I bow to nobody in my appreciation of Weird Victorian Antics, hold a gold medal for getting distracted by bizarre stuff from Victorian periodicals and should in any case really be concentrating on my viva prep / teaching prep / article.
Neverthless, thanks to a database search gone (so) wrong, I just found the following paragraph at the start of an 1888 article on women’s fashion and beauty:
“Hints to Women: […]
TEA GOWNS. If you want to look your prettiest, to bewitch your husband or big brother, to fascinate your cousin or to charm your friends en masse, get a tea gown.” [emphasis mine. Like the screams]
The guilty publication was The Daily Inter Ocean, published on 12 February 1888 in Chicago, presumably then a city of webbed feet, hairy backs and family trees that would have made Queen Victoria’s maddest lapdog look like a good genetic prospect.
The article then goes on to say that the tea dress is “strikingly English”, to which I can only respond with a whoa there, 1880s Chicago, don’t blame your scary sibling-bewitching fashion tips on us.
Please use the comments to offer suggestions on what other fashions might have been great, er, ice-breakers in the 1880s, attempt a serious discussion about what this article says about the brother/sister dynamic, or just join me in repeating or big brother in whatever typeface best suits your “my eyes, it burns” textual needs.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.