tastes from her background.
By the end of the story, the heroine is bereft of incomes and hiding in an exotic port of call waiting to enter the Mexican Imperial Court II. Her fashion sense takes an approach that many Victorian ladies increasingly utilized, that of mixing unmatched skirts and jackets and blouses. In fact, jackets were considered an economical and respectable approach to adding life to a fading wardrobe. Even the princesses abroad under constant scrutiny were known to use such fashionable tactics.
It was the fact that a lady had put concerted thought and planning into her wardrobe to breath life into it that was admired and noted and kept her fitting into her society.