Keeping up Appearances: the Ideal Woman

The period under study was influenced by Queen Victoria, not only in politics, but highly in fashion through mass media[1] and her popular, exquisite taste in jewelry form across the world. [2]  Her reign had a significant impact on consumerism because of her desire to be popularized in the media.[3]   Of course, Queen Victoria was financially privileged compared to the majority of the people her tastes were being advertised to.  N.B. Women’s Fashion website shows the upper and lower class versions of Victorian society, which allows the viewer to make comparisons and interpret the data displayed to them at their fingertips.[4]  Researchers of Victorian fashion, New Brunswick history, women’s history, or general fashion history are potential users of this site I have aimed to provide a variety of information in one place for.[5]

The Sears Roebuck Catalog portrays an idealized image of what women should be wearing and how they should look.  The catalog illustrates, as you will see in the following excerpts, accessories, ingested products, undergarments, and dresses in their advertised form and this site provides a sample of what the upper-class, Caucasian New Brunswick woman actually wore.

Watches, Pins, Rings, Bracelets, Lockets

Queen Victoria was a trendsetter for upper-class women in New Brunswick.  She favoured flashy, imported, and expensive jewels and outfit accessories. The Sears Roebuck Catalog illustrates effectively an assortment of privileged classed outfit adornments.

Beauty Products

Pressure for women to maintain fair complexions, tidy hair, delicate forms, and mild moods was illustrated in the Sears Roebuck Catalog with a vast selection of products to help women modify their bodies and minds for an ideal lifestyle.

Shoes and Boots

Footwear styles were not particularly flashy for women because their dresses and skirts were more often than not covering their feet for modesty.  However, footwear was enjoyed by most lower and upper-class New Brunswickers.

Undergarments: Corsets, Underwear, and Stockings

Since body delicacy, ideal reproductive form, and modesty were key elements to the ideal nature of the woman form modifying and skin covering undergarments were used by most women and girls.

Outdoors: Bathing Suits, Coats, Mittens, Hats

Hats and gloves were common in out of house fashion in Victorian New Brunswick.  Because the nature of outerwear was stylish there were many advertisements for maximizing the style of the garment by adding accessories like pins, buckles and exotic bird plumage.

Occasions: Work, Wedding, Parties and Get-together, School

Like today, different occasions called for different appropriate attire.  Sears Roebuck Catalog advertised attire for all different occasions and it seems that the price ranges were set to offer at least something affordable for even a working-class woman, such as materials to make her own outfits which was very common among lower and middle class women.

Ideal Outfits

Ideally, women were supposed to maintain perfect temperament, posture, form, and attire.  I provided examples of the upper-class ideal woman equipped with form using body modifiers, style with adorned accessories, modesty, and tidiness.

Children

Infants were dressed in the same attire, so it is difficult to identify baby boys from girls in the photographs provided, however, young girls have very lady-like attire, similar to their mothers’.   Body modifiers like corsets and waists were worn by young girls as well as women, especially since girls married in their teen years typically in Victorian New Brunswick.  Like their mothers’ outfits, girls wore school and public attire different from their at home casual/play attire.

Wigs and Hair

Hair was commonly styled around the use of a hat, especially for social or public occasions.  But without a hat it was ideally kept long enough to be pulled back into a tidy bun or curled style.

[1] D. Scarisbrick, “Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World, C. Gere and J. Rudoe”, (BURLINGTON MAGAZINE: British Museum Press, 2010) pg 14-15)

[2] Scarisbrick, “Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria,”p 16

[3] Scarisbrick, “Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria,” p 14-15

[4] Cohen, et al,”Interchange”

[5] “Where is Vinland?” [part of] Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (Heritage Canada/University of Victoria, 2010). Available online at:http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/vinland/indexen.html

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