Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To Match or Not To Match

There is an ongoing discussion among reenactresses as to whether or not ladies of the 1860s matched their accessories to their dresses with. On one end of the spectrum we see uninformed ladies buying a cloth and making the dress, purse, and shawl out of it - all matching. On the other end we find reenactors cautioning us against being "matchy matchy" in any way. Period. As with all extremes, research shows us that the middle road is usually the most accurate.

In looking at engravings, fashion plates, and paintings of the times, it looks like 1860s ladies both matched and contrasted - just like we do today. While they didn't make their dresses, purses, and shawls out of the same material, they did often coordinate the colors.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, following is a small sample for illustration.

Notice the lady on the right is wearing a pink dress and matching pink flowers in her hair. However, the lady on the left has chosen to accent her blue gown with white and green - contrasts.
Le Bon Ton, April 1863

In this fashion plate we see a lady matching her hairpiece to the trim on her dress.
Le Moniteur de la Mode, June 1862

Lest you think that matching is merely a fluke of the person adding color to these fashion plates, here is a formal painting showing some beautiful color matching. Only two shades of blue are used in the ensemble.

Mathilde, by Peirre Franois Eugene Giraud, 1861

Below is a helpful example of both matching and non-matching ensembles. We see the lady in white wearing the same roses on her dress that she has in her hair. On the other hand, we see a lady in purple and yellow wearing red trim! Wow! The lady in the middle front is quite harmonious as she uses pink, white and green florals to compliment her pink dress.

Godey's Lady's Book, January 1862

If you want to see some real "matchy matchiness" going on, take a look at these ladies! Both of them are wearing matching ribbons and flowers on their cap or bonnet. 


Le Monieur de la Mode, 1861

The lady below has matched her cap ribbons to the trim on her morning wrapper. 

Musee des Familles, 1860

Here is another gorgeous example of a complete contrast. This lady has chosen to accent her black dress with striking coral jewelry. 

Portrait of Marii Sawiczewskiej, 1861

This painting  below by John Bagnold Burgess is about as non-matching as you can get - pink dress, black and white hat, gold and white striped shawl and purple parasol!


I'll end with a lovely painting that shows both elements - matching and non-matching - in one lady's outfit. Notice that her neck bow and bonnet ties are apparently created from the same ribbon. However, notice that the bonnet itself is yellow, with a different shade of berries. And her gorgeous shawl has just about every color of the rainbow!

"Look At The Time" by Gustave de Jonghe

It seems pretty clear that Victorians enjoyed both matching and contrasting. The important thing to consider when creating your ensemble is not necessarily whether all of the colors match or not, but whether you are using the right materials for each item. This should rule out the improper "matchy matchy" look of the non-researcher, because we don't typically use the very same materials for every ensemble item - dresses, bonnets, purses, shawls, etc. Once you choose correct materials, enjoying matching or contrasting - it's up to you!

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