Victorian-era fashion

  • 2010-10-27
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

CLEANING THE FLOOR WITH ELEGANCE: The exhibition Fashion of the Victorian Era in the Vilnius Museum of Applied Art.

VILNIUS - The exhibition Fashion of the Victorian Era in the Vilnius Museum of Applied Art, which is a branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum, will be presented until December 31, 2010. United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria reigned in 1837-1901, longer than any other English monarch. The UK had a bigger influence on global affairs than any other country and therefore, her reign can be called an important era in world history. The exhibition of clothing which is already long ago out of fashion, was so extremely popular (especially among women) that its show was prolonged by the Lithuanian Art Museum a couple of times. Earlier, this exhibition was shown in Paris, London, Brussels, Istanbul, Moscow, Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Santiago, and Riga.

The exhibition is the collection of Alexandre Vassiliev. He was born in Moscow in 1958. In 1982, avoiding serving in the military during the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, Vassiliev married a Frenchwoman and moved to Paris, although he told The New York Times, “It wasn’t purely a marriage of arrangement - we had some fun.” In Paris, he started his international career as fashion historian and costume designer in opera and ballet theaters. After the collapse of communism, Vassiliev became a celebrity and fashion guru on Russian TV and in Russia’s glamorous magazines as well. Since his childhood, he, like many children of Moscow’s cultural elite, visited Lithuania with his parents during the summer-time – it was the only possibility for Moscow’s intellectuals to visit ‘the West’ in those times. Now Vassiliev has two favorite homes – an apartment in Paris and a house in Vilnius where he spends all his summers.

The exhibition presents not only costumes but also fans, umbrellas, hats, jewels, handbags, waistcoats, bodices, lorgnettes, and other accessories. It can be interesting also to historians – the recent history research trend moves from battles and treaties, which are already examined quite thoroughly, towards interest in the life-styles of the past. Some costumes are from famous French couture houses, the House of Doucet and the House of Paquin, as well as the British House of Worth – all of them were established in the Victorian era. The exhibition’s items are from England, France, Italy, and Russia but they also give an idea how the upper class of Vilnius’ inhabitants dressed at that time – the fashion in Vilnius was no different from the rest of Europe.

The 19th century views on women’s belt-lines were rather demanding: the average was expected to have a 55 centimeter waist while the biggest ones could have up to 65 centimeters and the slimmest had a 50 centimeter belt-line in their costumes. No wonder fainting was so common amongst young ladies during balls of the 19th century. However, it is worth mentioning that Europeans at that time were a little bit shorter than they are now: the average woman was 150-160 centimeters in height and average man was 170-175 centimeters tall. The usual size for women’s shoes were sizes 33 and 34.

The Museum of Applied Art (Arsenalo Street 3A) is open on Wednesdays – Saturdays from 11:00 to 18:00 and on Sundays from 11:00 to 16:00. Closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and national holidays.