Centennial International Exhibition, 1876
After covering the first world’s fair in London, the Crystal Palace of 1851, I would like to return to the States for the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. The Centennial Exhibition was held at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was the U.S.’s first major world’s fair, with over 250 buildings spanning 285 acres. A total of over 9.5 million visitors attended the fair. It also not only marked the centennial of our nation’s birth—it also led to the erection of the Arts and Industries Building (where we will celebrate A Night at the World’s Fair!).
The fair celebrated America’s founding as well as showcased exhibits of nations from around the world and new inventions. Attendees could see the Declaration of Independence along with the arm, hand, and torch of the Statue of Liberty. The telephone also made its debut at the fair.
What attire may have visitors worn to the fair to see cultural displays and innovation? Following last week’s post, I will describe a few popular trends in clothing that could be easily adapted into your modern wardrobe.
1870s women’s dress included the wearing of skirts and long bodices, with narrower silhouettes due to the use of corsets. There was a somewhat natural fullness in the back, which was created with crinolines, bustles, and overcoats, but not as extreme as earlier periods or the forthcoming fashions of the 1880s. Asymmetrical drapery was popular, with ruffles, frills, lace, and other trimmings worn as well. Bell or straight sleeves were popular. Clothing of darker colors, such as black as well as magenta, was in fashion, due to the invention of chemical dyes in the second-half of the nineteenth century. In addition, hairstyles were complex and worn high on the back of the head.
For men’s fashion, ready-to-wear clothing, that was mass-produced according to standardized sizes, rather than tailor-made garments, were available (we will continue to see ready-made clothing available to men and a little later widely available to women from this period to today). Beginning in the 1860s, ready-made, short, boxy sack coats, frock coats, and various overcoats of differing lengths and forms were popular. Trousers and waistcoats could be of contrasting patterns and colors, and winged shirt collars and hats such as bowlers were worn.
Similar to English fashions discussed last week, you can modify your wardrobe to incorporate some 1876 fashion staples. To achieve a modest bustled effect, fashion a bustled skirt following this tutorial. You could also find a longer skirt and bunch fabric underneath near the back for a quicker fix, layering a jacket or even a shawl—as seen in the wallpaper printing press engraving. Utilize darker colors to be fashionable, and complete the look with your hair gathered in a high knot (with a hat for extra period flair!).
Period men’s fashion can be added easily to your modern wardrobe of trousers and coats. A vest could simulate a waistcoat, worn over a shirt with a winged collar. Mixing of patterns could add a fun effect, topped with a bowler, cap, or top hat.
For more ideas, see my Pinterest board!
See the following sources for more information: