Victorian Dresses | Mid-Late Victorian Fashion and Costume History 1860-1901 (2023)

  • The Mid Victorian Silhouette 1860-1880
  • Factors Affecting the Fashion Silhouette after 1860
  • The New Princess Line 1866
  • The Soft Bustle Fashion Silhouette 1867-1875
  • The Late Victorian Silhouette 1878-1901
  • The Princess Line and the Cuirasse Bodice
  • The New Hard Bustle of 1883
  • Victorian Fashion History - Power Dressing
  • Bright Aniline Dyed Colours
  • 1890s
  • Leg of Mutton Sleeves

The Mid Victorian Silhouette 1860-1880

Factors Affecting the Fashion Silhouette after 1860

We arrive at 1860 with four significant facts that were to seriously affect fashion of the future. Firstly the sewing machine had been invented, secondly clothes would in future become couture design led, thirdly synthetic dyes would make available intense colours. Fourthly in 1860 the crinoline domed skirt silhouette had a flattened front and began to show a dramatic leaning toward the garment back.

Charles Worth thought the crinoline skirt unattractive. However, he is associated with it, as he did manipulate the style, as a result the shape soon changed to a new trained, softer bustled version, which only the really rich found practical.Right - Dress designed by Charles F. Worth for Empress Elizabeth of Austria and painted by Winterhalter in 1865.In 1864 Worth designed an overskirt which could be lifted and buttoned up by tabs. This top skirt gave a lot of scope for added ornamentation and by 1868 it was being drawn and looped right up at the back creating drapery and fullness.

The New Princess Line 1866

In 1866 the new Princess gown also changed the line of fashionable dress. The Princess gown was cut in one piece and consisted of a number of joined panels fitted and gored from shoulder to hem that gave the figure shape through seaming.The Gabriel Princess gown with a small neat white collar was mainly made in grey silk and followed the fuller skirt lines of the era. This is the dress style often used to depict the constrained buttoned up repressed governess character of Jane Eyre in films. Later Princess styles were slimmer and much more form fitting. Sleeves in day dresses were often of a banana shape.

The Soft Bustle Fashion Silhouette 1867-1875

By 1867 with the fullness bunched up to the back of the skirt creating a polonaise style, crinolines and cages suddenly disappeared evolving into tournures or bustles. The bustles supported accentuated drapes on the hips.

Left - Women in the Garden by Claude Monet 1866-7. The Louvre Paris.

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After 1868 Worth's overskirt really caught on in England and contrasting underskirts and gown linings were all revealed as the over top skirt was divided or turned back. Other top skirts were called aprons and they were also draped making the wearer look like a piece of elaborate upholstery. Rounder waistlines were fashionable and waistlines even began to rise very slightly. On the left a tiered soft bustle ball gown of 1872. Right - Apron style tablier top layer half skirt over bustle.

From 1870, ball gowns always had a train. Soon by 1873 the train was seen in day dress.

By 1875 soft polonaise bustle styles were becoming so extreme that the soft fullness began to drop down the back of the garment and form itself into a tiered, draped and frilled train. Trains were very heavily ornamented with frills, pleats, ruffles, braids and fringing. The sewing machine instead of simplifying sewing, just became a tool to add more ostentation.

Left - Painting 'Too Early' by James Tissot 1873 - Guildhall Art Gallery UK.The other main feature of the style change was the introduction of the cuirasse bodice which dipped front and back extending a little over the hips. By 1880 the soft bustle styles of the 1870s had totally disappeared.

The Late Victorian Silhouette 1878-1901

By 1878, women of the late Victorian era have a very different look about them compared to earlier Victorian women.

The Princess Line and the Cuirasse Bodice

The soft polonaise style bustle styles were replaced by Princess sheath garments without a waist seam with bodice and skirt cut in one. The Princess line sheath had a bodice line similar to the very tight fitting cuirasse bodices which had been getting longer and longer.Right - Slim fitting trained dress with cuirasse bodice 1876. By 1878 the cuirasse bodice reached the thighs.

