Young Victorian Croquet Player

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People who are not collectors sometimes think collectors are hoarders. That is simply not true. A collector does not want things simply for the desire of ownership. A collector uses her (or his, if that applies) collecting because of an interest and a desire to learn more. Okay, I am speaking only for myself. I know that some “collectors” are pretty much glorified hoarders, but I am trying to justify the piles of paper everywhere around me as I try to do some cataloging of my print resources.

The image above is a new addition to my collection. It’s from the last half of the nineteenth century (more on that later) and is a chromolithograph, an early type of color reproduction. After the process was invented around 1845, people started collecting these prints. Companies began producing them as a part  of their advertising. These “scraps” of colored images led to the hobby of keeping scrapbooks. It was the Pinterest of the Victorian age.

Keeping a scrapbook remained a popular past time through the 1950s. Scraps were replaced by color illustrations cut from magazines. Some scrapbooks were more personal and contained the ephemera of a person’s life. To see lots of great old examples, check out #vintagescrapbook on Instagram.

My card was at one time glued into a scrapbook, as is evidenced by the traces of old glue and torn paper on the reverse. It’s possible that the rip occurred when the card was removed from the scrapbook.

I bought this card because of the subject matter. Images showing women playing croquet are a bit hard to find, so I was happy when this one materialized in a box of old paper stuff.

Croquet became very popular in the years after the American Civil War and was one of the first outdoor games in which it was socially acceptable for women to participate alongside men. While it may look to us that her ensemble is too fancy for sports, croquet was considered to be a social activity and as such women dressed for mixed company. Who knew but that a potential suitor was in the playing party?

Some of you might be able to look at this image and immediately place an accurate date on it. I’m still learning about pre-1915 clothing, so I’ve had to spend some time analyzing the woman’s attire. The skirt is quite short. It could be a concession to the game, or it could be that the woman is very young and is still in short skirts. The fact that her hair is loose might be another hint that she is a younger teenager. Or it could be that this was made in the early 1870s when women wore the back of her hair down. So many things to consider! No wonder a novice student of Victorian fashion is confused!

The hat is also confusing to me. I found similar ones with a brim turned up at the side in fashion plates from the 1870s, but also spotted this style in the 1880s. The red apron effect over her skirt is seen in the 1870 and into the 1880s. I did see more of that shorter sleeve length in early 1880s plates. And in photographs and plates of the early 1880s, many skirts are trimmed at the hem with a row or ruffles or pleats.

I also have to keep in mind that my card is not strictly a portrayal of fashion. This could have been merely the artist’s idea of what a fashionable young lady would have worn for croquet. Thoughts?

I love that she has her dainty foot on her ball, and is about to knock her unseen opponent’s ball into the bushes just beyond. A true sportswoman!




Filed under Collecting, Summer Sports

15 responses to “Young Victorian Croquet Player

  1. Jewell

    I think the illustrator was taking liberties with the fashion, making the skirt shorter to higlight the sport & the fact that the lady is about to bonk her opponent’s ball across the yard while wielding her mallet. The matching cuffs with an additional bracelet on the left arm is interesting & say 1880s – 1890s to me. “Ideals” are the basis of advertising – this to me is like the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit edition, who really wears that?! Wonder what this was advertising, it’s a lovely addition to your collection.


  2. Ruth

    And besides, flashing a glimpse or so of ankle was positively racy! Whoo-hoo, naughty postcard without being exactly naughty.


  3. Lizzie, I lean toward 1870s rather than 1880s due to the cut of the bodice and belted waist. 1880s bodices are almost always long and over the hips.


  4. I think your comments on the nature of collecting are absolutely bang on the nail! It is certainly why I collect the things that I do. Most of them have little value beyond sentiment, but they are worth so very much to me!


  5. Christina

    The costume looks c1885 . The length of the skirt while it appears short is appropriate for a young woman. There are a huge variety of bonnets during this period. This illustration is a bit exaggerated. There are some very good references of women playing croquet from that period. This woman is playing by a different set of rules since she has stopped the balls with her foot.


  6. Andrea

    Great illustration! I also think that it might be from the 1870’s. It was also common that girls and teenagers wore shorter dresses at this time.

    Your thoughts on collecting, reminds me a conversation I had with an owner of a private museum I visited recently in Prague ( internet photo) She, like you, has a focus on her collection not only in the period of Fashion (from 1850’s till 1930’s), but also on the used material, in this case embroidery. She said that most of the items she has were bought in America because of the nice dry climate in several regions helps that the pieces do not deteriorate so much. Also she said, and I think it is true, that Americans are more willing to keep ancestor’s clothes than Europeans.


  7. My 2 cents? The difference between hoarding and collecting is organization. Love your blog. I learn so much! Thanks!


  8. What a wonderful image. I love the drape of here outfit so much.

    Croquet is honestly one of my favorite games to play.

    Sadly, I cannot offer any specifics with regards to date.


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