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A Passion for Fashion from A Tailor-Made Bride
Women have always been drawn to fashion, and the Texas frontier was no different than any other setting. From wealthy ranch wives to schoolmarms to women working on the farm, females shared a common thirst for fashion. Practicality won out for slopping the pigs or hanging out the wash, but for church, a picnic, or party, every woman wanted to look her best. And with the advent of fashion magazines becoming readily available through the post, a woman need not live in the fine cities of the east to know what the latest styles dictated.
Harper's Bazaar, Peterson's Magazine, The Delineator, and Godey's Lady's Book were some of the favorites during the latter half of the 19th century.
Many women longed for a dress of their own to match the pictures in the magazines but did not have the talent necessary to recreate the lines without a pattern. So they skimped and saved in order to pay a professional seamstress to create the look for them. Hannah Richards built a business on granting these desires.
In 1881, the bell-shaped skirts of the Civil War era had been left behind and the bustles of the 1870s had not yet made their comeback, so the style of the day exemplified slender silhouettes with feminine flounces and frills.
This sample from Godey's shows the slender lines, layered flounces on the skirts, and the vibrant colors women of this time period enjoyed. The women on the ends are wearing the snug fitting basque bodices that extend to the edge of the hips while the dresses on the women next to them exemplify the longer polonaise style bodice that becomes more of an overskirt as it drapes past the knees or even the ankles.
Below is a fashion plate from the September 1881 issue of Peterson's Magazine. Note the tiny, corseted waists and gathered, draping fabric across the hips and upper leg area of the two models on the right. This horizontal draping was very indicative of the early 1880s. Some of the most popular fabrics included silk (lightweight for eveningwear, faille, lampas, and gros grain varieties for walking dresses), wool (merino, cashmere), satin (often brocaded), and velvet. Of course, women with a more modest budget had to make do with linen, muslin, and calico. Yet in the hands of a capable dressmaker, the results still translated into fashionable ensembles.
When Hannah befriends Cordelia Tucker, she itches to get the poor dear out of the drab brown and navy work dresses she wears every day. No wonder she hadn't caught the eye of the gentleman she favors. Everything about her image whispers shy, nondescript, boring. She needs an ensemble to reflect the warm, playful personality that resides beneath her quiet exterior and colors that bring out her natural beauty. When Cordelia approaches Hannah with a plea to make her beautiful in time for the Founder's Day Picnic, Hannah eagerly embraces the task.