A Victorian capelet is a must for a winter or eveningwear accessory with your Victorian costume. Winter white fur shawls, hand muffs, collars, and cuffs turn your plain dress into a Victorian Christmas postcard. Black wool capes and velvet, silk or lace evening capes make easy Victorian cloaks and coats over large dresses. Victorian capes could be floor length or shorter hip length, with or without a hood.
Some fancy Victorian capes had fringe, lace and ruffles, or were made of rich brocade for evening wear. Large lace, wool, or velvet shawls were worn wrapped around shoulders and down to the hips as a light layer of warmth and fashion. A smaller scarf draping off the arms is a lovely look for a daytime stroll. In winter, homemade knit shawls, wraps and capes were what kept everyone warm. The poor used these as well as old blankets when working the streets of London. Scroll down to read the history of Victorian shawls and muffs with pictures (or click here to jump).
Shop these new Victorian capes, capes, capelets, cloaks, shawls, and wraps from around the web. Sewing patterns too. For heavier winter coats, jackets and cape coats shop here.
Victorian Capelet, Cape, Shawl
Victorian Shawls & Scarves
Article from Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories, Anne Buck, 1961
Victorian shawls were made in almost every known material, in every technique of textile construction. Their ornament was part of their making, or was added in embroidery and trimming. They were gathered or received influence from many countries of the world.
During the first half of the period, between 1837 and 1870, the shawl was one of the most fashionable of outdoor coverings. Squares or approximate squares, the double square and a square cut across the diagonal forming a triangle but without more shaping, are here all included as shawls, and the term scarf is given to those in which the length is more than double the width. The scarf had been the more fashionable shape early in the century and, up to 1830, square shawls were rather small, about one and a half yards square. Scarves were still being worn in the late 1830s and 1840s as summer wraps, but after the middle of the century they were less often fashionable, even for summer wearing. The size of shawls increased to a square of about sixty-four inches in the 1840s, and in the 1850s and 1860s shawls two yards square, and the double square of sixty-four inches by a hundred and twenty-eight or more, were worn over the spreading skirts. This increasing size is no final guide to date, but only a guide to the basic movement of fashion between 1840 and 1870.
The most prized of Victorian shawls are those of intricately woven pattern usually called Paisley shawls, but often examples of wool or cotton printed in bright colors with the same cone design are undeservedly prized, because “Paisley” has become synonymous with this ubiquitous nineteenth-century pattern. The Paisley shawl has an Indian origin, and the Indian shawls which were its prototype were also brought to this country from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The shawl of Indian origin which remains an Indian shawl without European versions is a shawl of twilled wool, composed of many smaller pieces, embroidered separately, in bright colored wools, and then sewn together. These shawls were made throughout the century and prized in Victorian England, but they were a nineteenth-century innovation in India to supply a cheaper version of the traditional woven shawl. This Indian shawl, which exerted a widespread influence in European fashion, was a shawl woven of goats’ wool in characteristic patterns. The development of the Indian shawl and its characteristic cone design, and the relations of the Indian, French and English shawl industries, have been fully dealt with and well illustrated in John Irwin’s excellent monograph, Shawls.
At the beginning of Victoria’s reign, shawls and scarves were imported from India; shawls of Indian pattern were imported from France; and similar shawls were being made in Britain at Norwich and Paisley. The Indian shawls were of fine goat-wool. The earlier versions made in this country were woven of silk and fine wool in a twill pattern, but, by the 1830s, fine wool, a substitute for the Indian goat-fleece, was being used for them. A shawl woven in silk and wool twill, with patterned borders sewn on and not woven in one piece, is likely to be earlier than 1840. Scarves may have deep patterned borders at the ends, woven in one piece, and narrow sewn-on borders. In most shawls and scarves earlier than 1840, the pattern is limited to the border and the center is left plain. Some shawls may have this center covered with a small repeating design, but the closely patterned area remains limited to the borders. Cream was the usual color for the ground, but in the 1830s many shawls were patterned in vivid colors against a black ground. The formalized cone design was the characteristic feature of nineteenth-century Indian, French and Paisley shawls; but it does not appear on every example.
