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A Wisconsin woman wearing a walking suit very similar to Elizabeth Belle Hayden’s. Whi(V22)1448

A Wisconsin woman wearing a walking suit very similar to Elizabeth Belle Hayden’s.

History of the 1894 Walking Suit and Notes on Mid 1890s Fashions
The 1894 Walking Suit pattern is based on a garment worn by Elizabeth Belle Hayden of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Belle graduated from high school in 1894 and that fall taught school in her home town. She probably wore this suit while teaching. Her intention was to go to college, primarily to study art, but in March of 1895 she died suddenly of typhoid pneumonia. Belle was 19 years old. Forty years later her sisters donated her carefully preserved wardrobe to the Wisconsin Historical Society, including the Walking Suit’s gloves, shoes, and matching hat.

The navy blue wool and brown silk check used in Elizabeth’s suit.

Belle’s suit, made of a soft navy blue wool broadcloth and a crisp brown silk with tiny checks, was the ideal outfit for a young, working woman. The August 25, 1894 issue of Harper’s Bazar illustrated a gown similar to Belle’s, though the bodice insert was made of cream-white embroidery instead of silk. The magazine wrote that the dress was perfect for "the jeune fille--the young girl still in her teens." It noted that gowns for girls of this age should be "distinguished by [their] extreme simplicity, depending for beauty on their cut and fine fit, and their absence of elaborate trimmings."
In their list of appropriate fabrics for these gowns the magazine included "soft, clinging wools" and "silks in small checks."  In February 1894 The Ladies’ Home Journal encouraged the use of serge and other rough-surfaced wools for business attire. However, the previous month Harper’s Bazar had written that "serge dresses are fashionable this season for all but the very youngest women." Ultimately, Belle chose a fabric appropriate to her age rather than her occupation.

Fashion illustration of a gown very similar to Elizabeth’s. The caption noted that it was the perfect dress for a teenage girl. Harper’s Bazar, August 25, 1894

Belle combined design elements and fabrics appropriate for "the jeune fille" with colors suitable for working women. In the same article mentioned above, Ladies’ Home Journal wrote that "dark colors are always to be preferred" for business dress, but added, "A dark color does not of necessity mean black, there are, besides, navy blue, seal brown, Lincoln green and a deep cardinal. Any one of these colors is suitable for business wear, and not one of them is tiresome to the eye." Belle may have been influenced by similar advice.

The hourglass silhouette can be seen in this Reception Gown from Paris. Harper’s Bazar, September 29, 1894

When Belle made her dress, the hour-glass silhouette was in its heyday. To acquire this look women wore dresses that had large leg-o’- mutton sleeves, a small waist, and a flaring skirt. In early 1894 The Delineator described the sleeves as "bouffant above the elbows, but [showing] a decided droop at the top." In other words the sleeve puff was not to extend above the shoulder line. The Delineator later wrote that "This mode of shaping favors the application of epaulettes or caps, which are in consequence very frequently seen." Belle’s suit could have been one of those "frequently seen" dresses, since it has epaulette-like trim on the shoulders in the shape of large bows.

Front View

Back View

Before 1894 bodices came to a "v" point at the front and back. That year, several fashion magazines described the stylish waistline as coming to a short point in the front or back, like Belle’s, or having no point at all. Fashion editors considered the new waistlines attractive on the young, but often added that stout and older women should continue to wear the slenderizing "v" point on their gowns.

Left: The newest bodice in 1894 had droopy leg-o'-mutton sleeves, a short point at the waistline, and caps or epaulette-like trim on the shoulders. The Delineator, February 1894

Women in 1894 wore their skirts smooth at the front and sides, and pleated or gathered at the back. The Delineator, January 1894

In their January 6, 1894 issue, Harper’s Bazar described the ideal flared skirt: "It is about four yards and a half wide around the foot [circumference], where it barely escapes the floor all around, and fits smoothly at the top on the front and sides, the back being gathered, or else
held in four or six pleats." Belle’s skirt matches this description exactly, even to the number of pleats used to give fullness at the back. As the year went on, The Delineator noted several times that skirt fullness was to be "confined to the back," but that this trend should not affect the flare of the skirt. Skirts of this era maintained their rigid flare with the use of stiff interfacings made of hair cloth or canvas that could be up to 15" to 20" deep.

Two years after Belle Hayden’s death the hourglass fashion was on the wane. The leg-o’- mutton sleeves disappeared first, then the bodice became blousy at front, and finally a new corset pushed the hips back. Taken together these changes made women look like an "S" or swan in profile, creating a style that remained popular from 1899 to 1909.

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©2002 Wisconsin Historical Society
Last updated April 02, 2002