Victorian women's fashion


Victorian fashion


  • Intro

    For those who could afford regular new outfits, women's fashions changed enormously and rapidly through the 1800s - in fact, in the later 1800s, experts can easily date clothes to within a year or two. Modest, ringletted prettiness was 'the 'look' in the 1830s, with bonnets replacing hats. Bell-shaped skirts known as crinolines became wider and wider, needing ever more petticoats, and even hooped supports. But 1860 saw changes: the sewing machine arrived bringing costs down, and synthetic dyes enabled intense colours. The skirt silhouette flattened out at the front and moved out back: soft bustles in the 1870s, and shelf-like hard bustles from 1883.


    In the mid-1890s bustles disappeared, replaced by the 'power dressing', almost military, look of wide hat, puff sleeves, narrow waist and long flared skirt. Not for the radical young lady on the new 'bicycle', though: she preferred more comfortable 'rational dress', such as bloomers. As ever for women, fashion and social change stimulated each other. This illustration from the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, written by Mrs Beeton (famous today for her cookbook), shows two wealthy women and a girl looking through the window of an expensive toyshop.


    Shelfmark: Cup.702.e.2

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    The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1860

    The Fashions, summer


    This August, the Englishwoman’s Magazine will, doubtless, find many of its readers seeking health and pleasure by the seaside, making excursions into the country, or at least preparing for some enjoyment of the kind. As regards travelling apparel, the most indispensable article is the HAT, which may be of any coloured straw, crinoline, or a mixture of the two, and trimmed with bindings and bows of velvet and feathers; every description of the latter – ostrich, pheasant, and even bustard-plumes – being used for this purpose. For children’s hats, ribbon, and sometimes tulle, mixed with daisies or field-flowers, are much used as trimmings.


    Dresses of any soft, dust-colour, washing silk are very cool and pleasant to wear; also those of holland and linen, braided down the front and sides and round the sleeves. Any light material, a mixture of silk and wool, is also suitable, with a cloak of the same.


    The Fashions, winter


    We believe that our remarks on Fashions are now expected with some amount of anxiety, and will be turned to with more than usual interest this month by our readers. The shape and materials for dresses are now decided upon for the coming winter season; the style of bonnets, mantles and all articles of the toilet must be fixed upon; we will, therefore, give the best information in our power upon these little matters.


    To begin, then, the most approved of materials for morning dresses are poplin, rep, French merino, flannel and a very beautiful woollen material called velours Russe – that is Russian velvet. ...The rep dresses and all fancy materials are very generally striped of two colours, as we mentioned in our last article, or have a small pattern broché in silk of another shade; the merinos are mostly self-coloured, in all shades of grey and light brown, or else in very bright and pure violet or blue, these tints being now obtained – thanks to late important discoveries in chemistry – in the most splendid hues.

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