Where was Maxine when she was really, really needed?
The following was too good to pass up. It is an article, word for word, from the Ladies Home Journal, December 1896, about the proper dress for old ladies. Old ladies, not being defined by age but from facial features in the drawings which accompany this featurette, would appear to be anyone remotely approaching 50. Enjoy author Isabel A. Mallon’s dictates for wearing the proper house gowns and visiting costumes, and correct posing of autocratic ladies by artist Elizabeth Shippen Green.
Probably most of us would have such a sour look if we had to wear such a silly-looking thing perched on our heads in public. Ironically this very style was popular in the 1930s, worn tilted and usually of seal or beaver to match its fur coat. The middle aged and elderly ladies were even relegated to a special corner in Sears 1902 catalog with hats designed for their age group. Horrors that anything more youthful or less dignified should be chosen! The elderly lady should dress with dignity.
Frivolous loops and ends of ribbon are out of place upon her costume. If she retains the coiffure that was fashionable when her years were not many she gains a certain individuality that is decidedly distinguished. She should, above all things, choose her bonnet with care. It must not be so small as to make her look ridiculous, nor so large as to weigh her down. It should be the modified expression of the shape in vogue rather simply trimmed, preferably with ostrich tips and ribbon rather than flowers.
In choosing her chapeau, however, the elderly lady must beware of weighting it with plumes, else her bonnet will look like a miniature hearse. The elderly lady need not wear all black, although if she has assumed mourning for the husband of her youth there is a certain dignity in never laying it aside. When she wears colors I recommend the soft grays, pale heliotropes, the dark browns, and the dark, but rich-looking, greens that seem only possible in velvet or silk.
In developing these materials into handsome gowns soft rather than severe effects should be aimed at. Trimmings that look frivolous are to be avoided, but there are always decorations that have an air of dignity. Then, too, the elderly lady if she is wise- and, surely, years have brought her wisdom-chooses for general wear quiet fabrics like cashmere, serge or henrietta cloth, while for very fine toilettes she elects to have satin, silk or velvet. All these materials have an air of stateliness specially adapted to the elderly lady.
They are rich and show it, they are more magnificent than dainty, and consequently well suited to the elderly matron. In selecting a model for a gown the woman who yesterday kissed her granddaughter should not choose what is known as ”the latest, but that which will best suit her style, and then have her dressmaker adapt it to her. If she is stout she should have the draperies so folded that the curves may he hidden, and if slender have sufficient decoration to hide the angles. The short, rather flirty-looking basque just now in vogue among young people, is not adapted to the elderly lady. It gives to her an air of aping youth which takes away from her dignity.
Instead, the jacket or the stylish Louis Quinze coat is to be commended. A Visiting Costume A typical costume, to be worn for visiting by an elderly lady, has a skirt of black silk; it is made with the fashionable flare and barely escapes the ground. A long; fitted jacket of black brocade is worn above this, and just down the centre of the front is a jabot of yellow lace, this jabot reaching from the neck, where it is very wide, to the edge of the jacket, where it is narrower. On each is a revers white satin overlaid with yellow lace like the jabot, and caught down with jet spangles.
The sleeves are full, shape into the arms and flare slightly at the wrists, where they are edged with frills of lace. The collar is of white satin with a narrow, flaring turnover collar of black. The bonnet worn with this gown is a black felt with a small bunch of white feathers on one side, and high loops of black satin ribbon on the other. The Costume for General Wear Serge or henrietta cloth is in best taste for the costume that is to be worn on the street at any hour of the day. Serge, in dark blue, gray or dark brown, is in good taste, while the Henrietta cloth is, of course, always black.
An elderly lady whom I recently met looked the picture of neatness and good form in a costume of dark blue serge. The skirt had the usual flare, and showed on the foot as a decoration, on each side of the front gore, extending above the knees, three rows of small, flat, brown velvet buttons. The coat basque fitted at the back and was semi-loose in front, flaring to show the waistcoat, quite a long one of brown velvet. This had, just in the centre, its entire length, a very narrow douhle box-plait, which concealed the closing so carefully done with hooks and eyes.
