When I first started this blog, I was an unemployed costumer attempting to create period gowns and costumes with very limited means. Although now employed, I still try to be as thrifty as possible. I am still "The Broke Costumer"!

In addition to posts about the outfits I make on a budget, this blog includes short research articles on fashion, history, accessories, styles, or whatever interests me at the moment.

I hope you enjoy my journey into the land of inexpensive costuming and short articles.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Punch Magazine Snail Lady

Off and on over time, I have seen a cartoon floating around that makes me laugh.  Its a Punch Magazine 1870 satirical cartoon showing a woman/snail with her shell as a bustle, by artist Linley Sambourne.  I love how the others on the beach stop to stare at this fashionable creature.

I have known about the Punch cartoons for years, but never really looked into them until recently.   I found their website, and was amazed at all the great satire from 100-150 years ago, not only about Fashion, but on Domestic & Foreign Affairs, Culture, Art, Society, and Science & Technology.  Punch Magazine ran from 1841 through 2002.

I would like to share a few of my fashion favorites.

The Hourglass Lady.   Another cartoon by Linley Sambourne drawn in 1877, shows a woman with the new form fitting silhouette.  The photo on the right is Author Edith Wharton, circa 1877.

Veto.   "Shall we - a - sit down?" "I'd like to; but my dressmaker says I musn't!"    Drawn by George DuMauier in the late 1870s.  This reminds me so much of the beautiful gowns painted by James Tissot of the same era.

 "The Chatelaine: A Really Useful Present" Cartoon from Punch, 1849 By John Leech

Copy reads "Oh, look! Ma' dear;  see what a love of a chatelaine Edward has given me."   A chatelaine is a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it. Each chain is mounted with useful household appendages such as scissors, thimbles, watches, keys, vinaigrette, and household seals.                                            

The "Extinction" of Species, or "the fashion plate lady without mercy and the egrets."   At the turn of the 20th century, thousands of birds were being killed in order to provide feathers to decorate women's hats. The fashion craze, which began in the 1870s, became so widespread that by 1886 birds were being killed for the millinery trade at a rate of five million a year; many species faced extinction as a result.  The most popular plumes came from various species of egret, known as "little snowies" for their snowy-white feathers; even more prized were the "nuptial plumes", grown during the mating season and displayed by birds during courtship. On March 14, 1903, President Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the first national wildlife refuge in the United States to protect egrets and other birds from extinction by plume hunters. Source                                                                                     
Mr. Punch's Designs after Nature.  'This little duck wear and effective aquatic jacket, strongly recommended for the boating season'. Drawn in 1868.    Similar to the above, the use of whole birds on hats contributed greatly to the endangerment of some species.

"Bloomerism – an American custom", 1851. Some American women appeared in the streets of London in a tunic and trousers, confirming a certain brassy stereotype. The feminist "bloomer" attire received much ridicule in the mid-19th century. This cartoon seeks to associate it with women smoking, which was considered completely unfeminine during the Victorian period.    Wiki

 I couldn't find a photo of a woman both in bloomers and smoking, so here is one of each!


This one is definitely a favorite of mine.  First, the gentleman looks like Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas.  Second, the title intrigued me.  This from 1861 is called The Arsenic Waltz  "The new dance of death. (Dedicated to the green wreath and dress-mongers)"  What the heck does that mean?
After a little research, I found a reference to the "dangers of Scheele's green dye."  I came across a book titled "Fashion Victims:  the Dangers of Dress Past and Present"  by Alison Matthew David.  Arsenic was used in the textile business to achieve a vibrant green color.  A forensic expert in poisoning used for trials stated that  "if women carried ammonia instead of the usual scent bottle, the mere touch of the wet stopper on the suspicious green would betray the arsenic poison and settle the business immediately".  "If it turns blue, copper is present, and copper is rarely, if ever, present in these fabrics without arsenic also being present - the green being arsenite of copper."  As to the "green wreath" reference, handmade floral hairpieces were very popular.  They "celebrated these flowers as decidedly the most becoming articles for ornamenting the hair".  Comeliness was secured at great loss to their makers.  They produced cloth and paper flowers to replace natural flowers.  The green colors were powders ground up to achieve the color needed - made of the same arsenic.  All the powder in the air was breathed in, causing poisoning.   The "Scheele" refers to Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who invented the color in 1775. Despite evidence of its toxicity, it was used in sweets for food coloring.  Later on, Scheele's Green was used as an insecticide in the 1930s.

To finish this post, I present these fun crinoline cartoons:
"Mr. Tremble borrows a hint from his wife's crinoline, and invents what he calls his "Patent Anti-Garotte Overcoat," which places him completely out of harm's reach in his walks home from the city." 
  "As the ladies are so WARMLY attached to their Crinolines, Mr Punch strongly recommends that, instead of discarding them, they should wear them outside their dresses to serve as a Fire-guard."
"There's some pleasure in giving anything to that industrious lady, Mrs. Slopples-even the old crinoline that my lady Bountiful gave her when the cold weather set in, she has turned to some account."
 Emily: "Madam Bonton says the circumference of the crinoline should be thirty six feet!"
Caroline: "Dear me I-I'm only Thirty Two-I must inflate a little!"


To view all of Punch's great cartoons, visit their website at

Monday, February 8, 2016

That Mysterious Pocket

Every now and then, the subject of a conical-shaped pocket on a Victorian Natural Form Era dress pops up for discussion.   Starting around 1875, but more prevalent in 1876, is what is commonly known as a cornet pocket (sometimes referred to as a parasol pocket).  These pockets are quite beautiful,  pleated, shirred, ribboned, buttoned, fringed and trimmed. 

