Victorian Clothing Terms Used in the Finishing School Books & What They Mean (Special Extras)

So Fashionable Reader,

I use a number of terms for articles of clothing in my Finishing School books.

Most of the time I’m aware that some of my readers aren’t familiar with the particulars. I try to use unfamiliar Victorian words in context that allows the reader to at least understand what kind of clothing it is (outerwear, underwear, upper body covering, lower, etc).

Nevertheless, here, for your edification, are some pictures of what these things actually look like!

Ever wondered as you read? Now you’ll know.


Agatha’s lace tuck:

Collar 1850s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Agatha’s lace tuck is always slipping.

You can think of it as kind of like a removable collar (see above) only it is worn around the lower part of the neckline of a deeper cut dress. It’s tucked in to hide some of the depth of cleavage. It’s prone to slipping because it is not stitched on.

Lace was expensive and you wanted to be able to reuse it. More common in the Regency Era prior to the Victorian Era, the lace tuck persisted in more conservative institutions through the 1850s until industrialized lace became inexpensive enough to stitch directly onto the necklines of dresses.


The pelerine or the fichu:

1850 Pelerine  The Metropolitan Museum of Art


A cape-like item worn so that peaks drape down in the front. Originally for warmth and modesty, later mostly decorative.

As the Victorian era progresses the pelerine came to mean longer point in the front while the fichu was smaller and more dainty.


Sophronia’s boots:

1851 Ankle Boots  The Victoria & Albert Museum


Sophronia’s boots have rubber soles, very unusual and uncommon right up through the turn of the century.

Most shoes had hard leather soles or softer ones for indoors (like dancing shoes still do today).


A basquine bodice:

1853 Basquine  The Metropolitan Museum of Art


In the Victorian era this term came to mean highly decorated jackets worn over ballgown bodices or wedding gowns. They were often used for travel, for example, to and from an event



1853 Bonnet  The FIDM Museum


A bonnet is a hat worn close the the head and tilted back, often providing very little sun protection.

Hair styles evolved to compensate, so the 1850s saw hair divided in the middle with lots of curls around the face and tight buns to the back for daytime.


Pagoda sleeves:

1850 Day Dress  The Kyoto Costume Institute


These sleeves are narrow at the top and very wide at the bottom.

In the 1850s they mirror the silhouette of the rest of the dress and were hugely popular. Geraldine’s girls love them for hiding all their wrist tools.

They were popular for day and walking dresses. They rarely appear on dinner gowns, however, because they would drag through the food!


Hair receiver:

Reminisce: What Are Hair Receivers?

Hair receivers were used to collect all the hair that came off of one’s hairbrush each day. After sufficient hair was collected, one would take it in to a hair weaver who would make the hair into a fall or pad or clip curls to easily augment ones up-dos. I know, I know, weird yet strangely logical.

And for your amusement, just read this description of what they wore…

“For breakfast she had a pretty flowered dressing-gown. At ten she put on a simple buisness-like tailor-made costume for shopping in Peterport. On returning she changed into a workday dress and an overall for kitchen operations. The overall was removed for lunch, and then, for the afternoon, a really good dress was put on for paying calls. When we came back a little exhausted from this strain of looking well and being polite, a loose tea-gown was the thing, and this remained on until it was time to dress for dinner.”

~ The Victorian House by Judith Flanders

Seven different outfits of clothes for an ordinary day.

Yours in terminology,

Miss Gail

This post originally appeared in Retro Rack.

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