Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | February 9, 2015

Women’s Daily Fashions of the 1840’s

How did a captain’s wife who lived at sea, keep up with the latest fashions?

On land, a captain’s wife would most likely have hired a seamstress to make her wardrobe. But, while at sea, she would have to do the sewing for herself, her children and her husband, and usually made sure there was sufficient fabric to keep her family well-clothed while at sea for an average of three years.  To keep up with fashion trends she was dependent on other captains’ wives who had recently left their home port, had been in a civilized port, and/or acquired a recent copy of fashion periodicals such as Peterson’s or Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Fashion during the 1840’s: The fashion silhouette of the 1840’s was a period of transition: daytime dresses of the 1830’s (pictured above) with lower waistlines, wide sleeves, and full skirts became more subdued during the 1840’s. By then, dresses were primarily one-piece with waistlines ending at the natural waist and came to a point at the front and closed with hooks, buttons, or laces down the front or back.  By the 1840’s, fuller sleeves of the 1830’s transitioned to narrower, more closely fitted sleeves set low, off the shoulder. Although there were sleeve variations; such a bishop sleeve, sleeve en bouffant (alternating fabric of tightness and puffed), tight sleeves with decorative frills above the elbow, short oversleeves, or epaulettes at the shoulder.  Additionally, early in the 1840’s, although sleeves were fitted at the shoulder, they widened half way between the elbow and wrist into a funnel or bell-shape. Full skirts were gathered at the waist and might include edging of  braid along the skirt hems, or have pockets sewn into skirts which could be reached through slits in the skirt.  Skirt trimmings included ruchings (pleated or gathered strips of fabric), flounces, scallops, and cordings. Below are two examples of dresses from the 1840’s.

Hairstyles: Hair was parted in the middle and pulled smoothly to the temples where it was arranged in hanging sausage-shaped curls or in plaits, or with a loop of hair encircling the ears.  At the back, hair was pulled into a bun or chignon.

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | February 1, 2015

Godey’s Fashions for March 26th,1840

Please note: Godey’s full-color fashion plates are below the accompanying descriptions for each plate number and its accompanying date. Although the plates are small, if you click on each fashion plate, WordPress’ invisible magician will automatically re-direct you to a full-size image so you can see more clearly, the gorgeous details of each of the dresses.

[Godey’s] PLATE 4. APRIL 1840.

Fig. a. Dress of white cambric; changeable silk apron trimmed with black lace. Tight corsage with matching tucker trimmed with pink bows. The back hair is worn so low behind that it touches the back of the neck, being pulled at the roots of the hair, forming the figure eight. Fig. b. Changeable silk dress. Tight corsage crossed in front. Bishop sleeves with four bands at the top, each trimmed with a button; the skirt is trimmed with five narrow flounces. Straw hat. Fig. c. White figured muslin dress, V-shaped corsage. The skirt is trimmed down the front and hem with three tucks. Silk hat.

Plate 4. April 1840



[Godey’s] PLATE 5. SEPTEMBER 1840.

Fig. a. Evening dress with corsage a’ pointe, two net and blonde flounces at hem, single flounces at elbows and wide neckline. Fig. b-d. Day dresses with trimmed bonnet.

Plate 5. September 1840


[Godey’s] PLATE 6. DECEMBER 1840.
Fig. a. Dress suitable for evening visits.
Fig. b. Bride’s dress.
Fig. c and d. Ball dresses. “There is little change in the fashions during the winter months.”

Plate 6. December 1840



Changeable silk (also known as “shot”):  Usually a silk, often taffeta, that changes color depending on the angle from which the fabric is viewed.  The look is achieved by weaving the fabric with one color of thread on the warp and another on the weft.  A very popular fabric in the 19c, especially the second half.
Figured silk:  is from England, and the combination of a saffron-yellow background with bright pink and pastel florals is very typical of the period.  Sometimes the term seems to be applied to painted fabrics, other times to cloth with woven or embroidered floral designs.
Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | December 7, 2014

An Old Fashioned Christmas during the 1850’s

Americans’ newfound awe and delight with Santa Claus and Christmas trees was spurred on by newspapers and periodicals like the New York Tribune and Godey’s Lady’s Book. Some 1850 Red Letter years in America’s battle for Christmas:

1850   Godey’s publishes an illustration of Britain’s royal family’s Christmas tree

1851   The first tree concession is set up in New York city, markets in Philadelphia soon followed suit; a family in Vicksburg, PA set up a Christmas tree in their home; Reverend Henry Schwan puts up an evergreen tree in his church (but he nearly lost his job because of it)

1852   Gleason’s Pictorial noted, ‘already is the annual Christmas Tree established as one of the household gods of New England and a large portion of the States.’