In doing a bit of research, I found a book entitled The History of Fashion in France by Mrs. Cashel Hoey and Mr. John Lillie written in 1882.   In part, it reads "In 1876, there was incredible variety in the shape of pockets: ......, there were "cornets," "hotties", and "corniers", all elegant articles of attire, beautifully made and embroidered, and fixed in various ways on the skirt."

There was no mention of the term "parasol pocket" in this article, or in any other article I found. I do know of one fashion plate that refers to the pocket as such, but have not found any others.

In the book "Victorian Fashions from Harper's Bazar" by Stella Blum, the subject of pockets again arises.  "Fashion History is dotted with occasional fads.  In 1875 dresses developed elaborate pockets.  They became so popular that to be consistent with the new asymmetrical design of the costume, they survived as a single pocket placed so low and so far back that they were rendered impractical and were reduced to pure decoration.  Although many dresses were made with these pockets for two years, there is no sign of their use afterwards."  

A great example of the "low and far back" impractical pocket is on this beautiful wedding gown from the FIDM collection.  FIDM link here  

As we can see, this "parasol" shaped pocket can be nothing other than decorative. A bride would not walk down the isle with anything in her backside pocket other than maybe a small handkerchief.

 Above is an 1876 Victorian illustration of various other types of shaped pockets that may be attached to a skirt, by ribbons or by sewing it on.
 Pockets were also used on wrappers (house/morning dress) in the mid 70s, as seen on this beautiful trained pale blue wool gown with watteau back. (antiquedress.com) A shame this gorgeous creation was never to be seen outside the home!

Right: A Lady by R.F.Barnes, 1876.
"Long velvet Princess polonaise (tunic and bodice in one) edged with fringe and with an ornamental pocket at the back."  Yet another mention it was ornamental decoration.

Victorian and Edwardian Fashion-A photographic Survey by Alison Gernsheim

A good friend of mine, Trudy F, See her blog here   was also interested in this subject awhile back. She contacted Kent State University and spoke with the curator of their extant gown collection, and asked if they had any gowns with outside pockets.  They had three.  The curator checked the pockets on the three and noted there was no visible wear on the inside or on the outside of the pockets.  This leads us to believe nothing with any weight to it was held in them.

Another indoor wrapper with the "parasol" shaped pocket.  Quite large, with pretty ribbons.  From a March 1877 pattern book.  Princess Robe flat pattern, or as a made-up pattern by Madame A. Letellier, post office orders to be made payable at the post office, King Street, Covent Garden.

Right: Probably the largest ornamental pocket I have seen!  "The pocket ... is of [silk], while the lap is of plain silk; both are edged with lace and a handsome bow completes the point." (Original source: Arthur's illustrated home magazine. October 1876)

Several period photographs suggest these pockets were used for handkerchiefs, small fans and gloves. I have several more examples not posted here, showing a peek of lace handkerchief coming out of the top of the pocket.

The book Victorian Costume 1860-1890 by Linda Setnik reads "Large ornamental pockets placed midway down the side of the skirt were also quite stylish, as well as practical for tight skirts (of 1876), making prominent an object which standard Victorian practice kept hidden within the side seams.  Often only a solitary pocket was visible, reflecting the asymmetry beginning to creep into garments."

In the book "Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear"   Author Lucy Adlington states: "In the 1870s there was even a brief fad for the flamboyant fan pockets of crinkled fabric on the outside of the skirt. A folded fan was slipped inside, with its decorative tassel on  show." 

This  pretty striped walking ensemble from Journal des Demoiselles 1876 shows a cornet shaped pocket which looks like it might be black silk.  Its poofy, so may contain her handkerchief or other small item.

Note the length of the ladies' parasols.  "Between 1865 and 1880 parasols lost their delicacy, handles became sturdy and bulbous and hinged sticks were no longer popular. From the middle of the 1870s sticks started to lengthen. Rustic style handles became popular in the late 1870s this fashion for gnarled wooden handles continued in vogue until the late 1890s. The cover of the parasol also changed and became slightly larger in the late 1870s".   Kay Inverarity, director and costume consultant, B.A.Hist. Dip.Ap, sci.

An at home dress with a cornet pocket.  She also has an unusual fan attached to her waist.   Hand colored engraved image from Demorest Monthly Magazine, 1876

Yet another type of pocket, the "Chatelaine" pocket.  Similar to those sewn on the dresses, this type is attached to the skirt at the waist by ribbons, and is removable. This pretty gown from the FIDM collection is an 1876 Reception dress. "Chatelaine pockets were popular between about 1875-1877. Both the fit and the styling of mid-1870s dresses demanded this exterior pocket. The fashionable skirt silhouette was flat in front, clinging closely to the hips and upper legs; this narrow line that would have been interrupted by a pocket. Additionally, the fashionable overskirt, pulled to the sides and fastened at the back, would have made sideseam pockets inaccessible. Thus, pockets became another opportunity for fashionable display. Like the pocket pictured here, chatelaine pockets were usually placed off-center and worn one at a time."   FIDM link here    

 A pocket on this polonaise is described as "a large pleated faille pocket, in the shape of a cornet, is set on the side, and is finished with a knot of flowing loops and ends of faille ribbon."  (Harper's Bazar 1867 to 1898)  Again, this is called a cornet pocket as its named for the horn's graceful shape.

This Harper's Bazar fashion plate describes the lady as having "large silk pockets with a ribbon bow."

I continue to find more and more examples of pockets in books and online articles from historians and actual descriptions attached to fashion plates.  Do you have an interest in a certain item or accessory?  Spend some time researching it.   Don't rely on someone's uninformed statement and believe it to be true.   Research is fun!