Vacation Dress and Destination in the Victorian and Meiji Eras

Bibliotheca July 2022 – Vacation: What Happens in Ise Stays in Ise

Nothing says seaside promenades like blue stripes! ❤ Image from The Victorian Dressmaker, vol 2

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Or, if you’re here for the first time from the Bay Area Kei Bibliotheca blog circle – then just plain welcome! ❤ My application to join an incredible lineup of bloggers, fashion enthusiasts, and artists was just accepted this month, and although it’s not required, there’s a theme each month for affiliated bloggers to explore should they wish. I’ve been doing so many projects lately that I haven’t had as much time for the history side of this blog, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to make that happen!

Although I dabble in other periods, my particular era of historical interest is generally the 1800s or what’s known as the Victorian Era in England and the US (approximately 1837-1901), and the later part of the Edo Period and early Meiji Period in Japan (the entire Edo period was about 1603-1867, and Meiji ran from 1868-1912). There was so much growth and change during that time everywhere in the world, and the clothing was just fantastic. Additionally, the expansion of the middle class in these three countries in particular meant that many people had time for leisure – and therefore, vacations! So, where did they go? And – more importantly – what did they wear? 😀

1860s trekking and climbing gear. Image from The Victorian Dressmaker, vol 2.

The short answer is “everywhere,” and “clothing that made sense for the occasion,” just like today! 🙂 For a Victorian woman who wanted to indulge in new outdoor activities like hiking or rock climbing, this meant sturdy fabrics and skirts that were actually above her ankles. The scandal! 😀 For visiting the sea, she would likely wear washable linen or cotton dresses (salt spray would absolutely ruin silk) – and in the latter part of the era (1890s or so) she would change into a smart bathing suit to enjoy the waters.

There were even bathing corsets that were lighter-weight and more flexible! Image from Sporting Fashion.

Victorians absolutely loved to travel, and just like today it was recommended that they wear layers that were easy to add or remove to suit the weather, and to make washing easier after the dust of being in a carriage or train for hours – just like today when your clothes for flying overseas are likely to focus on comfort and ease of cleaning afterward.

How’s that for a photo op!? Image from Sporting Fashion.

And, just as now, sometimes Victorians simply wanted to stroll around a place and take in the sights. It was very common therefore for women in particular to wear an overdress/wrapper/coat to protect their clothing and allow them to worry less about the local conditions and more about what amazing scenery, people, or shopping there was to see and do!

I don’t know how practical that hat is, but I WANT it! Image from Patterns of Fashion 1.

In the late Edo period in Japan, very similar conditions were occurring as in Victorian England and America, and just like their Western counterparts the Japanese of the period absolutely loved travel. The most common form of travel used pilgrimage to a far-away shrine – or, better yet, a whole series of them! – as an excuse to leave town for months.

That poor horse… Image from Edo Culture

Clothing tended to be similar to what was worn in daily life – kimono (or kosode, the precursor to the kimono); usually several of them layered in the current fashion, straw sandals, and a sedge hat (particularly for women) to keep off the sun. Men might wear a type of pants or breeches beneath their hiked up kimono if they were of a laborer class, or if they were walking (to keep their kimono from dragging in the dirt). Whole industries sprang up around the popular tourist routes just like modern tourist traps, complete with overpriced restaurants touting the local specialties, and buskers and itinerant sellers lining the streets hoping to earn the tourists’ dollars. (Or monme, in this case!)

It’s not a pilgrimage without street musicians! Image from Edo Culture

Edo-period vacationers enjoyed activities in town as well – women queued up for rickshaw rides at the shrines in places like Nara, for example. Basically the same energy as Miami rickshaw touts today! Women almost always carried a parasol or umbrella if they didn’t wear a hat, but could wear finer zori rather than straw sandals when in town since they wouldn’t be expected to walk as far, or for as long.

These guys must have gotten tired holding this pose! Image from Japan 1900.

And of course, the place to see and be seen was during hanami – cherry blossom viewing season. Hanami dates back to the 700s in Japan for the elite, but in the Edo period cherry trees were planted en masse at temples, shrines, along riverbanks, and in various public gardens so that they could be enjoyed by all. A particular pattern for kimono became extremely chic in Edo (Tokyo) itself, called edokomon – literally “Edo fine patterns.” It was a repeating pattern that from a distance appeared to be a solid or nearly solid color, but up close revealed itself to be myriad tiny dots or shapes.

“Please stop taking my picture” – these ladies, probably. Image from Japan 1900

I find it wonderful and astonishing that today, we’re no different from our compatriots of the past. We still love to dress up beautifully, travel to distant places, see new things, and spend time with people we love – or make new friends! Whether in the 1820s or the 2020s, we still love to go on vacation. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of fashion and vacationing in the Victorian and Edo periods, and I look forward to seeing you back here next week on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

Check out what other members of Bibliotheca had to say about this month’s topic!
Bay Area Kei Goes South
Crimson Reflections Holds a Spring Tea
Dearie Dawn Shares a J-Fashion Friendly Guide to Toronto
Mahou Queen Helps You Travel With Lolita Fashion

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

4 thoughts on “Vacation Dress and Destination in the Victorian and Meiji Eras

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: