Seasonal Dress Changes for Autumn/Winter in the Victorian and Meiji Eras

Bibliotheca September 2022 – Preparation: Here We Come to the Turning of the Seasons

I’m SO ready for autumn! ❤

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! This month’s theme for the Bay Area Kei Bibliotheca blog circle was suggested by the fabulous Cupcake Kamisama: “preparation.” And what perfect timing! Last week (at the time of writing) was the Autumn Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere which is when I traditionally prepare for the cooler weather by putting away my summer blouses and unboxing long-sleeved blouses, capes, and cloaks. I only have two boxes of seasonal clothing to swap out, but what about my Victorian and Edo-period sisters? 😀

Girl on the Right looks SO over this party.

What women wore in the winter in Victorian England and America varied based on where they lived, of course, but much like in Japan Victorian houses were much colder than modern ones. It may surprise you that often summer and winter clothes alike were made of wool, but it breathes and wears well, so often women of smaller means would wear dresses (technically a two-piece ensemble) and gowns (one-piece garments) of wool in both summer and winter. Wealthier women might have whole wardrobes just for the summer, of course, and cotton and linen were very popular for that season for those with the means. In that case, they would definitely transition to wool or silk come autumn, however!

If any of these ladies want to sell me their coats, they know where to find me. 😀

Victorian women of all classes tended to prepare for winter chiefly with accessories, particularly coats, wrappers, and cloaks. Fur and feather trims were added for those who could afford them, but everyone had something to drape over their dress. Full-length coats were more common in the Natural Form era of the 1870s, whereas in the second Bustle Era of the 1880s dolmans were more common. (A dolman is a coat with draping sleeves that either stops at the waist in back but drapes in front, or is cut/pleated in back to accommodate the bustle.) Cloaks and capes were popular throughout the era in different cuts and styles, and remain one of my favorite types of winter garment! (Just wait until you see the tartan and velvet cloak I have for this autumn…) 🙂

I’m SO glad I bought these boots when they released; I’ve never seen anything like them since. Image from American Duchess.

As far as additional accessories, the sky was the limit! Fur muffs were very popular for warming the hands, and might even have a hot water bottle tucked inside! Fur-lined carriage boots could be laced over normal shoes for additional warmth and to protect them against the cold, and warmer hats or even veils against the snow and wind were common as well. Women also doubled up on their undergarments – adding flannel petticoats or drawers, or additional layers of silk ones under their skirts for more warmth. In short, just like today, women layered up, added winter-specific accessories, and changed the fabric of their garments when practical to stay cozy all winter long!

All right, buckle up. Image from The Kimono Lady.

A lot of what we know about seasonal kimono changes in the Edo period in Japan is preserved in rules governing appropriate kimono wear for tea ceremony practitioners today. There are a lot of little micro-rules for modern folks as you can see above, but the average woman in the later part of the Edo period would likely have owned three types of kimono – cotton (for the absolute heat of summer – in the earlier period it would have been a bast fiber like hemp), unlined silk for the spring and autumn shoulder seasons, and lined silk for the depth of winter.

Traditionally awase kimono were worn for about eight months out of the year, so it’s the most common type. Image from PrintsOfJapan.

While the dates for changing clothes for tea ceremony are quite strict (yes the book I linked is nearly 800 pages long, and yes I own it), kimono in the Edo period (and for fashion today) was dictated by the actual local weather conditions. Japan covers over 2000 miles north to south, after all! Typically by October, though, most Edo-period women would have switched to lined kimono to ward off the cold.

Edo-period hanten, from Wikimedia Commons

Just like ladies in Victorian England/America, Japanese women in the Edo period would start piling on the accessories as it got colder! Hanten, or thigh-length padded jackets, were the most common, and upper class women might wear a full-length padded over-kimono called an uchikake. Under-layers might include warmer juban (under-kimono), or even pants to keep warm. They also often wore scarves over their hair and face to keep out the wind and snow. Upper-class women (who took their fashion cues from the courtesans of Yoshiwara during the Edo period) might wear long-toothed geta, or sandals, to keep their feet out of snowdrifts and puddles, as well! They also huddled under kotatsu (tables with a brazier underneath, covered by a quilt) when inside for additional coziness.

“Can I stop posing now please!?” Image from the 1890s, so technically Meiji!

Honestly, I’m already looking forward to wearing both my capes and my lined kimono! 😀 No matter where you live, there are probably some seasonal changes in your climate that need preparing for – when I lived in Southern California, this was about when I gritted my teeth and braced for the Santa Ana winds – and the need to stay comfortable in one’s clothes hasn’t changed much over the centuries! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning how women in the Victorian and Edo periods prepared their autumn and winter wardrobes, 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!
Cupcakes and Unicorns Plans Her Outfits in Advance
Mahou Queen Prepares to Attend Meetups

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

2 thoughts on “Seasonal Dress Changes for Autumn/Winter 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: