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Grand entrance - Fashion in the Ringstrassen era                                                              
Grosser Auftritt - Mode der Ringstrassenzeit

10 June - 1 November 2009
Wien Museum Karlsplatz

Why fashion shopping has pushed the freedom of women

The Vienna Museum Karlsplatz exhibits the city’s fashion at the end of the 19th century. This fashion was named after an avenue which runs in a circle around the 'Inner City': the Ringstrasse. On this street nobles and industrialists resided in luxurious houses fronted by a promenade; this was the public catwalk where the newest fashion was presented.

The Vienna Museum Karlsplatz has the city's most extensive collection of historical costumes. The curators Regina Karner and Michaela Lindinger have selected around 300 pieces like dresses (ball gowns, mourning dresses), costumes, the first leisure and sports dresses such as for tennis, skiing, or riding, the first 'healthy' dresses without corset (known as Reform Dress or Rational Dress), accessories, extraordinary hats, shoes and booties. Paintings of the Viennese Belle Epoque from Hans Makart, Anton Romako and Wilhelm Gause illustrate the lifestyle of the Viennese at the end of the 19th century.

Probably fashion shopping had done more for the freedom of women than we ever thought

At that time women had experienced their benefits from the disinterest of men in shoes and dresses. One part of the exhibition is about department stores. You will learn that they become beloved by women because they had been some of the rare places where women were allowed to stay without male company. Especially on the Mariahilfer Strasse, department stores had been established with affordable ready to wear pieces for the bourgeoisie. Nobles and industrial families preferred tailor made couture.

Role models

The extravagant Parisian style was inspiring for the Viennese. The role models have been Sissy alias Empress Elisabeth for her sportive outfits and the mayor of the city of Vienna, Dr. Karl Lueger, also known as 'the beautiful Karl'. The appearance - and especially the look of actresses, artists in the 'salons' of the leading families became a theme of society reporters.

Fashion and women's emancipation

Through the next stations, the development from underwear to lingerie is explained, the rise of the beauty industry for decorative cosmetics visualized, the strong-selling erotic-literature and lingerie-photography on the focus.

The women's emancipation movement started an own fashion revolution. Around 1850, the US feminist Amelie Bloomer has shown that female fashion handicaps women. Feminists 'shocked' with dresses without corsets and trousers for cycling: 'Look, women have legs!'

fig.: Female costume for cycling, ca. 1900. Photo: Christin Losta. Copyright: Wien Museum.

Source: Original article with image on


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