Sunday, May 03, 2020

1895 Outfit: The Way They Moved: Mid-1890s Skirts in Videos and Photographs

Scattered throughout this 1890s outfit series, we have looked at photographs of women taken in the 1890s; they are scattered in among the posts. Yet as we finish the set of posts about skirts, I want to examine how the skirts look when women are in motion or in unposed pictures. Moving pictures had just come out in the 1890s, and there are scenes with women walking and hopping and stepping around in them. We're fortunate that YouTube aficionadoes have taken some of the films and edited the choppiness and extra speed out of the clips to make them more naturalistic to watch.

A film, titled 1890's: Rare Footage of Cities Around the World,put together by Dhruva Aliman Music, has a series of interesting scenes, and yes, those people on the start screen are riding a sort of rollercoaster! On the right a woman in cape and hat is riding with a boy. Here is the full film. You can watch it now, or take a look at the screen captures I've made from it to illustrate skirts in motion, and then come back to the film.

So, first we have a crowd viewing a horse race. The horses are getting reading to run by, and I am guessing we're near the finish line. A lady runs into the scrum and hops and turns in excitement as the horses gallop nearer. Having been to many a Keeneland race, the urge to hop and wave one's arms during races is strong. Watch her skirt move, and note the undulations in back. Start around 4:05 minutes into the film.

Second, a pair of well-dressed women cross a wide street in Berlin. Even as they cross, a carriage rolls past. Apparently crosswalks were not in use, because people are crossing streets at will in much of the film. The silk skirt of the woman nearest to the camera clearly shows how much flare the skirt has, and see how there appear to be those rounded organ or godet pleats at the back, and how the entire skirt undulates in motion in an expansive way. These are women of fashion. The scene is relatively long, about 5:14-5:19 in the film.

I apologize for the red horizontal lines in the screen captures. They mark the progress of the video and I didn't know how to keep them from showing.

Further on, another lady in silk feeds the pigeons in the Plaza San Marco, in Venice (9:08-9:17), while another group of women walk by in the background. Again, we see amplitude, but the skirt looks wide at the base in the front as well as along the side, as her movement washes the side panels towards the front. She is wearing a gown that appears, after you have looked at it a while, to have a faux bolero with lapels and epaulettes that extend down the back in panels, as so many did. And her hat! Flowers standing straight up to the side, and veiling beguilingly draped and puffed all over the top of the hat. Delicious.

Can we talk hats a moment? This film is full of them. Detour, detour!

Here, cyclists in sporty clothing -- catch the rep tie -- and hats, mostly with round brims, ride en masse in what appears to be a parade. Several riders appear below. The first rider's triple plume, set jauntily to the side of her stiff hat, are pretty striking. This shot is about 2:54 minutes into the film. I learned that apparently it's from 1899, but I see no sign of pouching in anyone's bodice. Skirts are narrower, though.

Phooey, I couldn't screen capture the women in wonderful hats from Milan between 5:24-5:36, as people walked by near an omnibus stand, but you should have a look! The trim on their gowns is arresting, too.

There is an unusually good view at the back of a lady's hat from about 5:57-6:18. Apparently the clip is from 1898, but the hat is definitely of a shape and type common to the decade. The lady, who comes in to sit down away from the camera after skating, is wearing a light spotted veil that is attached to the crown of the dark hat and appears to be tied up in the back. The hat seems to have barred feathers standing stiffly upwards at the front. Are they turkey feathers? Her skating companion, guiding her to a seat, undramatically tips his hat as he turns around and skates away. She then appears to talk to a young boy, or at least he skates closer to her and talks. He may be gawping at the camera. Look at the shot below, and then go look at the film, so that everything makes more sense.

What doesn't make sense to me is skating a veil. It would be minimally warmer, and snow and ice are already white and glaring: why add spots to your vision, I ask? Perhaps it keeps her hair in place, and veils any discomposure during skating.

And then, THE hat. The one I would like to make for this outfit. Of course, the lady of Plaza San Marco is wearing a rather dressy outfit, but somehow I ought to be able to riff off of the idea for a similar, if quieter hat. Here is the front.

1890's: Rare Footage of Cities Around the World
Now, the side and back. It is not a round hat, because it doesn't come to the back of her head where her highish hair bun sits, but just might a folded-up back edge. I have just the straw hat to modify for such a creation.

Okay, we really must focus on skirt movement again. I have another video for you, titled "1895-1897: A Visual Tour of France". This one is by Guy Jones.

