Dress code – Perfume of the 19th Century

Exhibition at the Suțu Palace

Dress code – Perfume of the 19th Century


Today, when mankind has already gone through a rich history of clothing, any lover of beauty making a foray into the past can ask himself: What did the dress code mean in the 19th century? What were the outfits for going to the church or the theater? Can clothing etiquette be adapted or applied to global society? In order to answer the questions, it is necessary to know the history of clothing and the protocols that have followed each other over time, at least in Romanian society.

When we talk about attire, we cannot ignore the fact that there were very strict unwritten laws concerning the right clothing for every hour of the day, and the one who violated them could be punished promptly by being ignored by his ruthless fellows, who lurked any blunder of their elite, in order to stigmatize them.

It must not be forgotten that clothing has always reflected social conditions and relations, and political prestige has always been expressed through the physical appearance of representatives of power. The suit demonstrated independence from physical work, while showing the relative dimensions of people on the social scale. Social distancing has always been created from the economic, but also the visual point of view through fashion, the elites using expensive materials, imposing themselves through legal and moral means, issuing laws and clothing regulations, and establishing rank privileges and punishable prohibitions (in most eras).

Why the nineteenth century? It is the most brilliant, complex, varied and prolific century in terms of clothing. Now the transition is made from oriental to European fashion. There were customs for all social types and the way they displayed their clothes. The tone of nineteenth-century European women’s clothing was set in Paris. “Little Paris”, Bucharest, absorbed in a very short time everything that the West brought. Western fashion was first appropriated by women, emphasizing their taste for luxury, much more than their men, who are primarily concerned with politics. The wardrobe was different depending on the time of day or the activity of the respectable lady. There was, therefore, a dress guide, published in 1870, the “Code of the Civil Attire,” which regulated the outfit according to the circumstances or the time of the day. It was inadmissible for a lady to appear in public dressed in inappropriate too decorated clothing for the morning or too sober for the evening. Of course, in choosing the right clothing a lady had to show a lot of tact and measure, so as not to be ridicule and not to exceed her condition.

It is notorious that the Bucharest Municipality Museum has the richest and most varied collection of costumes and clothing accessories in the country, which has been studied and capitalized from editorial and exhibition point of view. The idea of making a gallery of the vintage costume is difficult to implement, at least for the time being, given the existing exhibition space and the large number of heritage pieces. The costumes can however be admired by the general public gradually, through temporary exhibitions.

The elements that explicitly make up the clothing etiquette can be known not only from picture books or movies, but can be admired in the museum hall: walking dresses, ball dresses, theater cloak, wedding dress, mourning outfit, underwear, men’s suits, civilian or military uniforms, the accessories that accompanied them. All this represents the story of a world, at a certain level of time, a world guided by rules, vanities and morals.

Dr. Maria-Camelia Ene