The shawl collar and revers of the basque were faced with the serge and outlined with a piping of brown fur. The inside collar, a simple stock of brown ribbon, was fastened at the back under a bow of the same. With this was worn, when the cool winds demanded it, a mink collar. Brown undressed kid gloves were in harmony. The bonnet was of brown felt, fitting well on the head and having its oval outline piped with black jet. On one side was a bunch of small brown feathers grouped so low that a fluffy effect was attained.
On the other an aigrette of white, while the ties were of brown velvet. With this costume a mink muff, lined with brown satin, was carried. For House Wear Cashmere, henrietta cloth and crépon are considered the proper materials for house wear. Those crépons having a long, deep wave not unlike crape itself are specially fancied for elderly ladies. A crépon of this design made up for a lady who is rather tall and slender shows a flaring skirt which touches the ground, a draped bodice with a belt of black satin, and cuffs and collar of black satin. Black velvet is essentially the dressy costume of the elderly woman.
She may, with propriety, wear it at a dinner or dance, at a wedding or a reception. If she is fortunate enough to possess some handsome real lace this may be used upon it, for to the elderly lady real lace is the hall-mark of gentility.
Haughtily poised in their visiting and general street wear costumes by artist Elizabeth Shippen, these elderly matrons, presumably of respectable social status, model attire and carriage appropriate for their age and occasion.
The correct street and home dress for these matrons as depicted by artist Elizabeth Shippen.
Suitable and popular wool and wool-blend fabrics for the elderly costume from Sears 1902 catalog – a nice selection of crepons, cashmeres and henriettas in black and dark colors. Cashmere was a soft wool or blend woven to resemble that specialty hair; henrietta was another type of cashmere, usually wool or silk woven in round twill face. Crepons were worsteds, silks and cottons having a crinkled or crepe surface.
Appropriate jet trim or passementerie c1890s could be bought by the yard or in assembled shapes such as this tasselette.
Just a slight touch of real lace was allowable. These metallic threaded laces c1890s, though tarnished, reveal a hint of former glint. A black velvet costume that is at once simple and elegant, has a full, flaring skirt with a slight train. The bodice is a jacket shape with semi-loose fronts, showing between then a waistcoat of black satin heavily overlaid with black jet passementerie.
A folded collar of satin is the inner one on the waistcoat, while the shawl collar and the revers of the jacket are faced with velvet, piped with jet, and have geometrical circles set regularly upon them. The sleeves are of the velvet, full and drooping, and shape in at the wrists, where they are finished with pipings of jet, under which fall frills of point lace. The hair is rolled off the face in Pompadour fashion.
An elderly lady wearing mourning who wishes to appear at a wedding will assume a costume of dull black silk. The skirt has the usual flare and a slight train, and each seam is piped with a jet heading. The basque has a deep ripple, not a short one, lined with heliotrope satin. Down each side of the front is a strip of jet passementerie laid over heliotrope satin. The high collar is of heliotrope satin folded and fastened at the back under a flaring bow of the same fabric. The sleeves are the close-fitted wrinkled ones now in vogue, with caps of black silk edged with jet and lined with satin, extending well over the upper part of each.
The hair is arranged high on the head, and a cluster of short, heliotrope tips is at one side fastened with a diamond pin. The gloves are of pale pearl undressed kid. Wearing such a gown the elderly lady would be at ease, for she would know that she was suitably dressed. She would be a picture of well-bred and artistic dressing, looking the gentlewoman that she is.
And as we enter the 21st century, little has changed. The elderly lady is at ease….a picture of well-bred and artistic dressing, looking the gentlewoman that she is. The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960. To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.
Joan Kiplinger is an antique doll costumer and vintage fabric addict who learned to sew on her grandmother’s treadle and has been peddling fabrications ever since.