Throughout the 19th century, civilian clothing for men and women imitated all sorts of military uniforms in cuts, trim styles, and names. Let’s look at some women’s styles from the the mid-19th century inspired by military wear.
First: the Bolero style jacket
Popular during the mid-19th century, the Bolero is simply a short jacket, usually worn open in front, often fastened at the neck. In the mid-19th century Bolero jackets were worn in all sorts of colors and with all sorts of trim; however, they were often seen in military uniform colors and with trimming styles reminiscent of military trimming, especially braiding.
Second: the Zouave style jacket
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Zouave jacket as follows: “A woman’s short embroidered jacket or bodice, with or without sleeves, resembling the jacket of the Zouave uniform.” The following quotes are included in the OED definition:
1859 Ladies’ Treas. Sept. 285/1 One of the most decided novelties of the present season is the Zouave jacket.
1859 Ladies’ Cabinet Dec. 335/1 Nothing can be prettier for the interior than the little oriental jackets which we call to-day Zouaves.
During the 19th century, this style gained the most popularity during the 1850s, when French Zouaves were fighting in the Crimean War, and during the American Civil War in the 1860s. You can see a few images of Zouave uniforms by looking at this post from a few weeks ago.
The description of the above image from Godey’s is as follows: “Morning-dress for young ladies, of plain merino or cashmere; the skirt trimmed by an inserting of velvet, several shades darker than the dress, with a row of buttons passing through it, and bordered by a rich braid pattern, known as the Greek. The Zouave jacket, which we have before spoken of, forms the waist. It is modelled from the Greek jacket, and has a close vest, with two points; the jacket, itself, rounding over the hips, and fitting easily to the figure. A Gabrielle ruff, and neck-tie finish it.”
Further information about this style was included in the Chitchat section of the same issue of Godey’s: “The Zuoave jackets may be made in black cloth or velvet, for home wear, with skirts whose waists have “outlived their usefulness.” They are especially suitable with dark silks, and a waist of this kind with a black silk skirt will do any amount of street service. Black silks are trimmed with a combination of black and crimson, black and purple, etc. when intended for dress occasions.”
c. 1862 Dress with Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Given the description (above) from Godey’s about the Zouave jacket fashion plate, I think this c. 1862 dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art falls into the category of a Zouave jacket rather than a Bolero. Clearly, this yellow dress has a jacket with a double pointed vest silhouette, rather than the Bolero style of the jacket with a blouse underneath. Regardless, this dress is quite fabulous! The pattern matches the trimmings exceptionally well in terms of style, and the whole ensemble is quite wonderful (including the crisscross braiding and tassels!).
The quotes are from the digital Godey’s excerpts at the University of Vermont, which can be viewed here.
In my last post (Returning Heroes 1860s Ball 2011) I mentioned that one of my favorite moments of the night was dancing a waltz with a Zouave. First of all, what is a Zouave? Secondly, why would I be dancing a waltz with one at at 1860s ball???
In the 1830s, the French military fighting in North Africa incorporated a tribe of fierce fighters into their ranks. These original soliders were renowned for their skills. In fact, in 1852 the French created three units of Zouaves to be entirely of Frenchmen. These French Zouaves achieved legendary status for themselves during the Crimean War (1854-1855). More detailed information about their involvement can be found in this history of Zouaves (this site also has some great pictures of Zouave regiments). The French Zouaves were quite inspirational to American forces during the American Civil War: both the Confederate and Union armies formed Zouave regiments who wore imitations of the French uniforms.
Now we know what a Zouave is. Why would I be dancing with one? Well, the idea of the Returning Heroes Ball is that “Gentlemen in uniforms of both sides of that great conflict are welcome.” So it is perfectly reasonable for a Zouave be dancing alongside the formally clothed men at the ball. Fun!