During the 1840s, as the larger shawls grew more fashionable, the patterning of them grew richer, the borders deepening until, by 1850, the pattern covered the whole area of the shawl. A fine shawl was at this time a much-prized, much-desired acquisition. “Shawls were never more in favor than during the present winter. To say nothing of the products of the Indian looms or the highly and deservedly prized French cashmere, some of the newest specimens of our own British manufacture will find favor. . . . To say which is the favorite color for a shawl would be impossible, for the ground is completely covered by a rich mass of intricate and varied arabesques presenting an effect perfectly oriental” (Lady’s Newspaper, 1847).
The fashion continued throughout the 1850s, was declining in the 1860s and died out by about 1870. A reversible shawl, without a wrong side, the pattern identical on both sides, was introduced just at the end of the shawl’s period of fashion in the late 1860s. Many of the finer shawls were too much prized to be discarded and some appear again in new forms in the mantles of the 1870s and 1880s. “It seems a pity to cut up a valuable shawl to make a dolman, but such is being done now” (Ladies’ Treasury, 1880). There was still occasional use of them in their original form; a writer in the Queen in 1881 referred to a “long India shawl draped in a new manner”. Shawls of woven pattern of the mid-nineteenth century, Indian, French or Paisley, survive in hundreds still, evidence of a dominant nineteenth-century fashion.
The woven shawls were expensive. Cheaper imitations were printed with the same designs on wool, wool and cotton, or cotton fabrics. There were also printed shawls of finer quality, shawls of silk, or silk and wool, in gauze weave with the pattern printed in rich jewel-like colors. Many of these are the large rectangular shawls approximately five feet by ten feet.
In the 1830s, shawls of silk crepe, plain, embroidered, or with printed designs, were worn, and embroidered Chinese crepe shawls continued to be fashionable during the 1840s. Shawls of printed satin were also fashionable at the beginning of the period. Twilled silk—levantine—a material much used in the 1820s, was still used for shawls and scarves in the 1830s, plain or with figured patterns, but it is not often found in them after the 1840s. The 1830s fashion for bright colors against a dark ground appears in shawls of all kinds.
Shawls and scarves usually have fringed ends or borders. The fringes are of different kinds. The plainest is the fringe of warp threads left at each end. There is the simple knotting of these threads and the more elaborate knotting into two or three lines of mesh. Other fringes are knotted on to the ends or borders, strands of silk or wool being threaded through the edge of the material and then knotted. Or there is fringed braid which is sewn on.
Changeable or shot silk appears in shawls of the 1840s, and many shawls and scarves were made in the light, half-transparent woollen fabrics also fashionable at this time. Many light shawls and scarves survive of silk, wool, or a mixture of silk and wool, in gauze weave, or open weave, with striped borders of silk in a single bright color. Mainly from their colors, they suggest a period of wear between about 1840 and 1865. Some of these may have been shawls made to match a dress, which was a fashion of the early 1860s. Shawls and scarves of tartan stripes in silk and satin are also likely to date from the 1860s.
The white embroidered muslin which appeared everywhere in the costume of the 1830s and 1840s appeared also in shawls. Shawls of embroidered muslin were square or triangular, but a long scarf form in embroidered muslin seems to have been little worn. The shawls show the same patterns as other embroidered muslin accessories. Sometimes they are finished with a muslin frill with a scalloped edge, sometimes with an edging of bobbin lace. A number of them are lined with silk in pale colors.
Knitting in delicate openwork patterns in fine white wool, as practiced in the Shetland Islands, became fashionable for shawls in the 1840s, and patterns for knitting them and other accessories are often given in fashion journals, particularly between 1847 and 1850. Black shawls were also worn in the 1830s and 1840s, in silk, satin, and corded silk, often edged with lace, particularly black silk bobbin lace. There were also black shawls of lace, usually, either bobbin lace or machine net, embroidered in black silk. There was a revival of netting in black silk, and hand-netted shawls and scarves were fashionable summer wear from the beginning of the reign until about 1850.
Black lace shawls were much worn in the late 1850s and early 1860s when the mingling of black lace and light silk was a fashionable contrast. The finest of them are of silk bobbin lace, usually Chantilly, whose still graceful patterns and clear ground were displayed to perfection over the wide unbroken spread of light silk in a skirt of the 1860s. Others were in black silk Maltese bobbin lace and black silk machine lace. They were made either as squares or triangles, the squares usually two yards square to two and a half yards, the triangles with a diagonal of about three yards.
