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, April 5, 2016

Fashion and Sheet Music

I have collected vintage sheet music since the early 1990s.  The cover art is so beautiful, I have framed many of them.  Now I need more walls to hang them on!  Many of the songs reflect the lifestyle of the time, and a reoccurring theme I see is a commentary on the fashion of the day.

Here is a light-hearted look at some of my favorite fashion trends in song.  All sheet music courtesy of http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/   my go-to site to find musical treasures.


Also called the "Turkish dress", "American dress", or simply "reform dress", bloomers were an innovation of readers of the Water-Cure Journal, a popular health periodical that in October 1849 began urging women to develop a style of dress that was not so harmful to their health as the current fashion.

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a "bloomer craze". Health reformer Mary Gove Nichols drafted a Declaration of Independence from the Despotism of Parisian Fashion and gathered signatures to it at lectures on woman’s dress. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4. In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. A grand festival in favor of the costume was held at New York City’s Broadway Tabernacle in September.     Source

In 1851, all of the following tunes were released.  Waltzes and Polkas, and my favorite title, "The Bloomer's Complaint - A Very Pathetic Song".

 Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden is a character from Charles Dicken's 1839 historical novel Barnaby Rudge set in 1780. The Dolly Varden costume was an 1870s version of fashions of the 1770s and 1780s.  The term "Dolly Varden" in dress is generally understood to mean a brightly patterned, usually flowered, dress with a polonaise overskirt gathered up and draped over a separate underskirt. The overdress is typically made from printed cotton or chintz, although it can be made from other materials such as lightweight wool, silk and muslin.

A few songs about Dolly Varden style, all written in 1871:

"While promenading the other day, I chanced to stray, in a careless way, and met a pretty girl, she looked so gay, dressed in a Dolly Varden.  I said my dear, now draw it mild, I like your style, she gave me a smile, I followed her for fully a mile, eyeing her Dolly Varden.  Her Dolly Varden looked like silk, or London milk, which is finer than silk. She said sir, it out of Ma's bed quilt, I've made a Dolly Varden. "  Words and music by G. W. Moore

The Grecian Bend

"In the 1860s, it was fashionable for American women to wear their skirts gathered in the back, with a bustle serving as the base upon which all of that fabric could be pinned. The style required the woman to lean forward in an exaggerated way, in order to compensate for all of that weight at her back. This lean, exacerbated by corsets and high-heeled shoes, came to be called the “Grecian Bend,” named after the way that women in some Greek sculptures hunched their shoulders in implied modesty at their nudity. The Bend became an object of social analysis—and ridicule. Men writing for major newspapers, affecting bewilderment at this new feminine vanity, described their struggles to get their daughters to stand up straight."   Rebecca Onion for The Vault

She looks like a
T-Rex to me......

"The heels upon their gaiters are whittled to a point.  When the darlings toddle, their backs are out of joint.  With little hands before them, all up and down they wend.  Its awful what they suffer to swing the Grecian Bend.  (chorus)  la la la la, rage will never end, its catching like the measles, this famous Grecian Bend."  Music by J. Offenbach; Words by George Cooper.1869

"Behold in me a dashing Belle the leader of the style.  The cut of this girl's dress no doubt will cause you all to smile.
There's one thing I would have you know, 'bout the fashion that you see.  If the style now days you would assume,  get tied back, just like me!"    Words by J. Arthur. Arranged by P. Ritter.  1876

 Hobble Skirt 

A hobble skirt was a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer's stride, and was a short-lived fashion trend around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century and the early 1910s.  The Parisian fashion designer Paul Poiret is sometimes credited with the design. Poiret may also have been influenced by watching Mrs. Hart O. Berg upon the first aeroplane flight she took in October 1908 with Wilbur Wright, whereon she tied a rope around the bottom of her skirt to keep it from blowing up during the flight. After Wilbur and Mrs. Berg landed she walked away from the plane undaunted, being seen to "hobble" around until removal of the rope from her skirt.

