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Ann Sticha on Victorian Fashion



Women’s fashion was dominated by child-like dresses. These garments were heavily fitted to the body. Women wore whalebone corsets and long dresses with lots of material that made it hard to walk. In addition, the figure was meant to look like a bell. The introduction of the inner-waistband helped the bodice from moving upwards. The skirts had flat, tubular pleats that were called cartridge pleating. The bodice was styled by a diagonal line from the shoulders to the waist.


1850-c1 This decade had an emphasis on hoops. The skirts sizes increased and hooped petticoats became popular. Due to the invention of the sewing machine, women could afford more trimmings. Flounce skirts became popular, and they had to be stiffened with muslin or crinoline to maintain the bell look.  Bodices became more similar to men by women wearing waistcoats and vests, but they were still feminine.  During this decade, the “short dress” was introduced. A short dress has a dress length ending at the ankles. However, the short dress was rarely worn.



It was during this decade that the wide skirt was at its pinnacle. Most of the dresses were one-pieces. Throughout the decade, the dresses became more heavily decorated with piping, puffing, and fringe. In addition, geometric prints and rich color tones such as royal blue and emerald green became popular. In the front, skirts were flattened, yet the skirt in the rear was large with a little train. This style of skirt gave the image of a gliding motion.



The typical gaudy Victorian fashion became popular during the 1870’s. This was caused by the sewing machine being used for mass production. Skirts were in the mermaid style. The skirts were straight except for the train. The bodices were made to look like jackets. There was a transition to have the hourglass look instead of a bell. The outfits were made out of heavier fabrics like foulards and alpacas. Also, darker colors were popular too.



During this decade, fashion emphasized complicated garments excess. Women were supposed to wear patterns and colors. Throughout the decade, the bustle began to drop then went back up. A lower petticoat-like under-skirt was worn under draped overskirts. This was done to emphasize the women’s hips. The dresses had high necklines and collars. The dresses were made out of upholstery-like fabric with sewn-in gems and softer color shades.



The invention of the bicycle radicalized fashion. Now, women had the image of being independent, fit, and robust. Clothing began with vivid colors and then went toward pastels and softer shades. Bustles disappeared, and “umbrella shirts” became popular. Fashion went back to the bell shape, but it was less dramatic.  Overtime, skirts became snugger to the hips. Also, tight- fitting sleeves became common.  At night, dresses had extremely low décolletage with a train.


Harris, Kristina. Victorian & Edwardian fashions for women. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1995. Print

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