Red Star Line & cruise fashion

The development of mass transportation in the 19th century, first with the railways and then steamships, led to enormous population movements. Belgium had the first railway system in continental Europe, and the port of Antwerp soon became a major hub for migration from across the continent to the new world. The arrival of steamships in the 1880s reduced the transatlantic crossing from 45 days to two weeks, making the journey, whether for purposes of migration or pleasure, much safer and more attractive.

The huge increase in mobility in the latter half of the 19th century changed fashion enormously; handbags, for example, were developed to allow women to travel separately from their luggage on the railways. While Antwerp’s Red Star shipping line is more commonly referred to today as part of the story of migration, the line also played a role as part of a new era of luxury transatlantic travel.

A journey in the first class of a luxury liner imposed strict dress codes. What we today refer to as ‘cruise collections’ had their origins in the stylish mode of wealthy steamship passengers, who required unseasonal garments for travel in warmer climes. Steamer trunks, constructed for use on such liners by companies such as Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Delvaux, were often metal-lined and reinforced to protect precious garments from rough handling and the possible incursion of water. Passengers in both the first and second class would dress for dinner, but for the very wealthy, the journey required an entirely separate wardrobe of clothes; once they reached their destination, their cruise garments were left packed on board ship for their return journey.