Fashion/History article: Victoria returns

Among the trends of this new century you may have noticed that vintage items/habits have been really popular. This phenomenon is perfectly depicted by Woody Allen in his lastest motion picture: Midnight in Paris. In the movie, the main character Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is on vacation in Paris with his fiancée and her parents, and gets completely fascinated by Paris in the 1920’s. Gradually, he starts to ignore his real life “stuck” in the 21th century. At the beginning of the 21th century, almost every decade of the 20th century has been admired by many fans. To  some of the most popular decades, there are people fascinated by 1960’s where the Beatles had a huge impact on music, in the 1970’s are popular mainly thanks to the flower power message, in the 1980’s for the “birth” of computer games and new age music. Going even further back in time, people fascinated by the Middle Age can be found. They wear clothes with, for instance, long brown dresses and use tools like the old terracotta pitchers or even authentic books from the Middle Age. Everything matters if it reminds them of the period they admired. By following these trends our time machine has decided to stop today on a period located between the Middle Age and the 20th century: the Victorian Era.

The historical background
The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, which corresponds to the rule of the Queen Victoria in the U.K. It was the period where major progress was achieved in the sciences, economy and art. In science, Charles Darwin wrote his theory about evolution whilst the big steam machines were developed together with the expansion of railways. In the streets , a dense system of gas lighting had spread. Further inventions such as the cars, the wireless telegraph, the telephone, the camera, motion pictures are inventions from the Victorian era and led to tremendous changes in society.

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The Queen Victoria

The culture and art from this period, often referred to as “Victorianism”, were broad and touched on different areas. In architecture, for example, the Gothic revival style emerged with its greatest example: the Palace of Westminster. Similarly in Paris, the city hall represented the Renaissance Revival. In addition the was the Greek Revival and the Romanesque revival. All these styles could be expressed again but also reinterpreted using the new scientific breakthroughs. Two artistic movements were born during the Victorian era, known as Realism and Impressionism. The main purpose of Realism was to paint what the eye could see. Technical perfection was not the only purpose of the Realism, the scenes painted were also carefully chosen. For instance the Van Gogh painting “ The potato eaters” revealed how different the way of life was for peasants in comparison with city dweller. On the other hand Impressionism focused more on how feelings affect our vision of the world. One typical example is Wiliam Turner’s painting: “Rain, steam and speed” where the locomotive appears more like a cloud rather than a machine. What matters is which feeling can be read from a picture rather than its realism.

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Rain, steam and speed – William Turner

Fashion has also known a Victorian era. Technical revolutions simply created new trends: For example, the invention of the lock-stitch sewing machine served to increase the amount of clothes produced in a given time. In addition cheap and new dyes were developed by chemists which allowed more choice of colours. On top of that new materials, such as rubber or feathers, came from the New World and increased the range of basic products to make clothes. Men wore bowler hats or top hats, a three-piece suit and a redingote. They had also leather shoes with high heels and often a pocket watch in their waistcoat. Blazers were only worn for casual activities. Women had hats with feathers and flowers. The hats became increasingly smaller and were placed at the front part of the head. Women also wore voluminous skirts called crinolines. This name originates from the accessory, a weft of horse hair, that was designed to support the large skirts. The crinoline was simplified afterwards into bustle, an accessory that only supported a drapery on the back of the skirt.

The Victorian Style Revival.
In the popular culture the Victorian era came back into vogue since the middle of the 2000’s through the movies: The Golden Compass (2004), The Young Victoria, (2009) and Sherlock Holmes (2009-2011) to name but some. In literature the revival appears through the rediscovery of classics such as books by Jules Verne and Charles Dickens. Nevertheless nothing knows a revival more than fashion. It appeared at first in Japan in the late 80’s through an art movement: the Lolita fashion style, a style inspired by Victorian Fashion style. Nowadays, the retail-clothing companies such as Atelier Pierrot are considered as references in Japan. This particular company offers a broad choice from the Classic Lolita to the Gothic Lolita fashion style. In between, there are dresses and corset skirts, all with different colours and patterns. Deep colours like white, red or black as well as the floral pattern are best sellers. Roses and bows are also commonly attached either to dresses or hats. As an Haute Couture fashion house, Atelier Pierrot often tries new fabrics and even metal or plastics. The retail clothing company is so renowned that some music bands, such as for instance Kalafina, are even famous not only for their music but also for the clothes they buy in the company.

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Kalafina, one of the singer Keiko is wearing a typical Victorian hat

In the Western world, some retail clothing companies exist solely on the web. The main hub on theweb for these companies is the website site victoriana.com. Nevertheless, the most notable evidence for the rebirth of the Victorian style was offered by the British fashion house Alexander Mc Queen. The fashion house has dedicated a part of its collection AW10/11 to the Futuristic Victorian fashion style. Usually the fashion designer breaks some rules for the dresses where for example the traditional shape of the dress is kept whilst he offers new patterns on the fabric. Conversely the fashion designer can keep traditional patterns on the dress and change its shape. Think for example about what Victorian miniskirts might look like.

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Style by Shez

South Korea is also climbing on the bandwagon with thefashion house “Style by Shez” which also offers a new vision on the Neo-Victorian fashion style. The traditional style is simplified and mainly dedicated to the top or the bottom of the outfit. Meanwhile, the other part of the outfit is designed with more modern codes, but respecting the overall spirit of the ensemble. For instance, Doc Martenlike shoes can be adapted to match well with a Victorian skirt or a traditional Victorian jacket can have its sleeves shortened to follow a more modern style.

The fashion of the new millennium is therefore full with new ideas that dare to mix major time periods such as the Victorian era with the modern fashion codes. The result of these new trends has redefined our vision on of the “beauty” but it shows how fashion can broadcast a message about the periods and let us rediscover the culture of eras. No doubt that writers or painters as such Jules Verne, William Turner or Charles Dickens belong from now on to our artistic references.

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