Nineteenth-Century Fashion

Fashion in the Victorian period for women was usually made to reinforce the ideal body type imposed by the society of a slim waist but large hips. Therefore, women often wore corsets to epitomise this idealistic body type by lacing them up tightly over their abdomen. An item called a chemise was often worn under the corset to prevent exposure. The corset was then commonly paired with a skirt to cover the entire leg as this was seen as modest and proper for upper-class women in a strictly moral society. Skirts were often embellished with various designs and patterns to promote their wealth to society. These were worn over layers of petticoats. Middle-class women also wore very similar outfits, but were less extravagant and more toned down as they lacked the wealth to rival the designs of the upper class. Due to the large layers of clothing, women’s movement was vastly restricted which often prevented women working, meaning that upper and middle-class women did very little, with servants looking after the house, and the men bringing in the money for the family.

During the later periods of the Victorian era, fashion changed slightly and women wore fewer layers. The struggles of women’s attire became apparent as thousands of women died from their clothing catching fire, being caught in machinery or transport and medical issues from the heavy clothes. Therefore, fashion shifted to rid some of the layers of petticoats and hoop skirts, leaving a more subtle silhouette desired. Skirts began to naturally flare away from the waist, leaving more room for women to move about and work. Necklines became higher and tailored fashion became all the rage, developing tailored jackets and better fitting clothing. This was a sign of the early female liberation, who were able to move freely and adjust to a safer and better lifestyle, which was continued past the Victorian era into the later developing Flappers Movement throughout the 1920’s.

Men in Victorian Britain usually wore suits with various accessories. Most commonly worn throughout the era was cravats, waistcoats, and vests. Top hats were often worn by the middle and upper classes whereas bowler hats were adjourned by the working classes. The fabrics were often linen and or cotton and were designed and fitted for the person if they had the money, as a symbol of their wealth. Working class men would have clothes made by their wives or out of fashion clothing bought from upper-class owners. Men usually had short hair accompanied by the various facial hair, and a clean-shaven face did not come into fashion until the late 1890’s.

During the Victorian period, clothes were less widely available and department stores were rare. Clothes could not be commercially produced to the level of a modern society despite the fast growth of the textile industry, meaning that clothing was a wide marker of wealth as the majority of clothing would be handmade; dyes and embellishments were expensive, meaning lavish clothing remained reserved for the upper and middle classes. Working class women wore understated colours and more practical clothing in order to allow them to move around for their work. The working class often wore out of fashion dresses previously owned by the upper classes and often made their own clothes out of scraps of fabric such as cotton and wool.

From, The Victorian Blogger

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