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Frills and Furbelows

Godey's Lady's Book Bonnets

Composite engraving from Godey's Ladies Book, 1860, showing ensembles with fashionable bonnets.

SO IT’S 1864 and you have nothing to wear to the tea social. And if your plan is to hop in that buggy for a quick check on the fire sales at TopShop, you’ll probably come up empty-handed. Off-the-rack was a term yet to be invented, and while dressmakers and tailors did a brisk business, you did need to plan well in advance how you would kill it at the soiree. A mohair robe? A silk paletot? Don’t fret just yet—for all of your inspiration could be found within the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the immensely popular “queen of the monthlies,” which by 1860 had 150,000 subscribers.

Godey's Lady's Book

"Godey's Lady's Book," Plate 30, April 1864.

The September ’64 index from a Godey’s magazine that might have been floating around Pritchett House offers up a rich harvest of information, with topics ranging from their monthly musical column to an essay “Confessions of a Sprit Rapping Medium,” to advice on how to cure a red nose; the treatment of diphtheria by ice; things wanted in a wife; men injured by crinolines; tales of hired help; gradations of mourning; design for an ornamental cottage [with plans], and a motto from the Prince of Wales.

But the crowning jewel of any Godey’s book was its exquisite, full-color tint fashion plates, with accompanying dressmaker’s patterns. Here was where you found the very latest in what was being shown off on the streets of Paris and London. But the creation of any new item, from corset to cape to was no small feat, not to mention expensive—in 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln, a documented Godey’s clipper, set the standard for conspicuous spending, paying $25 for a bonnet, which would be about eight million dollars today.

As for trying not to swoon in a dead faint from the binding weight of your stays and crinolines, well, that’s whole separate entry.

Godey's Lady's Book

"Godey's Lady's Book," Plate 28, September 1862.

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4 Responses

  1. Godey’s was FAB. Edgar Allan Poe published some of his best stuff there. Though personally, I shop at Loehmann’s for the Tea Socials. But don’t tell.

  2. I’m a fan of graphic novels and I’m currently reading a book (historical fiction) called Widow of the South about a woman who maintained the graves of thousands of unclaimed Civil War dead. Creepy and amazing story. Looking forward to Picture the Dead. Fun! Fun!

  3. The colors on this *are* truly stunning. Now I’m curious as to what the printing technology was like in the mid to late 1800s, that allowed for such rich color. ~A future blog post from y’all?
    Also- what were the YA books of the era? Who was reading what?

  4. I admit I’m kind of jealous of those bygone days. I mean, I hate dresses, but maybe its more I hate the current trend of dresses?

    by the by I finished Picture the Dead–read it in about 3 hours actually XD

    Lexie C.

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