1 Women's Fashions
12.1 Norms for mourning
13 Technological advancement 14 Home décor 15 Contemporary stereotypes
15.1 Victorian prudishness
16 Gallery 17 See also
17.1 Time periods 17.2 Women's clothing 17.3 Contemporary interpretations
18 References 19 Further reading 20 External links
During the Victorian Era, a woman's place was at home. Unlike in
the earlier centuries when women could help their husbands and
brothers in family businesses, in the nineteenth century, the gender
roles became more defined than ever. Their dress styles reflected
Picture of 1850s evening dress with a bertha neckline
Neck-line Bertha is the low shoulder neck-line worn by women during
the Victorian Era. The cut exposed a woman’s shoulders and it
sometimes was trimmed over with a three to six inch deep lace flounce,
or the bodice has neckline draped with several horizontal bands of
fabric pleats. However, the exposure of neck-line was only restricted
to the upper and middle class, working class women during the time
period were not allowed to reveal so much flesh. The décolleté style
made shawls to become an essential feature of dresses.
Sleeves Sleeves were tightly fit during the early Victorian era. It
matched with the tight fit women’s small waist in the design, and
the shoulder sleeve seamline was drooped more to show a tighter fit on
the arm. This eventually limited women’s movements with the sleeves.
However, as crinolines started to develop in fashion, sleeves turned
to be like large bells which gave the dress a heavier volume.
Engageantes, which were usually made of lace, linen, or lawn, with
cambric and broderie anglaise, were worn under the sleeves. They were
easy to remove, launder and restitch into position, so to act as false
sleeves, which was tacked to the elbow-length sleeves during the time.
They commonly appear under the bell-shaped sleeves of day dresses.
Silhouette Silhouette changed over time supported by the evolution of
the undergarment. In earlier days, wide skirts were supported by
fabrics like linen which used horsehair in the weave. Crinolines were
used to give skirts a beehive shape, with at least six layers
petticoats worn under the skirt, which could weigh as much as fourteen
pounds. Later, the cage crinoline was developed. Women were freed from
the heavy petticoats, and were able to move their legs freely beneath
the cage. Silhouette later began to emphasise a slope toward the back
of the skirt. Polonaise style was introduced where fullness bunched up
at the back of the skirt. Crinolines and cages also started to
disappear with it being more dangerous to working class women.
Tournures or bustles were developed.
During the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837, the ideal shape
of the Victorian woman was a long slim torso emphasised by wide hips.
To achieve a low and slim waist, corsets were tightly laced and
extended over the abdomen and down towards the hips. A chemise was
commonly worn under the corset, and cut relatively low in order to
prevent exposure. Over the corset, was the tight-fitting bodice
featuring a low waistline. Along with the bodice was a long skirt,
featuring layers of horsehair petticoats worn underneath to create
fullness; while placing emphasis on the small waist. To contrast the
narrow waist, low and straight necklines were thus used.
In the 1840s, collapsed sleeves, low necklines, elongated V-shaped
bodices, and fuller skirts characterised the dress styles of women.
At the start of the decade, the sides of bodices stopped at the
natural waistline, and met at a point in the front. In accordance with
the heavily boned corset and seam lines on the bodice as well, the
popular low and narrow waist was thus accentuated.
Sleeves of bodices were tight at the top, due the Mancheron, but
expanded around the area between the elbow and before the wrist. It
was also initially placed below the shoulder, however; this restricted
the movements of the arm.
As a result, the middle of the decade saw sleeves flaring out from the
elbow into a funnel shape; requiring undersleeves to be worn in order
to cover the lower arms.
Skirts lengthened, while widths increased due to the introduction of
the horsehair crinoline in 1847; becoming a status symbol of wealth.
Extra layers of flounces and petticoats, also further emphasised the
fullness of these wide skirts. In compliance with the narrow waist
though, skirts were therefore attached to bodice using very tight
organ pleats secured at each fold. This served as a decorative
element for a relatively plain skirt. The 1840s style was perceived as
conservative and "Gothic" compared to the flamboyance of the 1830s.
The Princesse de Broglie, 1851-53
1856 Cage Crinoline.
A similar silhouette remained in the 1850s, while certain elements of
Necklines of day dresses dropped even lower into a V-shape, causing a
need to cover the bust area with a chemisette. In contrast, evening
dresses featured a Bertha, which completely exposed the shoulder area
instead. Bodices began to extend over the hips, while the sleeves
opened further and increased in fullness. The volume and width of the
skirt continued to increase, especially during 1853, when rows of
flounces were added.
Nevertheless, in 1856, skirts expanded even further; creating a dome
shape, due to the invention of the first artificial cage crinoline.
