Using a virtual time tunnel, we move backwards to the middle years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Great Britain. We arrive in London, England, sometime in the 1870’s (in summer of course). It is morning and there is a hustle and bustle of people in the street.
Horse’s hooves echo on the cobblestones.
An open carriage (we look to our notes, it is a landau), draws to a halt at the house across the road from us. We move to our left to get a better view.
The front door opens and a woman, filling the doorway, emerges onto the path. She reaches the wrought iron gate, and turns sideways to pass through the space.
A younger woman follows her and repeats the movement.
It is then we realise that neither woman is large.
Their dresses are five feet wide, but smooth and flatter at the front.
The women swoop up their skirts as they sit in the carriage. There is barely room for them as they sit opposite each other. Their skirts drape across the full width of the seats.
Not being visible and sitting on the back of the carriage with our directional microphone, we travel with the ladies. Over the noises in the street they voices are raised and we listen to their conversation and gather the information we need for our fashion research. We learn from there excited chatter that they are sisters and they are going to their dressmaker. They complain that the Crinolines they are wearing are too heavy, hot and cumbersome for this time of year.
The carriage stops, they alight and their skirts sweep the width of the pavement as they walk to their destination.
Both approach the green door of a stone building and enter with a ring of a brass bell.
We follow close behind, observing the brass sign by the door ‘W.E. Alterham, Couturier and Tailor: By appointment.’
Entering this elegant establishment, we watch, as the women are welcomed as guests who have come for morning tea. There is nothing on view that appears for sale and there is no mention of them being customers.
After their refreshments, a young assistant shows the women into another room.
Although they are in separate fitting alcoves, they share a mirror that fills an entire wall. Visible through cherub adorned archways their reflections enable us to see them both.
They each have two attendants to aid them.
Jackets and bonnets carefully laid aside, the sisters stand in the centre of the fitting areas. Using canes that are two yards long, the dressmaker’s assistants raise each of the huge skirts, one after another, over their customer’s heads. Each had three petticoats under their outer gown.
Finally garments, made of cotton tied to steel and whalebone hoops, are untied and lowered so these slim-built women can step out their heavy cages.
A mature woman enters and in turn assists the sisters. She explains that the clothes they arrived in will be boxed and ready for when they depart.
She ties the new slim design of petticoats in place with a ribbon at the back of their waists.
She hooks padding in place onto each of these under garments.
Rows of horsehair padding and vertical rows of hooks replace the whalebone strips and steel hoops of the crinoline.
The sisters seem pleased as they comment on the slimmer fashions with the comfortable cushion at the back.
The drapery of the skirts over this cushion forms a bustle extending two feet horizontally from the back waist.
It appears that there is less fabric in the skirts of the new design, because of the slimmer front view. Appearances can be deceptive; it all depends on the placement of fabric.
The skirts have a mass of gathering in the back. The outer skirts are draped and held in place at strategic points with ribbons and flowers. This treatment allows the fullness to cascade in waves down the back. The hems of the skirts trail on the ground behind the wearer.
Dressed in their new fashions the sisters leave the salon and step into their carriage for the journey home.
We step into our time tunnel for our return home and fill in our report…
The trip through time for a glimpse of the past .