1855    On Christmas Eve, Edward S. Johnson of Albany, New York reported that the streets are ‘alive with people…. Thousands are out buying Christmas presents.’ In St. Louis another gentleman noted the stores were ‘crowded with people buying Christmas things….The toys and funny goods houses particularly are doing a big business.’

1856   The Christmas tree makes its first appearance in the White House under President Franklin Pierce.

1858   Various reports giving evidence that the Christmas holiday is becoming more commercialized: ‘Shops are full of business, streets are thronged; every other pedestrian carries a parcel or two, or escorts one or more eager, expentant children with big eyes fixed on the gorgeous succession of shop windows.’

1859   A Christmas tree is erected in Seminary Chapel of New York’s Sabbath schools

Clement C. Moore

Clement C. Moore (pictured above) was the first person to transform a Dutch workman he had known as a child into the beloved “jolly old elf” Santa Claus, when in wrote A Visit from Saint Nicholas in 1822; although it was not published as an illustrated poem until 1844.

However, by the 1860’s another man can be credited with transforming Christmas and Santa Claus by making over Moore’s jolly old elf of 1822. That man was Thomas Nast (pictured above), born in Germany in 1841. Young Thomas and his mother emigrated to the United States in 1846, his father followed in 1850. Thomas attended the National Academy of Design before securing a job as a draftsman for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1856. Four years later, after having been laid off by Leslie’s, he was hired by rival newspaper Harper’s Weekly.

Nast remained in Harper’s employ for a year, resigned so he could travel through Europe, then rejoined Harper’s staff in 1862, where he remained for the next twenty-four years. It was during his tenure at Harper’s that Nast’s Santa Claus made his debut. Nast’s first Santa was drawn in 1862; however, that drawing of Santa was by no means the last. Over the next twenty-two years, Nast drew Santa Claus in various poses and situations. In 1866 Nast claimed the North Pole as Santa’s home, but sadly by 1886 Santa made his last appearence on the pages of Harper’s Weekly. Below is the cover page of Harper’s Weekly from 1st January 1863.

 The above issue is Thoma Nast’s “first” Santa Claus illustration, which debut at Harper’s Weekly cover in January 1863. The illustration below also appeared in Harper’s January 1863 issue, but as the centerfold.

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | December 3, 2014

Christmas Trees and Godey’s Lady’s Book

The Earliest American Christmas Trees: The arrival of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus was but one part of the transformation of Christmas during the nineteenth century. Another tradition embraced and adapted by much of the world, including America, was the Christmas tree. Many people around the world credit the German people as the contributors of a decorated evergreen tree within their home for the Christmas season, although, in actuality the Christmas tree has a long history dating as far back as pre-Christian times.  Evergreens symbolized fertility and regeneration to the Romans, while Christians adapted the meaning of the tree as a symbol of new beginnings – it represented the Tree of Life (forever green) and Jesus (forever with us).

 The earliest American Christmas tree can be traced back to a sketch drawn from real life by John Lewis Krimmel. Kimmel was a German who emigrated to the Philadelphia countryside and created the sketch (below) as early as 1812 or 1819 – the same decade that St. Nicholas first made his appearance in New York state. History buffs may recall that New York was originally a Dutch Republic and called New Amsterdam, hence it seems logical that the earliest American tree might have originated within the German-American population. Over the next twenty years, the Christmas tree gradually increased in popularity.

