[No: XCI | January 21, 2018 |  By Viveka Hansen]

During the second half of the 19th century fashion magazines for women increased in number, whether adorned with coloured plates or illustrated in black-and-white, so that those interested could keep up with the latest news. They often also included paper patterns to help readers make the most up-to-date dresses for themselves. Even the weekly Whitby Gazette made an attempt to follow this trend. But it was not until the 1900-1914 period that the paper introduced a regular column on the subject; from the 1870s to the 1890s it never made more than occasional excursions into the world of fashion.

Even if reporting on fashion not appeared in the Whitby Gazette until the 1870s, though as early as 1855 an appreciable amount of the paper’s content was devoted to advertising and information on local facilities and goods, including a good deal about material, clothes, home furnishing and other textile services. Fashionable visitors or local inhabitants were also often visible in local prints – like this 1860s view of ‘West Cliff from the Pier, Whitby’. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Library & Archive, Plans and Views of Whitby 769.942.74).

On 23 November 1877 for instance, fashion was restricted to part of one column, with emphasis on French influence in such terms as ‘corsage habit’, ‘brocatelle’, ‘habilles bonnets’, ‘Court coiffeurs’ etc. Similarly velvet, feathers, combs and quality silks were a must for fashionable hats that year. The article ended with advice for the forthcoming cold season:
‘There is every prospect of an unusually severe winter; therefore it is advisable to have a small jacket made with every outdoor costume, and to adopt the large pelisse, which can be worn with everything. The prettiest are now made of natural coloured cashmere, the shade called bège, the trimming being either gold or brown beaver or sealskin. A pelisse of black Indian cashmere, trimmed with a very wide border of skunk, is always in good taste, but the seal pelisse will be the triumph of the elégantes. Light fur, which has been discarded for some reasons, is again to be seen, such as grebe for indoor and evening wear, blue fox and silver fox for day wear, and chinchilla, which looks well with dark green cloth.’

Such an article aimed only at the more well-to-do section of the population, where women had money to spend on expensive material in anticipation of each new season. In contrast, the next chosen quotation – dated 8 February 1901 – was intended for women in general who might have a daughter needing a new ‘Girl’s School Dress’. The dress was described in words and pictures, and with a drawn pattern that needed to be enlarged. The text explained in detail how to place the pattern on the cloth and how the dress should be sewn, and recommended the use of serge – a hard-wearing woollen material – ‘… in blue, green or crimson looks equally well, and for a girl of twelve or thirteen, four yards of 48 inch material will be enough. It is trimmed with four or five rows of narrow black velvet which may be omitted at will from the skirt, and pre-placed by stitching.’

This illustration and text from spring 1909 shows the typical women’s fashion of that year with a tightly laced waist and forward-projected upper body, and a dress with a train and voluminous hat with large feathers. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Library & Archive, Whitby Gazette May 1909).

During 1909-1914 the Whitby Gazette developed its regular fashion pages, which appeared every week with tips on clothes and needlework. The year 1910 also brought ‘Fashion Reflections’ demonstrating in pictures and text such things as ‘Tailored costumes’, ‘Evening gowns’, ‘Belts’ ‘Millinery modes’ and ‘Veils’. In 1912 this column was sometimes headed ‘The World of Women’, and by now it had expanded to fill almost a full page of the paper. This was where one could keep up with the latest in the world of fashion; for example, here are the subtitles of 12 January that year:
‘Evening Dress Accessories
Powder Puffs
Many Uses for Ribbons
Sashes and Ties
Concerning Petticoats
Hints for Homeworkers
The Latest Blouses
Fashionable One-piece Overblouse
A Charming Party Suit
Pretty Japanese Gown
Notes from Paris.’

Whitby Gazette in June 1912 – ‘Fashion Reflections’ in this number showed large hats, shawls and garments draped over the skirt with descriptive details in an accompanying text. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Library & Archive, Whitby Gazette).

These articles did not allow the reader to forget that Paris was the fashion capital of the world, and many references were made to it. Obviously they were mainly aimed at the middle classes, and were sometimes restricted even further to a small coterie of particularly well-to-do ladies. In any case there can be no doubt that a significant number of ladies in Whitby and its environs – whether residents or visitors – could afford to dress well. This is also clear from the extensive collection of clothes from the Victorian age now preserved in the Whitby Museum. The collection contains some 200 dresses from the period, with a much smaller collection from the Edwardian years, mostly contributed by residents from the geographical area of Whitby during the past eighty years. Also related to fashions of the same period are hats, gloves, parasols, shawls, fans, umbrellas, canes, shoes, underclothes, blouses, nightdresses and lace-work. With the exception of a small quantity of children’s and men’s clothes, most of this unique collection features women’s clothing.

It can be supposed that visitors during the summer months found fashion columns of interest, and many possibly needed to supplement their wardrobes with garments suitable for sun, beach and leisure in local shops. Snapshot by unknown photographer ca 1905 – ‘Entertainment on the beach’. (Courtesy of: Whitby Museum, Photographic Collection, C 528. (Whitby Lit. & Phil.).

It may also be noted that clothes of every kind from the first two decades of the twentieth century are less well represented in the Whitby Museum collection. This may be because hard times during World War I (1914-1918) made it necessary to continue wearing and mending clothes bought during the easier Edwardian era together with the need for surgical dressing in military hospitals also making all type of suitable gauzy muslins and cottons from such as old clothes or curtains in great demand, which may be why relatively fewer garments have survived from that period. (Courtesy of: Via Wellcome Library: ‘Surgical dressing substitutes, Europe, 1914-1918’ by Science Museum, London, Creative Commons).

Previous post in this series:
‘A Study of Knitting Sheaths from North Yorkshire’.

– Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 – A lively coastal town between the North Sea and North York Moors, London & Whitby 2015, (pp. 25-29, 97 & 139-41. Additionally: Research material from the period 2006-2014 and for full Bibliography; please see this book).
Whitby Gazette, 1855-1914 (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive).
– Whitby Museum, Library & Archive and Photographic Collection.


– Hansen, Viveka, ‘Fashion Reports in a Weekly Newspaper – 1855 to 1914’, TEXTILIS (January 21, 2018); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year).