Saturday, February 9, 2019

THE BIRTH OF SPORTSWEAR--AND AN INTRIGUING IMAGE

leaning on a column from the house of Lady Cornelia Baroness Wimborne (1847-1927), sister of Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, at Canford Magna near Bournemouth.
This photograph of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, was supposedly taken at the home of her sister-in-law, Lady Cornelia Guest, Baroness Wimbourne.  And it's dated 1892. She's wearing British country-house clothing--not exactly a riding habit, but a walking suit, correct for casual days spent striding around the estate. These were separates--a blouse worn with a skirt indoors, the jacket only donned for exterior wear. The fact that Jennie has left hers unbottoned, to reveal the glorious lace jabot of her blouse, emphasizes the informality--what Coco Chanel would term "sportswear" in the next century.

Jennie's youthful face and figure suggest the 1892 date is fairly accurate--she would have been 38 years old that year--but I can't square the almost Edwardian walking suit she's wearing with the late 1890s. So I did some visual research.

Here's a walking suit from 1891:



Notice the much shorter tails of the jacket and the much fuller skirt. The shape is still hourglass, suggesting tight corseting. And here are a few more images, specifically from 1892: The one on the left is from the Metropolitan Museum's collection, and the one on the right is a fashion plate from 1892. In that, the impossibly tall woman on the left is wearing the longer jacket. But the skirts, again, seem too full.



Walking suits from a decade later, however, track more closely with Jennie's in the photograph above: There silhouette is boxier, and although there's still obviously a waist, it looks freer than the corseted silhouette of a decade earlier. Jennie, in the photograph, is wearing a belt--so it's difficult to tell whether her suit is as boxy as an Edwardian one.


In the end, however, I had to take Jennie's hat into consideration. It's nothing like a hat from 1905, when brims were vast and trimmings lavish. 



Lady's hat, 1905
I'm forced to conclude, therefore, that Jennie was simply fashion-forward in 1892--in this, as in so many things, ahead of her time.






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