Fashion History of The
Aesthetic Dress Movement
the mid-Victorian era 1870-1880 a group of talented artists, poets, writers and
some actors were known as the Aesthetes. The painter and designer William Morris and
architect Voysey designed houses together. They were fastidious about every detail
from wallpaper and furniture, to window and fireplace proportions and choice of curtains.
Morris designed textiles and embroideries and produced them through his company Morris
and Co. Many of his original flowing organic designs are still used by Sanderson and Co. (Recently Sanderson's designs was bought out.)
although the colouration is more suited to modern living.
Left - The designer craftsman artist and writer
Aesthetic movement which they led was a revulsion to what they saw as ugly
machine made products of the Industrial Revolution
and to certain artefacts seen at the Great Exhibition of 1851. This ranged from a distaste felt for the ugliness of false veneers to the crudeness
of aniline dyes and the over working of Victorian imagery. It ignored the fact
that those on low incomes wanted to be able to have cheap goods that imitated
upper class elegance and which could only be made by cheap mass methods.
Aesthetic dress may also have been a revulsion to the over use of the sewing
machine which allowed excessive embellishment of dresses simply because it could
achieve over trimming more easily.
were often vegetarians. Those within the movement were often early animal
welfare rights campaigners. They objected to the use of feathers on hats and the
use of whole dead birds as a hat ornament. Modern vegetarianism has its roots in
Aesthetes were influenced
by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones who idealized medieval life in imaginary
ethereal scenes. The women in the painting appeared to wear no corsetry and the
freedom and naturalness of this was admired by the Aesthetes. To blend and suit these surroundings it was felt that some reform
in style of dress was needed and among artistic people it was known as Aesthetic
Pre-Raphaelite dress by Dante Gabriel
In contrast the second type of reform in dress came from those who
thought medical reasons were why women's clothing needed reform. Both
types of clothing were available from Arthur Liberty's shop in London.
dress was a
protest against the contemporary fashion for bustles in various forms and restrictive
fashion history terms only a very small section of the community ever wore it initially, but
it did spread to middle class intellectuals, to artistic and literary people. Aesthetic
dress was made of wool or Liberty silk or velvet fabrics.
Aesthetic fashions were cut looser and was unstructured
in the style of medieval or Renaissance garments with larger sleeves. The dress appeared loose compared with figure hugging fashion garments of the
era. Loose waited corset free women were considered to have loose morals and it
did not help that many of the Aesthetic women were thought slightly Bohemian and
beyond the normal social conventions and morals of the time.
Above Left - Dress from a 1905 Liberty catalogue.
The typical fashionable aesthetic lady would have red flowing hair often henna
pale face, green eyes and wore heelless shoes. This model of aestheticism was frequently
ridiculed in Punch cartoons where the wearer might be shown with her hair
brushed into her eyes. The idea of red hair itself was ridiculed as red hair was thought of as
Often the Aesthetic dresses were embellished with large
sunflowers, daffodils or other organic forms worked in free form art embroidery,
peasant decoration or smocking. The subtle colours were earthy and found in nature. Natural softer vegetable dyes
produced half tints of indigo, salmon, sage-green, terracotta,
amber gold. Most of all Aesthetics liked the colours to look old and faded,
strange, antique or even vaguely exotic as peacock blue might be.
power of the Aesthetic movement upon the textile trade of
Britain was fundamental in getting manufacturers to change attitudes about
how they used the new materials such as the initially crudely toned aniline dyes. Even so an image of
bold colour was generally the norm in the 1890s.
managed to persuade British Manufacturers to revive some of the Persian
techniques and to use oriental designs as well as introducing new aesthetic
Liberty was a great enthusiast about
everything oriental. He opened a shop in Regent Street in 1875 selling eastern imported
soft silks and soft oriental fabrics that were quite different from the
stiff fabrics of the day. Their charm
was the play of light on the irregularity of the threads. Fabrics were often hand printed and some fabrics were made up by the dressmaking department of
Liberty into aesthetic gowns.
Liberty styles such as the classic Greek gown 'Athene',
Japanese kimonos and Kate Greenaway styled children's clothes, Indian pyjamas
and embroidered coats from China and Japan all typify styles found at Libertys.
Right - Rational dress of the Victorian era - early
forerunner garments to simpler later aesthetic dress styles.
robes designed for a graceful appearance and healthy comfort were
quite different from the tightly fitted, bustled and trained fashion dresses. They slowly filtered
into main stream fashion because of the comfort factor.
They were the forerunner of Tea Gowns adopted by gentle ladies everywhere. The Aesthetic movement was more or less dead by 1900 having been superseded by Art Nouveau
which expressed similar ideals in the aesthetics of arts and crafts.
In Scotland Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1863-1928) designed furniture,
textiles, and jewellery. He was influenced by the Aesthetics Arts and Crafts movement and
later by Dutch Art Nouveau designers. Contemporary abstract art was one of the main influences
in the art of Mackintosh.
Left - Chair designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Jewellery and furniture in the
style of Mackintosh are still produced today.
Oscar Wilde was linked with the Aesthetic movement. He liked to
wear a velvet jacket, flowing tie, a wide-awake hat and in the early days of the movement often
wore much ridiculed breeches. Wilde knew the value of speaking through
appearance as he made satirical references to this in his plays and in a lecture on
dress. He believed that flowing robes of classical lines and practical Turkish
style trousers would be the better garb for both sexes.
Right - Oscar Wilde in male aesthetic dress.
If this art style appeals to you then consider this classic
Art Nouveau Holiday House Accommodation
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