Charles Lauri as ‘The French Poodle’, The Sketch Magazine, 15th March 1893. Museum no. 131655. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

No, not that kind! THIS kind:

Note the definitions for “costume”, above, from google.

  1. A set of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period,
  2. A set of clothes worn by an actor or other performer for a particular role or by someone attending a masquerade” (perhaps 2018’s most common definition),
  3. A set of clothes, especially a woman’s ensemble, for a particular occasion or purpose, an outfit.

Notice the “use over time” of the word “costume” in English. The quickly growing popularity from 1800 to 1850, where the use is very high, sustains usage with only a slow decline through the end of the century (and ’til 1950).

So, was my use of “costume” when referring to the many ‘dresses’ owned by Dr. Isabella Pattison, DDS, correct? I argue that yes, it was.

Why not “dress”?

Note the google definitions, above, for the NOUN use of “dress”.

  1.  A one-piece garment for a woman or girl that covers the body and extends down over the legs.
  2.  Clothing of a specified kind for men or women (such as traditional African dress, or dress attire such as a military uniform).

Note: while “dress” certainly is acceptable for Victorian era women’s clothing, keep in mind that most “outfits” in the 1880s through 1900 were not a one-piece garment. See the examples, below.

Examples of mid- to late-19th Century Ladies’ Costumes

Dress, U.K., 1860. Three pieces (skirt, daytime bodice, evening bodice). The image makes it easy to see construction, as well as versatility, design, and and that not all “dresses” are one-piece (most often in the 19th century, they were not). Image: Pinterest.

1880s Bustle Gown. Note the bodice (top / jacket) is a separate piece of the outfit than is the skirt (and overskirt). Image: Pinterest.

1890s Ladies’ “Suit” or “Costume”. Note the jacket is a separate piece from the skirt. Image: Pinterest.

Vintage Photograph of a lovely woman in a stylish suit, dated 1890. This style makes it very easy to see it’s a three-piece suit (plus a dickie or blouse, with necktie). Image: Pinterest. I saved this image to “Dr. Isabella Pattison’s Wardrobe” Pinterest Board (category). You’re welcome to visit this category, or the board for Isabella’s Calico Groom Novella.

A wedding dress, dated 1890. This garment is truly a dress–a one-piece item that covers the body and legs. Image: Pinterest.

1890’s bicycling woman wears a white blouse and a darker skirt. Highly fashionable costume! Image: Pinterest.

Up Next!

Victorian Collars and Cuffs

followed by ~

The Victorian Man’s Suit of Clothes

These posts detailing the proper clothing worn by both women and men played a role in Isabella’s Calico Groom (more so than usual), so I’ve included these explanatory and visual posts containing the history of Victorian fashion circa 1890 for both sexes. (Did you know the term “gender“, in this context, wasn’t used in 1890? That’s why I consistently used the late Victorian-era term “sex” in Isabella’s Calico Groom, such as when the Professional Women are discussing the complications faced by their sex when choosing to invade the Man’s World.)


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