The lace shawls were the lighter shawls of summer wear. The contrast of black lace and light material was repeated in the warmer shawls of fine twilled wool, known as cashmere, white, grey or fawn, which were trimmed with black lace, or sometimes embroidered in black silk and beads. Shawls of scarlet cashmere with black lace trimming are likely also to belong to the 1860s, when the combination of bright scarlet and black and white appeared constantly in women’s dress. Black shawls in the same fabric, embroidered in black silk and lace-trimmed, were also worn during the 1860s.
Woollen shawls, woven in check patterns, about a yard and three-quarters square, were worn throughout the nineteenth century. They were, for most of the time, worn below the level of fashion. The type can still be seen occasionally in actual wear in the streets of industrial towns of North-west England.
Victorian muffs were carried during the winter months for most of the reign, although the fashion never at any time appears to have been universal. The muff had periods of greater or less popularity and there is one important change of style which came in the late 1870s. There is some variation in size and shape; but the very large muff falls outside the period, as it was fashionable in the early years of the century and was just coming into fashion again at the end.
In the first half of the reign the muff was usually a fur one. The kind of fur varies, partly according to the changing fashion in furs and partly according to the means of the wearer. Muffs of ermine were particularly fashionable from the beginning of the reign until about 1860, when they began to appear more rarely in the costume of fashionable women but were still regarded as suitable for children’s wear. Sable and chinchilla were also popular during the 1840s and 1850s. Muffs of this date were of medium size, a firm padded cylinder in form, about nine inches long with a circumference of about twenty inches. They were lined with silk, often quilted. The lining was drawn up at the ends by a ribbon tied in a bow. There were also velvet and satin muffs of the same shape, with a fur or swansdown border round each end.
A fashion note in the World of Fashion for 1845 said that muffs were made of every kind of fur, “with their usual accompaniment, these useful manchettes”. These fur cuffs, which are sometimes found making a set with a muff, were a fashion of the 1840s, although they also received fashionable mention again in the 1880s.
During the late 1850s, muffs became smaller and remained small for the next twenty years: “we are accustomed in England to see small muffs—if they are barely large enough to admit the two hands their dimensions are considered quite sufficient” (Queen, 1863). Sable was the first fur of the 1860s, chinchilla was still used and astrakhan became fashionable at this time. Sable remained the most prized of all furs until the end of the century. Muffs of grebe feathers were also a fashion of the middle years of the century. Fabric muffs, particularly velvet ones bordered with fur, continued to be used in the 1860s and 1870s. Like the fur muffs, they were usually smaller than the similar muffs from the early part of the reign.
Skunk was a fur of the 1870s, and astrakhan remained fashionable, but chinchilla was less used until the last years of the century when it once more became fashionable. The fur muffs of the 18 70s were often drawn up each end with a tasseled cord, an ornament which continued until the late 1880s. A muff of cock’s feathers was described in the Queen as the newest muff for the season of 1876. Up to the end of the 1870s, muffs were either a simple cylinder of fur or a similar shape in fabric with bands of fur bordering the ends. From about 1879 to 1890, the muff appeared in new shapes and new mixtures of material. Muffs of satin, plush and velvet, trimmed with lace appeared in 1879. During the 1880s, these plush and satin muffs, ornamented with fur, lace and ribbon, were as popular as fur muffs. They no longer followed the usual, simple muff form, but were elaborate in shaping and decoration. They were often loose and bag-shaped, and many of them were muff and bag combined. A characteristic ornament was a large bow of ribbon placed centrally, or at one side, and sometimes a small stuffed bird, a favorite ornament everywhere at this time, rested on them. The bows and birds also ornamented the fur muffs of the 1880s, for which astrakhan, fox, stone-marten, beaver and seal were popular furs.
In the 1890s, the muff returned to its plainer traditional form. Some were still small, but the fashion for larger, rather flat muffs became the dominant one, and the size at the end of the century was medium to large. Sable was still the favorite fur, but mink, chinchilla, astrakhan and fox were all used. The fashion for having the head and tail of the animal on the muff appeared in the 1890s.