Although the term is sometimes used in reference to narrow ankle-length skirts in the early 1910s, some skirts of this period had slits, hidden pleats, and draping that lessened the restriction on a woman's ability to move freely, because in this period women were becoming more active in various activities which would have been impossible to do in a hobbled hemline.  Source

In a song called "Women's Rights" by Marion B.Wackford, she mentions the hobble skirt:
"To the polls the ladies go, and they'll make a lively show.  As the baby carriages go marching by, Uncle Sam will clasp his hands, and will cheer them for their sand.   For he knows the ladies are all right, rats and puffs and hobble skirts cannot keep us from our work..."



"She wore a handsome broadcloth basque, cut the latest fashion, and flowers all around her dress made her look quite dashing.  Her high heeled boots as she walked on the pavement went pit pat, I'll never forget the smile I saw beneath that jockey hat. (chorus) I said its gay and pretty too, they look so well together,  those glossy curls and jockey hat, with a rooster feather."  Poetry by Fred. Wilson. Music by W.H. Brockway.

 Every Saturday Willie got his pay. Then he'd call on Nell, trousers neatly pressed and nice white vest.  Buttonhole bouquet as well.  On Nellie's hat there was a bird that knew a lot of things, and in its quiet way, it had a lot to say,  as the lovers strolled along.  ......"Then to Nellie, Willie whispered as they fondly kissed:  "I'll bet you were never kissed like that!" "Well, he don't know Nellie like I do", said the saucy little bird on Nellie's hat."  Words by Arthur J. Lamb. Music by Alfred Solman 1906
"Girls who have a passion for following the fashion.  Now carry all their burdens on their heads.  You see them out parading, so gaily promenading, with hats about the size of folding beds.   There seems to be no limit, to things they use to trim it, whatever is the craziest will do.  They sing their Easter carols, in lids the size of barrels, and then they stroll along Fifth Avenue."
Music by Maurice Levi. 1908

"It hardly seems a year since when a lady's head had nothing on it - Stuck on behind the fashion then it was to wear a tiny bonnet.  Their smiling faces they displayed, to all admiring young fellows, but now each widow, wife or maid, wear hats the size of large umbrellas"    Written and Composed By W.W. Taylor. Arranged By W. Wilson.

Gibson Girl

The Gibson Girl image spread far and wide through American culture and society. She appeared in songs and operettas, clothing lines, hairstyles, and wallpaper designs, to mention only a few examples. James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy, Wladyslaw Benda, and Nell Brinkley, all peers of Gibson, introduced their own rival icons of feminine beauty, but none came close to winning the great following of the Gibson Girl. Library of Congress.
Read more about the Gibson Girl here

"Once I was a Gibson girl, fair to see they said, but oh! cold as snow above, caring naught for love. Then there came a Gibson man,  wooed me in the Gibson way. We were wedded fast, it was too good to last, that is why I'm lonely here today. For I am a Gibson widow, sighing with Gibson woe, crying Gibson tears, lonely for my Gibson Beau!  I've lots of Gibson money, I spend it on the Gibson plan,  I am a Gibson widow, waiting for another Gibson man."

Short Hair and Short Skirts!

"Forward march, down the street, down the street, tramp of feet, tramp of feet, it isn't war again I'm glad to say. Its just the girls parading on a sunny day.  Look, look, look at the boys with a twinkle in each eye, but they never look at the sky.  All the boys keep looking down, down, down, as the girls go marching by. And there are two good reasons why.  Here and there, see them stare at every peachy pair.  There's quite a change since grandma's day, of that you will allow. The skirts are getting shorter, and the men look longer now."  Words and Music by Harry Von Tilzer  1926.

