The wealthy, fashionable woman of the 19th and early 20th century had a special costume for every occasion. White outfits were typically worn in the summer, although they required a lot of maintenance as they tended to pick up dirt and show stains and marks. Whilst it was relatively straightforward to wash a cotton dress, a pure white tailored costume such as this would have required great effort on the part of a ladies' maid to keep it in pristine condition. Although it is described as a boating costume, this glamorous lady would probably have been an elegant passenger rather than an active participant.
In his classic comic novel, Three Men In A Boat (1889), Jerone K. Jerome commented on the practicality of boating costumes, particularly those portrayed in fashion plates:
'Girls, also, don't look half bad in a boat, if prettily dressed. Nothing is more fetching, to my thinking, than a tasteful boating costume. But a "boating costume," it would be as well if all ladies would understand, ought to be a costume that can be worn in a boat, and not merely under a glass-case. It utterly spoils an excursion if you have folk in the boat who are thinking all the time a good deal more of their dress than of the trip. It was my misfortune once to go for a water picnic with two ladies of this kind. We did have a lively time!
They were both beautifully got up - all lace and silky stuff, and flowers, and ribbons, and dainty shoes, and light gloves. But they were dressed for a photographic studio, not for a river picnic. They were the "boating costumes" of a French fashion-plate. It was ridiculous, fooling about in them anywhere near real earth, air, and water.'
The artist, Lucien Guy was a French illustrator and caricaturist active in the early 20th century, who appears to have specialised in portraying elegant, fashionable women of the period.