The purpose of the crinoline was to create an artificial hourglass
silhouette by accentuating the hips, and fashioning an illusion of a
small waist; along with the corset. The cage crinoline was constructed
by joining thin metal strips together to form a circular structure
that could solely support the large width of the skirt. This was made
possible by technology which allowed iron to be turned into steel,
which could then be drawn into fine wires. Although often ridiculed
by journalists and cartoonists of the time as the crinoline swelled in
size, this innovation freed women from the heavy weight of petticoats
and was a much more hygienic option.
Meanwhile, the invention of synthetic dyes added new colours to
garments and women experimented with gaudy and bright colours.
Technological innovation of 1860s provided women with freedom and
1860s Cage Crinoline.
During the early and middle 1860s, crinolines began decreasing in size
at the top, while retaining their amplitude at the bottom.
Contrariwise, the shape of the crinoline became flatter in the front
and more voluminous behind, as it moved towards the back since skirts
consisted of trains now. Bodices on the other hand, ended at the
natural waistline, had wide pagoda sleeves, and included high
necklines and collars for day dresses; low necklines for evening
dresses. However, in 1868, the female silhouette had slimmed down as
the crinoline was replaced by the bustle, and the supporting flounce
overtook the role of determining the silhouette.
The trend for broad skirts slowly disappeared during the 1870s, as
women started to prefer an even slimmer silhouette. Bodices remained
at the natural waistline, necklines varied, while sleeves began under
the shoulder line. An overskirt was commonly worn over the bodice, and
secured into a large bow behind. Over time though, the overskirt
shortened into a detached basque, resulting in an elongation of the
bodice over the hips. As the bodices grew longer in 1873, the
polonaise was thus introduced into the Victorian dress styles. A
polonaise is a garment featuring both an overskirt and bodice
together. The tournure was also introduced, and along with the
polonaise, it created an illusion of an exaggerated rear end.
By 1874, skirts began to taper in the front and were adorned with
trimmings, while sleeves tightened around the wrist area. Towards 1875
to 1876, bodices featured long but even tighter laced waists, and
converged at a sharp point in front. Bustles lengthened and slipped
even lower, causing the fullness of the skirt to further diminish.
Extra fabric was gathered together behind in pleats, thus creating a
narrower but longer tiered, draped train too. Due to the longer
trains, petticoats had to be worn underneath in order to keep the
However, when 1877 approached, dresses moulded to fit the figure,
as increasing slimmer silhouettes were favoured. This was allowed by
the invention of the cuirass bodice which functions like a corset, but
extends downwards to the hips and upper thighs. Although dress styles
took on a more natural form, the narrowness of the skirt limited the
wearer in regards to walking.
The early 1880s was a period of stylistic confusion. On one hand,
there is the over-ornamented silhouette with contrasting texture and
frivolous accessories. On the other hand, the growing popularity of
tailoring gave rise to an alternative, severe style. Some credited
the change in silhouette to the Victorian dress reform, which
consisted of a few movements including the Aesthetic
By 1890, the crinoline and bustle was fully abandoned, and skirts flared away naturally from the wearer’s tiny waist. It evolved into a bell shape, and were made to fit tighter around the hip area. Necklines were high, while sleeves of bodices initially peaked at the shoulders, but increased in size during 1894. Although the large sleeves required cushions to secure them in place, it narrowed down towards the end of the decade. Women thus adopted the style of the tailored jacket, which improved their posture and confidence, while reflecting the standards of early female liberation. Hats
Emma Hill by
Ford Madox Brown
Hats (and gloves) were crucial to a respectable appearance for both
men and women. To go bareheaded was simply not proper. The top hat,
for example, was standard formal wear for upper- and middle-class
men. For women, the styles of hats changed over time and were
designed to match their outfits.
During the early Victorian decades, voluminous skirts held up with
crinolines, and then hoop skirts, were the focal point of the
silhouette. To enhance the style without distracting from it, hats
were modest in size and design, straw and fabric bonnets being the
popular choice. Poke bonnets, which had been worn during the late
Regency period, had high, small crowns and brims that grew larger
until the 1830s, when the face of a woman wearing a poke bonnet could
only be seen directly from the front. They had rounded brims, echoing
the rounded form of the bell-shaped hoop skirts.
The silhouette changed once again as the
Drawing of Victorian men 1870s
During the 1840s, men wore tight-fitting, calf length frock coats and
a waistcoat or vest. The vests were single- or double-breasted, with
shawl or notched collars, and might be finished in double points at
the lowered waist. For more formal occasions, a cutaway morning coat
was worn with light trousers during the daytime, and a dark tail coat
and trousers was worn in the evening. Shirts were made of linen or
cotton with low collars, occasionally turned down, and were worn with
wide cravats or neck ties.