The first printed image (below) of an American Christmas tree occurred in 1836. It appeared in Boston as the front piece on a Gift Book titled, The Stranger’s Gift. The book was written by another German immigrant named Herman Bokum.  Bokum had filled a Harvard teaching position vacated by a Hessian named Charles Follen, who just four years before in 1832 had put up a tree in his Cambridge home. It was reported by an eye-witnesses that Follen decorated his tree with seven-inch tapers, gilded egg cups, paper cornucopiae filled with comfits, lozenges and barley sugar. By 1834, it seems that Dr. Constantin Herig and Frederick Knerr brought the first Christmas tree to Philadelphia. Needless to say, the idea of a Christmas Tree continued to increase in popularity. In 1847, a man named William A. Muhlenberg, a native of Reading, PA had a tree put up at his Sunday School in New York.  Soon Christmas trees became more common, although they had not yet achieved universal appeal, as they would by the 1850’s – 1860’s.

Godey’s 1850 December publication further promoted the charm of an in-home Christmas tree when they highlighted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s Christmas celebration which included a table-top tree (see below). The same print appeared in Godey’s December 1860 issue.  Of course, when the print was originally published in 1850, it had been Americanized; that is Queen Victoria’s crown and Prince Albert’s mustache had been removed from the original 1848 Illustrated London News engraving.  Albert was born near Colburg, Germany and had a Christmas tree as a child and noted years later after his marriage to Victoria, “I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest [his brother] and I were in the old-time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be,”(1). However, the idea of a Christmas tree was not unheard of by Victoria either; as the 13-year old princess wrote in her diary in December 1832: “After dinner….we then went into the drawing-room near the dining room….There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights [candle tapers] and sugar ornaments,”(2).

(1) Source: The Prince Consort: Man of Many Facets. The World and Age of Prince Albert, page 78. Oresko Books, 1977.

(2) Source: The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty’s Diaries, page 61. Longmans, Green and Company, University of Wisconsin (date unknown).

Over the next decade and beyond, Christmas trees began to appear in church and marketplace, which in turn served to increase their use in homes. Calvinists, however, continued to resist Christmas trees although many others welcomed it as an important aspect of their interior holiday decor.

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | November 9, 2014

Godey’s, June 1865

Below is a fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book from June 1865.

Godey’s Lady’s Book

Plate 36. June 1865. Fig. a. Morning costume for a watering-place. Dress of white alpaca gored a L’Imperatrice, and trimmed with rose velvet ribbon and goat-hair tassels. The hair is a la Pompadour, with a coiffure of black silk net, with large beads and a velvet coronet. Fig. b. Afternoon dress for a young lady, or blue grenadine, cross-barred and figured with black. A waved trimming of pale blue silk with black lace, chenille tassels, and gimp on skirt and bertha. The low corsage is pointed, showing a chemisette of thin muslin puffs and Valenciennes inserting. The bertha crosses in front, and ties in back with long ends. Fig. c. Promenade dress and mantle of brown alpaca, trimmed with black velvet and ball fringe. The jacket is Senorita shape, quite short in back. The dress is looped over a skirt of white lustre, trimmed with scarlet braid and fluted ruffles. Brown straw hat.  Fig. d. Morning costume for a watering-place. A gored dress of white pique, trimmed with a fluted ruffle. The overdress is Violone cambric, trimmed with a fluted ruffle and a gay border. A fanchon of black lace is thrown over the head and tied under the chin. Fig. e. A dress and shawl of white organdy muslin, striped with black. The skirt is scalloped on the edge and bound with scarlet braid; scarlet sash. The sleeves are scalloped with red, and trimmed with small pearl buttons. White chip hat. White silk parasol, covered with black lace.

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | November 2, 2014

VERY brief Fashion History for 1840’s-1850’s

A Glimpse of some Fashion History

However, I thought my visitors might enjoy a little something on women’s fashion in 1847/1848 and 1858. Although whaling wives were unlikely to dress at the height of fashion for daily life on board ship, they did enjoy “dressing up” while gamming or in port. Therefore, I have included a brief description of fashion for both decades and a few fashion plates because a wordy, detailed description can never replace paintings from the Era or colored fashion plates.

Ladies Foundation (Undergarments) for 1840’s and 1850’s. Ladies undergarments changed little during the 1840-50’s.  They still wore a wide chemise which had short sleeves and was about knee-length.  Crotchless Drawers were also an option but not as widely used as the chemise. Of course, stays (corsets) served as the foundation for a fashionably small waist, which also meant the corsets (stays) were laced more tightly.  Petticoats were worn in multiple layers to support the longer, ever-widening skirts of dresses. 

