Fashion on the verge of madness: How in the 19th century, ladies adorned themselves with stuffed birds and dead insects
Fashion on the verge of madness: How in the 19th century, ladies adorned themselves with stuffed birds and dead insects

History remembers many extravagant and even provocative turns of European fashion, but what happened at the end of the 19th century causes both bewilderment and indignation, and even disgust in some. We are talking about that strange period when the ladies of the Victorian era began a craze for decorating from … insects. At the sight of such products, a modern person would feel uncomfortable, but women of fashion of those years did not at all consider themselves cruel or cynical. And this strange trend was observed not only in England.

Dried insects adorned the dresses and hairstyles of Victorian ladies

In the 1880s and 90s, many girls and women suddenly turned their attention to spider bugs and began to use these creatures as decorations. Insects began to adorn the clothes of women of fashion, but not in the form of stylized jewelry: they were real, natural insects, or rather, their dried corpses.

The fashion for the use of natural insects by jewelers existed in ancient times among different peoples. The photo shows modern counterparts

I must say that this fashion resonated with the culture of the ancient Mayans, who, many centuries before, adorned themselves with insect-based brooches. And if the reasons for this attitude of Indians to insects are not known for certain (perhaps there was a cultural and religious background here), then modern historians and psychologists can explain the passion of Victorian ladies for such quirks.

What is the reason for such a perverse fashion of the century before last? Oddly enough, experts explain the hobby for bugs primarily by the rapid pace of industrial development. Urban middle-class women, morally unprepared for such a large-scale urbanization, in the industrial world felt that they were losing their connection with mother nature, and began to pay more attention to her.

This interest was also fueled by the development of the natural sciences in the second half of the 19th century. Among European (and especially British) educated ladies, it has become fashionable to read not only Mrs Beaton's bestseller on cooking and home economics, but also more intellectual reading - The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

At the same time, great interest in taxidermy flared up in Europe and America, and making stuffed animals in those days was not considered a sign of cruelty. On the contrary, it meant that you appreciate the gifts of nature and feel like a part of it.

Victorian swan feather fan with dead birds

Making herbariums and keeping dried butterflies at home was considered an appropriate occupation for a decent lady. Society favored such activities as a hobby that morally and aesthetically elevated a woman.

The language of flowers recommended to women of fashion in the 19th century

Decorating oneself with fresh flowers, leaves and even berries, following a special "language of plants", was the most innocent of the habits of Victorian women of fashion. Increasingly, in the hair of ladies following the latest fashion trends, not flowers, but fireflies began to appear, and brooches on dresses, which are real bugs inlaid with precious stones, began to appear. Ponchala, of course, the ladies tried to decorate themselves with live insects, but wearing "mummies" turned out to be more practical.

Insect Jewelry Examples, University of Texas Collection

The love of nature among European women began to take on more and more cynical forms. Insects and small birds have become an object of close attention for designers of clothes and hats.But in distant America, even lizards were used - for example, in 1894 the New York Times reported that animal rights activists are very concerned that tailors are actively using reptile skin in the field of high fashion in the manufacture of necklaces and collars.

Shocking stuffed bird headdresses

By the way, the British Queen Victoria herself had among her jewelry a necklace made from the teeth of a deer shot by her husband while hunting. The clasp of the necklace was engraved: Shot by Albert. The queen had other jewelry of this kind.

So the dead insects looked like a minor trifle against the background of this general trend.

Queen Victoria was very proud of her necklace made from deer teeth (gold, enamel)

Fortunately, this cruel practice eventually faded away. Ladies switched from "living" insects to their gold and silver counterparts, in the art of making which jewelers of the late 19th - early 20th centuries reached absolute perfection. In general, the boom in bugs among fashionistas still continued, but took on civilized forms.

Louis François Cartier jewelry. Much prettier and more humane, isn't it?

And while such a strange symbiosis of human ingenuity and wildlife will forever remain an outrageous chapter in the history of fashion, lovers of such jewelry are still found today. Some modern craftsmen metallize insects, then varnish or fill in with synthetic resin to make the beetles look as if frozen in amber.

The practice of making insect decorations and selling to tourists, for example, exists among the indigenous population of some parts of the United States and Mexico. There is even such a technique when pebbles are glued over the backs of live (!) Beetles, gluing chains to them, and in this form are sold to tourists. Certain species of beetles are very slow in adulthood and can go without food for a long time, so, according to the assurances of the sellers, they can live in humans for up to a year. Whether this is really so is unknown and very few people will want to check it. By the way, the law of the United States prohibits the transport of wildlife objects, including insects, across the border without special permission.

The bugs and spiders made by jewelers, and not created by nature, look more aesthetically pleasing. For example, Jewelry collection of Leto Karakostanoglou.

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