The following image is hard to read until you know what you're looking at. A very large group of people are disembarking from a river boat on the Seine, near a bridge. I wonder if there has been some sort of party, as everyone is well dressed and the men seem to be wearing boaters. In the screen capture below a man has just disembarked, and is looking towards a well-dressed lady a bit behind him. Her skirt is sweeping as she turns from the gangway to the pavement. Note the number of rounded ripples in her skirt. The scene occurs between about 0:19-0:29. Also have a look at another lady wearing a hat with veil, between 0:25-0:27. She very briefly lifts her skirt with a gloved hand for a step, drops it, and strides away. She doesn't take small, mincing steps. She really moves.

Next, a view of the Place Des Cordeliers, in Lyon, a street scene with what look like trolley tracks down the center. A woman, leaning somewhat forward, hurries across the street. She appears to lift her skirt to move more quickly at one point. The fabric flows and bunches around her. It has plenty of flare at the base, but the fabric has no shine and seems to drape and move more like wool than a stiff silk. She does not take especially small steps, either. In this screen capture, her forward foot is out enough that you can see her shoe or boot; she may be lifting her skirt with her left hand. This scene occurs between about 0:54-1:02 in the film. There is a tantalizing glimpse of skirt attached to an omnibus: did she step aboard?

A few seconds later a woman walks by. She is an even smaller figure, so there is even less detail, but the muted shapes are still instructive. She appears between about 1:20-1:26 in the film.

Her skirt amplifies as one foot steps forward and the other is behind her.

then undulates close to her in between steps.

While there are plenty of folds in her skirt, it doesn't sweep as widely or maintain amplitude like others in the films.

Next are people leaving the Saint Perpetua Church in Nimes, around 2:30 minutes into the film.

Look at this shot, and then go play the sequence several times, watching women descend the stairs. Notice how they grasp their skirts, and notice the movements the fabrics make.

Here is a shot from a lovely little scene of a group of people arriving in front of a house in Hampstead Village, a London suburb. I don't know the background of the scene, but it's delightful to watch. At six seconds in, a lady shakes hands with an arriving gentleman. She is wearing a jacket, and her skirt has less amplitude, it being spring of 1896. Don't you think she is wearing a bit of a bustle pad? Soon after a teenage girl arrives on a bicycle and hops off, a lady runs up with her dog, then more people arrive on horses. It really is fun to watch.

March 8, 1896 - Group arrives in Hampstead Village, London

Let's look at some photos, too.

If you recall a flurry of internet articles that appeared about him around 2018, Karl Stormer of Norway used a tiny spy camera to take pictures of people he met in the street. He photographed during the 1890s, and though many of them are just after 1895, when sleeves went limp, and skirts did too, swishing and catching at women's legs, a few are really helpful in showing how people moved right in the middle of the decade. The entire photo set is hosted at the Norsk Folkemuseum.

Here are Thora Christoffersen and Raghild walking in a park. Their dresses stand out a bit around them and are smooth in front. It's warm out and I believe their bodices/shirtwaists are of cotton.


In this photo that Mr. Stormer didn't identify, the lady, wearing a veil over her hat, also wears a stiff skirt. Look at her grasping the side of her skirt, bringing it forward, to help herself move more easily.


In another wintertime photo, the young lady on the left may be wearing wool. Do you see the brush braid at the skirt base, and do you see the perfect curve that it makes over the street? I do believe there is a stiffener in there, especially as a portion of fabric above the hem dips backwards towards her body.

I believe Mr. Stormer met this group of happy people while on a walk in the countryside. He knew them, for the record includes their names. Note the sturdy belt the central lady is wearing, with what may be a watch chain nearby, her tie, and the flare of her handsome matte skirt, which is probably wool.


Another fun photo. Women look in a shop window, as does another lady down the street. Note how voluminous their skirts are, and how there are rounded flutes ian the back. Do you see Mr. Stormer's shadow at the bottom of the photo?


I can't help it, it's back to hats. A gaggle of unnamed girls struck Mr. Stormer, and he photographed the group such that you can see details on their hats. I find the jagged, up-and-down movement of the brims and the brush-like aigrettes interesting. Aside from being useful for understanding hat construction, they rather echo the stance of the tree branches behind them.


We will end with Miss Jotta Pedersen, in her pretty summer outfit. Her hat is straw, unlined underneath, rimmed with what seems to be very scantly gathered lace, and above that puffs of veil. Surely there is a standing plume, too. I like the crossed folds on her bodice, and she is wearing gloves. She is such a cheerful being...