Victoria's five daughters (Alice, Helena, Beatrice, Victoria and Louise), photographed wearing mourning black beneath a bust of their late father, Prince Albert (1862).
In Britain, black is the colour traditionally associated with mourning
for the dead. The customs and etiquette expected of men, and
especially women, were rigid during much of the Victorian era. The
expectations depended on a complex hierarchy of close or distant
relationship with the deceased. The closer the relationship, the
longer the mourning period and the wearing of black. The wearing of
full black was known as First Mourning, which had its own expected
attire, including fabrics, and an expected duration of 4 to 18 months.
Following the initial period of First Mourning, the mourner would
progress to Second Mourning, a transition period of wearing less
black, which was followed by Ordinary Mourning, and then
Half-mourning. Some of these stages of mourning were shortened or
skipped completely if the mourner's relationship to the deceased was
more distant. Half-mourning was a transition period when black was
replaced by acceptable colours such as lavender and mauve, possibly
considered acceptable transition colours because of the tradition of
Church of England
Relationship to deceased First mourning Second mourning Ordinary mourning Half-mourning
Wife for husband 1-year, 1-month; bombazine fabric covered with crepe; widow's cap, lawn cuffs, collars 6 months: less crepe 6 months: no crepe, silk or wool replaces bombazine; in last 3 months jet jewellery and ribbons can be added 6 months: colours permitted are grey, lavender, mauve, and black-and-grey
Daughter for parent 6 months: black with black or white crepe (for young girls); no linen cuffs and collars; no jewellery for first 2 months 4 months: less crepe – 2 months as above
Wife for husband's parents 18 months in black bombazine with crepe – 3 months in black 3 months as above
Parent for son- or daughter-in-law's parent – Black armband in representation of someone lost – 1-month black –
Second wife for parent of a first wife – – 3 months black –
The complexity of these etiquette rules extends to specific mourning
periods and attire for siblings, step-parents, aunts and uncles
distinguished by blood and by marriage, nieces, nephews, first and
second cousins, children, infants, and "connections" (who were
entitled to ordinary mourning for a period of "1–3 weeks, depending
on level of intimacy"). Men were expected to wear mourning black to a
lesser extent than women, and for a shorter mourning period. After the
mid-19th century, men would wear a black hatband and black suit, but
for only half the prescribed period of mourning expected of women.
Widowers were expected to mourn for a mere three months, whereas the
proper mourning period expected for widows was up to four years.
Women who mourned in black for longer periods were accorded great
respect in public for their devotion to the departed, the most
prominent example being
This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (May 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
"The proper length for little girls' skirts at various ages", from Harper's Bazaar, showing a 1900 idea of how the hemline should descend towards the ankle as a girl got older
Men's clothing is seen as formal and stiff, women's as elaborate and
over-done. Clothing covered the entire body, we are told, and even the
glimpse of an ankle was scandalous. Critics contend that corsets
constricted women's bodies and women's lives. Homes are described as
gloomy, dark, cluttered with massive and over-ornate furniture and
proliferating bric-a-brac. Myth has it that even piano legs were
scandalous, and covered with tiny pantalettes.
Of course, much of this is untrue, or a gross exaggeration. Men's
formal clothing may have been less colourful than it was in the
previous century, but brilliant waistcoats and cummerbunds provided a
touch of color, and smoking jackets and dressing gowns were often of
rich Oriental brocades. This phenomenon was the result of the growing
textile manufacturing sector, developing mass production processes,
and increasing attempts to market fashion to men.
A mid-Victorian interior: Hide and Seek by James Tissot, c. 1877
William Powell Frith's painting of 1883 contrasts women's Aesthetic dress (left and right) with fashionable attire (center).
Day dress, c. 1875
Whistler's Portrait of Lady Meux, 1882
Renoir's portrait of
Portrait by Alexander Melville of Queen Victoria, 1845
An artistic interior:
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Men's swimwear: Cartoon from Punch by George du Maurier
Victorian dress reform Women in the Victorian Era Victorian morality Charles Frederick Worth Victorian decorative arts Victoriana
1830s in fashion 1840s in fashion 1850s in fashion 1860s in fashion 1870s in fashion 1880s in fashion 1890s in fashion
Steampunk Neo-Victorian Lolita
^ a b c d e f Breward, Christopher (1995). The Culture of Fashion.
Manchester University Press. pp. 145–180.
^ "Gender roles in the 19th century". The British Library. Retrieved
^ a b c d e f g Steele, Valerie (1985). Victorian Fashion.
Phipps, Elena; et al. (1988). From Queen to Empress: Victorian dress 1837-1877. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870995340. Sweet, Matthew – Inventing the Victorians, St. Martin's Press, 2001 ISBN 0-312-28326-1
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Timeline of clothing