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Modest and Practical: Dressed to Travel

Since travelling became an accessible activity in the nineteenth century, travellers have been in search for a special attire designed to accompany them on their fares, eventually promoting new trends and customs.

Today travelling is an ordinary action that occupies much of everyone’s daily routine. By private or public means, people travel short or longer fares not only for leisure, but for work or study resons. If nowadays travelling has become an ordinary practice not requiring much more effort than to make the luggage fit the size restrictions, not that long ago travellers had the need to wear particular clothes designed precisely for travels.

Man's buff coloured travelling coat with blue plaid lining. Paris, 1825, for the Petit Courrier des Dames. Hand-coloured engraving. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY NC.

The ‘travelling dress’ made its appearance in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution cut the costs of textile and clothes production, and people could afford specialized dress conceived to be worn only in specific occasions. Before this time, to travel was an occupation affordable only by the few and both higher and lower classes used to wear, in many cases, their best and most protective outerwear; from this time onwards, the improvement in the means of transport and the renovation of travel fares democratized travelling, letting more people embark on longer journeys.

Travelling dresses, summer toilettes and an ensemble for a young girl, from the 'Illustrirte Frauen-Zeitung', Franz Joseph Lipperheide, Steyrermühl. © Anna Russ. Courtesy Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, CC BY NC SA.

The key-words were now modesty and practicality. The ‘travelling dress’, in fact, did not only serve to protect the wearer from dust and dirt, but, whether people were travelling by train, ship or steamboat, they also needed a dress which allowed comfortable movements in a public transport – especially because the space for toilette was usually restricted or shared. In addition, it was essential for the dress to be appropriate for appearing in public among strangers.

'Ensemble de voyage' in wool and taffeta, designed by Siebenmann, 1895/1900. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

The development of the travelling dress moved along with the development of the travelling system. As the public means of transportation evolved, becoming overall more comfortable, and new means, such as cars and later airplanes, appeared, the travelling dress gradually lost its functionality. Instead, a precise etiquette arose, indicating what dress to wear during a particular fare or while on a precise mean of transport.

If the ‘travelling dress’ lost its popularity in recent times, the research for the ‘ideal dress for journeys’ led fashion creators to design the most diverse and peculiar clothes. Browse the Europeana Fashion portal to find many images of the new and old travelling dress.

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