Dresses of the 1840’s-1850’s: The fuller sleeves fashionable during the thrities did not dissappear entirely during the forties and fifties, but the “balloon” or fuller sleeves moved down lower on the arm and fitted more closely.  Additionally, by the late forties and through the fifties, the bodice of the dresses came to a point and closed with hooks, buttons, or laces down the front or back.

Hairstyles:  Hair was parted in the middle and pulled smoothly to the temples where it was arranged in hanging sausage-shaped curls or in plaits or with a loop of hair encircling the ears. At the back, hair was pulled into a chignon.

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | October 11, 2014

October 10, 1849

Mary Brewster, WEDNESDAY [October] 10th [1849]: “Went on shore this morning. Have made calculation to take our meals at the Mansion House and we have hired a room close by to lodge at — It seems like being home to see so many familiar faces and so many old acquaintances. I cannot realize we have been home since we were at this place — Honolulu has improved very much — and is quite a growing place — there are many new families and are constantly coming from all quarters — The government is entirely under American influence and managed by them. The King is a mere cipher and is dependent entirely upon his ministers and does nothing without their sanction and approval –.”


Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | October 9, 2014

6th, 8th, 9th October 1849

Mary Brewster, SATURDAY [October] 6th [1849]: “Light winds from E to ESE and squally. Latter fresh trades. Saw two ships one of them the Almira now out of sight. A fine evening with beautiful weather. In two days we shall be in port [of Honolulu].   LAT. 23.24   LONG. 154.17.”


Mary Brewster, MONDAY [October] 8th [1849]: “Fresh trades and fine weather. At 9 AM made Maui, at dark Molokai in sight 30 miles distant. Light sails all in. Ship heading W by South. Two ships in sight today.   LAT. 24.52   LONG. 155.54.”


Mary Brewster, TUESDAY [October] 9th [1849]: “At 12, came aback this morning we were clearing land at 9 o’clock was at anchor. A number of our Arctic fleet have arrived. The pilot informed us of the death of Capt. Winters with the loss of his ship. It went ashore in a thick fog, was full, everything was lost. Capt. W- went on board of his brother’s ship the E. Frith and died about a week afterward. Mr. Damon, Capt. Fales, and several has been on board — tomorrow we go ashore to pick me out a room. How glad I am to leave the ship and do feel truly thankful to God that we have thus far been preserved amid so many dangers and are again safely at anchor and where we can hear from friends and home –“

Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | October 4, 2014

October 2nd and 4th [1849]

Mary Brewster, TUESDAY OCTOBER 2nd [1849]: “Our ship is as clean as can be — the house also having been painted and fixed up in fine style. I have been busy enough the last week and since we have got into this weather the weeks passed very fast. We all suffer from the heat and feel almost suffocated when in moderate warm weather — but I can get along with it and do enjoy this fine smooth sea. No fear now of big seas and heavy gales. Can go to bed with the assurance of a good night’s rest and no fear of being washed overboard –.”


Mary Brewster, THURSDAY OCTOBER 4th [1849]: “Light bafferling winds from N and NE — hope to get the trades so we can get along. We are all ready for port, ship in fine order, house cleaned and looking finely. Capt. Coffin of ship Almira came on board and passed the afternoon, 26 months, 900 sperm — has a man sick with the scurvy and is fearful he will die if he does not get in soon.   LAT 26.34   LONG. 152.44.”




Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | September 28, 2014

27th September 1849

Mary Brewster, THURSDAY [Sept.] 27th [1849]: “This is the first pleasant day we have had. The weather has been bad enough. On the 17th it commenced blowing hard with very rugged [seas]. 18th worse, during the night ship broached to twice, split foresail, blowed away the fore topmast stay sail. Stove [damaged or broke-up] one of the boats and broke and split the bulwarks — wind fair, ship before it and rolling constantly. I spent three days and nights below — it not being safe on deck — We have now got through the sorest part of the passage and I am truly thankful it is as well with us as it is — weather is plenty warm and we can easily dispense with the fire — tomorrow the ship is to be cleaned. It will be great luxury to have a clean house and ship — LAT. 33.20   LONG. 153.44.”


Mary’s next journal entry is dated “Tuesday October 2, 1849”.


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