Spring Dress Etiquette in the 1900′s

by Rivka Willick on March 17, 2011

in Etiquette From The Past

Spring Hat Etiquette 1900s

Many a mother has advised their daughters to only wear white shoes, linen clothing, straw hats and handbags, and sandals after Memorial Day and never after Labor Day. For many, these rules of summer clothing seem to be set in stone, but what about the spring? Is there a time to put away the winter coats and dark suits and transition into the season of rebirth?

In the 1890’s the fashion experts advised all well dressed women to transition from winter apparel into lighter garments by mid-March. Just as the weather improves the color and general appearance of the natural world, the look of your clothing should also change. The March 16th, 1895 edition of Harper’s Bazar devoted most of its content to guiding both young and more mature women in selecting the proper spring garments.

It was the Duke of Wellington who was credited with possessing fourteen overcoats, from which he selected each day the one best suited to the prevailing temperature, and perhaps his carefulness in the matter had much to do with the fact that he lived to the advanced age of eight-four.
The advantage of two or three light woolen overcoats is that they may be left off or added to according to the weather. It is better also to wear garments of this sort moderately loose, rather than tight-fitting…and a loosely woven fabric is more desirable than one which is thick and close, being warmer and more hygienic in every way.

As I paged through magazines from the 1890’s, I noticed spring gowns are noticeably different then both winter and summer clothing. Taffeta and silk are both popular and dark colors are blended with lighter colors or used only as trim. If one could possibly afford the expense, both men and women should have a spring coat which should be worn as early as March if the weather permits.

Of course, not everyone could afford a complete spring wardrobe, however every woman needed a spring hat. A winter outfit could be transformed, it need be, by a pretty spring bonnet. Untrimmed straw or chip hats were acceptable, however flowers, lace, ribbons and net trimming created the beauty both younger and older women most desired. Wearing a spring hat or ‘Easter Bonnet’ was a rite of spring that socially acknowledged the change of the seasons.
The fashion columnists did not stop at clothing. They also advised homemakers to turn their home over during the spring. Winter takes a toll both inside and out of the home, so women need to take advantage of the mild weather with a through and complete cleaning from top to bottom. Women were advised to be aware of wintery décor and exchange it for lighter fare.

At this time of the year the fernery which has been on the dinner table all winter is no longer a thing of beauty, for even though it may be refilled, just as soon as any of the leaves wither, there seems to be something lacking and a bit of green is as necessary as a change in food.

A woman of good taste and manners should bring spring flowers, such as tulips and hyacinths as soon as they show color in their buds. These sensitivities show both good manners and concern for the wellbeing of others.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Yvonne March 24, 2011 at 3:27 am

Gosh! I’d forgotten about spring coats. We got new coats with matching hats & gloves. Unfortunately hat pins. Were also part of the wardrobe and they hurt. Your articles are always so interesting.

Carole October 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Here is an excerpt from an 1899 letter. I am stumped as to why the terms ‘spread’ and ‘settlement’ were used in this way. Can you help me?
“The idea of your not being invited to the ‘spread’ is so novel that I am stumped to think how it could be managed if I wanted to leave you out. I shall be glad to see you whenever you can come—it doesn’t matter except that if you had been coming earlier in the week I did not want to have any engagements on hand. I have asked two or three of our ‘settlement’ to have supper in the studio with us Sunday evening.

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