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Delineator Magazine Reflected Victorian Lifestyles

The Delineator magazine won a robust readership from its first edition in 1869. Like all publications, it catered to the specific tastes, interests and dreams of its readers. Focusing primarily on fashion, home décor and lifestyles for an increasing population of middle class women, the Delineator Magazine offers us a window into their lives.

Originally titled The Metropolitan Monthly the publication debuted out of New York in 1869. A product of the Butterick Publishing company, it was primarily an illustrated fashion magazine. Each edition included clothing patterns along with articles on needlework, embroidery and home décor as well as short stories and lifestyle columns about “modern women” of the day.

According to New York Public Library,

“With rapid advances in printing technology through the 1800s, periodical publication grew from a few dozen magazines to a few thousand by the turn of the 20th century.” 

The Ladies’ Mercury was the first women’s magazine published in Britain in 1693. In America, Godey’s Lady’s Book published its first edition in 1832. You can browse many of the early publications in the NYPL digital collection.

While Godey’s was one of the most successful in terms of readership, The Delineator magazine also captured a growing audience.

In addition to women’s fashion styles of the day, this January 1899 edition offers a look at trends and issues relevant that year.

Millinery Trends Were In Question

The Delineator magazine had a regular Millinery section featuring the latest news in hats. Dark-blue velvet dotted with white and faced with white satin, shaded pink chiffon, huge shaded red roses and appliqués of chenille and baby ribbons were must-haves in January of 1899.

Mink fur and birds were still featured in this issue, despite the trend toward conservation.

“Modish realizations of the milliner’s art show attractive associations of ethereal textiles with rich velvets, a pheasant’s breast or wing, graceful plume and jeweled ornament, giving essential decoration.”

Sadly, the editors of this column were out of step with trends toward conservation. The magnitude of the later Victorian Era plume trade continued to escalate. By the 1900s an estimated five million birds worldwide were slaughtered yearly in the name of fashion.

Although women were blamed for creating the industry, many early female conservationists worked to reverse the horrific trend by changing public attitudes and promoting bird friendly fashion. As early as the 1890s environmentalists publicly shamed women who wore feathers. A New York Times article titled “Murderous Millinery” stated that women deserved to be shunned for exhibiting themselves in the “relics of murdered innocence.”

On May 14, 1892 Punch published this cartoon titled “A Bird of Prey.” It depicted a woman as a “fashion-mad harpy” preying on birds for their feathers.

Notions Of Acceptable Female Behavior Were Changing

By January of 1899, women were enjoying new freedoms. The Delineator magazine featured college news that would have been unthinkable a few decades before when women did not attend college. Now young women were enjoying a wide range of physical activities.

“The college girl of to-day pays almost as close attention to the development of her muscles as of her brain, with the result that she is a far healthier and happier young specimen of womanhood than her colleague of the early days of the higher education for women. That she is wiser too, is proved by the greatly increased requirements for admission to the women’s colleges and the more demanded from the student during her four years’ course after matriculation.”

Gone were the days of women fighting for the right to ride bicycles. The Delineator magazine showcased sports from ice-skating and polo at Mount Holyoke to basketball at Smith and Vassar and gymnastics at Wellesley.

Some Columnists Took Conservative Views Of Female Behavior

On the cusp of a new century, readers of The Delineator magazine stood between the old and the new in terms of acceptable social behaviors. The author of this article still stood squarely in the earlier 1800s.

“The gifts which a young woman may receive from a man who is not a relative are so limited that the giver cannot complain that ‘the impediment lies in the choosing.’ Flowers, bonbons, books and music may be accepted. When this rule is firmly adhered to a girl may have the satisfaction of knowing that she is following one of the first principles of social law. A jewel, ring, or personal ornament should not be accepted from any other than the man to whom she is engaged to be married. The earlier these rules become established in a young girl’s mind the easier it will be for her to avoid misunderstandings and to free herself from troublesome perplexities.”

In spite of this dusty point of view, gifts given on holidays including Christmas and Valentines Day were becoming increasingly elaborate.

Home Décor Included Live Fern And Other Plants

This article on furnishing and home decoration prominently features live fern and other plants. Fern motifs infiltrated virtually every aspect of decorative arts, crafts and design, further fueling the Victorian Fern Frenzy. Ferns were used on everything from paintings and posters to wallpaper, textiles, glass sculptures, furniture and pottery. Designer pots, plant racks and vases often paid homage to the Victorian Fern Frenzy. Virtually every surface was at some time decorated by ferns.

Wardian Cases built for transport over long journeys sparked new financial and botanical successes for nurseries across Europe. The wealthy had always lusted after exotic plants. Now their insatiable desire blossomed further with the appearance of such wonders as Giant Victoria Water Lilies, orchids, tropical ferns, exotic fruit trees and more.

Short Stories By Popular Authors Became Favorite Features

While Godey’s was known for publishing contemporary authors, The Delineator Magazine also featured stories by known authors and new writers. One that stands out was A Kidnapped Santa Clause by Frank Baum. Yes, the inventive genius who brought us The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) also put an edge on Christmas in the 1904 December edition of The Delineator Magazine.

Since A Kidnapped Santa Claus first hit The Delineator Magazine’s press it has been adapted into all forms of entertainment including musicals, movies, animated films, television graphic novels and podcasts. Baum’s iconic story also inspired a host of works with a kidnapped Santa at their core. Two favorites are Tim Burton’s animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Jean Van Leeuwen children’s book, The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper (1975).

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