On summer days in the 21st century, women can wear clothes that make hot weather nothing more than a mild inconvenience. The problem arises whether a comfortable purple tank T-shirt will match the shade of her violet colored shorts. If a contemporary woman is fortunate, her sandals will have comfortable soles and her sunglasses will keep the bright sunny glare at bay.
Clothes & More Clothes
Women of the 19th century would have been stunned to see a 21st century fashion clad woman strolling down the promenade. The Victorian woman would never have allowed her legs, let alone her arms, be seen in public view. In fact, beginning from the first layer, a lady’s body was covered in parts of clothing that would roast today’s 21st century woman.
A Lady’s Undergarments
Victorian women did not diet or exercise to maintain a hourglass figure. A lady let the clothes do it for her. The first layer of clothing consisted of a chemise, drawers, corset and bustle.*
*Bustles were worn in the 1880s. The material would be made of wire cages, horse hair pads and sometimes crumpled newspaper. In addition, the corset also provided support to carry the yards of material that made a dress.
Protection for a Lady’s Fair Skin
Women never went out in public without a hat. A lady’s hat could be quite elaborate. A hat could be decorated with flowers, ostrich feathers, or lace. Hats would become even more popular than bonnets, which were particularly favored in the first half of the 19th century. As a matter of course, Queen Victoria preferred a bonnet rather than a hat.
A Victorian lady always carried a parasol to protect her complexion from the sun. Creamy, delicate skin was the desired fashion of the time. Gloves were also worn when venturing out of doors. Once again, to possess tanned skinned would have been completely unseemly for a fashionable Victorian lady.
Thank Goodness for a Fan
Fans for a Victorian lady of fashion served several functions. A secret non-verbal communication existed for the fan. A woman could "tell" a gentleman what she thought simply by manipulating her fan in a certain way.
Another purpose and certainly the most important on hot days was utilizing a fan for temporary relief from the heat. Even on the most sweltering summer days, a Victorian lady did not lessen the layers of clothing. Fans could be stylish, but indeed bring some coolness on a hot day.
Fashion is in the Eye of the Beholder
For those of us who have considered the adventure of time travel, perhaps we might take our history visits in the fall or late spring. Although a Victorian lady’s fashions were elegant and feminine, these women must have suffered mightily from the heat.
The next time we experience a 90 degrees summer day, we can more fully appreciate our cool cotton shorts and sleeveless T-shirt.