Unlike earlier editions of Ackermann’s, in which the pseudonymous Arbiter Elegantiarum doled out fashion advice as part and parcel of the month’s commentary on its fashion plates, March 1813’s issue includes a separate column devoted to “personal decoration.” It is couched as a letter from a fashionable young lady, Julia, who has taken up abode in Grosvenor-square, and is writing to an unnamed correspondent in the country (an aunt, perhaps?) Did Ackermann realize that young women would be more receptive to fashion advice in the form of up-to-the-minute news from a friendly female rather than as hectoring advice about what should be from an unknown gentleman?
After the opening two paragraphs of polite greetings and assurances of friendship and continuing decorous behavior, Julia begins her discussion of fashion by asking her correspondent to “inform my cousins, that the Merino cloth coats they purchased last winter, may, with a little transformation, be considered very fashionable for the present season.” Today, if someone were told to “transform” her clothing by taking off some ornaments and replacing them with others, one might be forgiven for assuming that she had not the funds to purchase new garments. But in the nineteenth century, because the price of many fashionable fabrics was so high, many a well-off lady refashioned her garments to suit current trends.
In 1813, “the Russian costume pervades every order of personal decoration,” Julia declares, which accounts for the “helmet à la Russe” which she plans to purchase for her country cousins, as well as the frequent appearance of ermine, mole, sable, and other skins from animals native to “the North” on the coats of London’s fashionables this season. (See January and February 1813’s posts for examples)
Despite January 1813’s fashion plates, which both featured cloaks, Julia declares that “coats of cloth, satin, or velvet have been in more request this winter,” as cloaks, unless “worn over a spencer, are not found of sufficient warmth to secure the wearer from the inclemency of a severe season.”
Julia also imparts news about women’s hair styles and gowns and reports that “broaches, representing natural flowers, and sprigs of the same, for the hair, are among the novelties most attractive in this order of female adornment.”
After reading Julia’s letter, do you think you’d know enough to dress yourself to meet 1813’s fashion demands?