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The Culture of the Age

The fashion of this time is quite spectacular and faintly ridiculous, in the form of the Crinoline. This style, characterised by hooped, very wide skirts worn with a tight bodice over a corset, was wildly unpopular with all save the women who wore them. Social commentators of the time complain bitterly of the inconveniences caused, and gentlemen complain of the high cost of keeping their wives in good dress. This fashion was a mania that was worn by all classes, even factory workers wore the wide skirts. Despite the difficulties caused by wearing the garments – women cannot enter a room together, use railway carriages or cabs, or sit comfortably in theatre seats – their popularity endured the entire decade. Three thousand women in England and Wales were burnt to death and twenty times as many severely injured from wearing the highly flammable muslin too close to the open fires of the time. Sometimes at the seaside on windy days the crinoline acted like a kite, carrying its wearer high into the air at a large gust of wind.

The pursuit of the tiny waist framed by the crinoline demands the wearing of corsets, for which ladies are trained from childhood. A result is an inability to conduct energetic pastimes and the risk of fainting after any exertion or excess of emotion.

Music halls are frequented by large numbers of people from all classes of society, the smaller establishments frequented by the lower classes. A love of opera, coupled with the strict moral tone imposed by Queen Victoria, has rendered the theatre a little unpopular in comparison to the appreciation of music, however by the 1860s it is steadily regaining an acceptable reputation. Theatres are not open all year round, rather being open for only six-month-long seasons in accordance with the licenses granted by the Lord Chancellor.

Horse racing is a popular spectator sport, the larger and more prestigious race meets becoming the place to be seen in society, and a popular location for a mother to matchmake her daughter in the social season.

Hyde Park is also a popular location for promenading and conducting one's public social life, all eyes in higher society scrutinising the pairing of couples enjoying the sunshine and greenery. However, one must take care to walk in a group, as there is increasing amounts of violent crime on the streets, assault, mugging and even murder causing many to fear walking the street even in daylight.

Hunting and shooting are the pastimes of choice for the nobility, happily facilitated by the civilised practise of visits to country estates of friends and relatives in order to escape the unhealthy air of the city. Indeed travel to the Queen's Colonies is growing in popularity, many honeymoons of the wealthy taking the form of foreign tours. For those less fortunate, a summer trip to the seaside such as Brighton is seen as a worthy substitute, although the strict rules of dress decency are adhered to even on the hottest days.


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