There we have it, a tour of flowing, undulating loveliness.  May it help you understand how women moved in their skirts, and how different styles of skirts looked when worn. Please remember that most of the pictures and films are taken in northern Europe, where the climate is cooler, so we see few really summery dresses, and all of the skirts are street wear or for daytime, not evening. Perhaps I will be able to remedy both of those lacking situations at some point.

In Other News

I was going to write about the virus. Sometimes it seems important to write this experience down. Sometimes I want to talk about my town -- a city, really, but not on the scale of big places -- and how coronavirus has struck here, and how we have stayed "Healthy at Home" as the governor named it, so that the virus hasn't taken hold in the way it has so many places. Blessed be. And how a quarter of working people in our state are collecting, or trying to collect, unemployment because they've been furloughed, or laid off, or fired, or because their business has gone under. And how no one really knows what happens next, or if we will, by accident or by our actions or by our inactions, bring more death and misery here.

I wrote last evening, paragraphs worth, and I struggled over them, only as bedtime approached, to delete the whole thing, start again, and then shut down the computer to leave it all behind for reading with the boys and then going to sleep while the curtains swayed in the breeze from the window. It was actually warm enough to leave it cracked open, all night. Why should I write, when no matter who reads this will have been affected by coronavirus, in ways tragic or financial, or niggling. We all are accumulating our stories, and we don't know if this will be a short story, or an episodic one, or a novel, The Novel Coronavirus, in Too Many Acts. Already terabites have been written or spoken or filmed about it.

Still. The urge is there, to paint my own small vignettes of life since the virus came.

Harbingers came towards the end of January, at work. I became busy providing information to colleagues who needed it.

I have been home since March 7, March 6 having been the last time we were out -- to a bookstore, and for dinner. That day the governor announced the state's first case. The dinner was just a little tinged with unease, because a couple several feet away were coughing at times. We did not get up and move. Why? I called the gym, too, explained I wouldn't be visiting for the time being, postponed doctor's appointments, and the family settled in. None of us complained, thankfully; the kidney transplant means my ability to fight infections is limited, and my husband is 60, and we have older parents nearby with whom we're close. The decision was made in a minute, without fuss, and celebrated with that last outing.

It was about a week later that the state started shutting down. The school system phoned and texted and emailed, and then there was no school. The boys had a few assignments, but in the main they played.

We number among those who can work at home, which sometimes makes me feel badly, because so many people must keep going to jobs. For a while, when the parks were still open, I would take the boys after my work ended for the day and we'd run around during the March warm spell, before the chill came again and prolonged the pear and cherry blossoms and the tulips and hyacinths in a natural refrigerator. We made our own disc golf equipment of frisbee ring and sticks, because we didn't want to touch the metal disc golf posts for fear they'd be contaminated. There were people all around us, fishing in the lake, children paddling their hands in an inlet stream where there are snails and minnows and tiny clams, pushing strollers on the paved parts, and all playing an intricate dance of polite "hello, how are you?" while stepping aside many feet, to increase distance without being uncivilized about it.

Then the parks closed. My husband thought he'd have to travel for work, and for the first time a literal shock of fear ran through all of me. It starts near your heart and leaves your fingertips and sometimes your vision wavers. Travel by plane? When the virus was spreading in Washington state and New York? He would have no choice. I didn't want to nag; he wanted to underplay risk; neither of us were happy, and we danced the let's not talk about it but I hope it works out dance. It's a dangerous one.

Then the company cancelled all travel. Then everything shut down. The university sent everyone home. Businesses closed unless they could offer curbside or contactless service. We started picking up our groceries, once weekly, this way. Toilet paper was in short supply; we began to run low and I laid plans for backup materials that wouldn't affect the sewers. We found some, sold roll by roll, and our little hardware store down the road, and picked it up curbside from a lady in a mask. Each time my husband, masked, left the house to get them or to pick up medications, my tummy would contract slightly. Those pains have faded a bit, but I am still rubbing every object that enters our house in disinfectant, including the mail. As immunocompromised as I am, even small risks loom large, if only in perception.

What I have noticed most is the quiet. We live in an older neighborhood about a mile downtown, and near the university. Normally we're treated to the sounds of traffic, and the big chillers and air cleaners that control the air in the big university buildings and the hospitals.

Now the cars are mostly gone, the chillers often silent, and what we hear instead is people chatting, a toddler squealing next door in the middle of his play - no more daycare - bicycles. Dogs. Birds. And for a while what seemed to be more airlifts into the hospitals, as patients are brought from  Eastern Kentucky. The sounds are human scaled now, in this most human of times.

It is not all bad. Scary, yes. Worrisome as we worry over relatives and friends and our community and planet? Yes. But not evrty iota bad.

Bless you all.