Fun Fashion Songs
"Without a doubt you've heard about the different kinds of girls, the Gibson girl, the Brinkley girl with all her funny curls.  In other days we used to praise the Country girl so high, the Bowry girl, the Fencing girl, they all would catch our eye.  Of all that I have seen, the one that is my Queen, is the Futurist girl of today.  Futurist girl, I am crazy over you.  I don't care if your hair is green or blue. Funny clothes from head to toe,  you disclose oh goodness knows.  You have set my poor little brain in a whirl.  There's something 'bout you that appeals to me, my Futurist Girl."  Words and Music by J. Leubrie Hill   1913


"Oh Ma, I must be in the fashion, the Milliner's in such a passion, because you say you don't approve my bonnet so dear that I love.  You are surely only funning,  I really think it much becoming, now Ma pray do have some compassion.  I really must be in the fashion!"
By Van Der Weyde   1854


Left: "Its no use talking, no use talking, its so now ev'ry where, to do as folks of fashion do, you've got to put on airs" Words By H. Angelo. Music By Wm. H. Coulston. 1858

Left:   "Allow me to look at your dress goods, and trimmings to match if you please.  Its easy to make a selection from elegant patterns like these.  This poplin is quite to my fancy, but here is a prettier still.  I cannot do better than take it, and my father will settle the bill."  Words By C. Ernst Fahnestock. Music By G.T. Lockwood   1870

For the Gentlemen

"Oh in these rapid days, to conform to the ways, which an idle caprice may beget, and obey fashion code, one must dress a la mode, If he's move at all in a good set. In the park I must show a moustache I must grow, every day all the day thro. Keep a glass in my eye, not for sight by the by, but because its the style of Thing To Do!"
Publisher: Thaddeus Firth 1866

"The very latest chappie on this earth I'll introduce you to
His very trousers seem to give him pain, they're so intensely new.  He only wears his clothes just half a day, then says they've grown antique, So fond of newness is he that he shifts his diggings once a week. He shoots the Moon? tut tut not true, 'tis merely love of things quite new.  He has the latest thing in collars, the latest thing in ties, The very latest specimen of girly girls with the latest blue, blue eyes. He knows the latest bit of scandal, in fact he gave it birth, But when it comes to getting up at mornings he's the latest chap on earth."
Written and composed by E.W. Rogers - 1899

Bicycle Bloomers

A song called "Clever, Ain't You?" Performed by Marie Lloyd tells of a rider in bloomers who fell off her bike and was laughed at by a gentleman.  "I fell off that blooming bike, in manner too absurd. Went in a muddy ditch, and rather cooled my blood I said, when a chap cried, 'Misery and mud.'  Chorus: Clever ain't you? tricky, ain't you? Think you know a bit, don't you? Ain't you fly? Why, you dirty, paltry tyke, Laughing 'cos I've bust my bike, Why, I'd like to shove my bloomers in your eye."

A song called "They're All Beautiful" Performed by Charles Bignell, says, "The girls all down our neigbourhood Have got bikes upon the brain, Tearing about the whole day long, Shocking us all with bloomers on; When I'm crossing the road they tear along, And frighten me into a fit..."

Above:   "The Bicycle Girl" tells a tale of how the bicycle girls have stolen the men's clothing for their own.

"...This is not all, for our gaiters she wears, our neckties she claims is her right, but she put the latest straw on our backs,  when she stole our small clothes and even our tights. Oh the bicycle girl, she's bound neck or nothing to go. For she's fast (on the wheel) and in matters of dress, she isn't by any means slow!"  Words by Avery Oddfellow. Music by F.W. Meacham

"Its been women's aim, their greatest desire, to dress like the men,  wear trousers some day, and since they are riding the pneumatic tires, they discarded dresses and bloomers display....    Oh those bloomers look enchanting on you girls, men admire your attire, and to meet you they desire."  
Words by O. Schrage. Music by W. Potstock.  1894


  1. Women's clothing styles were such fodder for so many songs, but today, nothing. What are we doing wrong?
    Never knew Dolly Varden was from a Dickens book, nor ever heard the meaning behind the Grecian Bend. You learn something new every day.

    1. I have called the 60s ladies in photos "the leaning ladies" but didn't know the true name either!