By 1878 the cuirasse bodices had reached the thighs. The cuirasse bodice was corset like and dipped even deeper both front and back extending well down the hips creating the look of a body encased in armour.

By 1880 the two ideas merged and the whole of the dress was in Princess line style with shoulder to hem panels. The silhouette was slim and elongated even more by the train. No bustle was needed for the cuirasse bodice or Princess sheath dress, but a small pad would have helped any trained fabric to fall well.Left - The cuirasse bodice of 1880 reached the hem actually becoming the princess panel dress. It made an exceptionally form fitting draped sheath dress which was elongated even further by the train.The slimline style needed good dressmaking skills to get a flattering fit. When done well it was attractive, but all too often swathes of fabric were wrapped and arranged across the garment in an effort to disguise poor dressmaking skills. It was not a very practical garment and only really suited to the very slim and those who did not have to work. As a fashion it barely lasted 3 years.


The New Hard Bustle of 1883

Suddenly out of nowhere in 1883 a new jutting out shelf like style of bustle appeared. It had been shown in Paris in 1880, but as a fashion took off later outside of Paris. It reappeared even larger than ever as a hard shape that gave women a silhouette like the hind legs of a horse as shown in the page heading.Right - The second hard bustle style 1883.The new bustle dress had a different look. It had minimal drapery compared to the former and a slimmer more fitted severely tailored princess bodice, with a much flatter front. What drapery there was, was tidily arranged at the front of the dress as a small apron. Soon even that disappeared. For support the spring pivoted metal band Langtry bustle gave the correct foundation for the wider skirts. See Crinolines and Bustles.

Right -La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat 1884-6. Art Institute Chicago. This later bustle fashion was very moulded to the body and the heavy corsetry gave an armour like rigidity to the silhouette. The pointed bodice began to look quite tailored.

Tailored garments had been introduced in 1874 and their influence on design was subtle, but led eventually to the tailor made suit so fashionable in the 1890s.

In 1887 the sleeves were still slimmer, plain and close fitting. The sleeves look like quite a different style than on the bustle dress of the 1870s which had sleeves that would not have looked out of place on dresses of 1860.By 1889 silhouette changes now couturier led were changing more rapidly and the sleeve developed a very slight leg of mutton outline which soon needed support.Right - Dress of 1889 showing signs of elevation at the sleeve head.

Victorian Fashion History - Power Dressing

It's interesting to note how late Victorian women embraced the sharper tailored jacket fashion which gave them a different posture with a more confident air reflecting the ideals of early female emancipation. Other military and more tailor made styles of jacket were also popular. Some dresses also had a more severe air about them.

Left - Tailor made suit of 1895.There are similarities in the period 1885 with 1985 when women also showed their strength in the corporate workplace with Power Dressing through more masculine tailored, shoulder padded clothes. A similar broad shoulder trend occurred in the Utility Clothing era of the 1940s when women did work usually thought of as men's work.----¥----

Bright Aniline Dyed Colours

The gowns of the 1880s were almost always made in two colours of material. Vivid colours such as deep red, peacock blue, bright apple green, royal blue, purple, mandarin, sea green were used alone, in combination, or in tartan fabrics. Some colour combinations were very strange.At night ladies evening dresses were in softer hues and although they were extravagantly trimmed in contrast fabrics and very décolleté, they followed the general line of fashion.


Gradually the skirt widened and flared as the fullness of the bustle began to fall into pleats down the garment back eventually disappearing to nothing.

As before the bustle foundation softened until only a small pad was left by 1893. The armour like hour glass figure soon developed into the S-Bend shape corset which set the Edwardian Corsetry silhouette until 1907-8.Left - Evening gown with train 1890.

Leg of Mutton Sleeves

The leg of mutton sleeves continued to develop and sprouted high above the shoulders, By 1895 the sleeves swelled into enormous puffs similar to those of 1833. As happened in 1830 to balance the huge shoulders the skirt widened and flared, whilst keeping the waist tight and handspan narrow.Queen Victoria's influence over fashion was long gone. people who were in mourning still followed court guidelines on mourning dress. The real royal influence in fashion was the wife of the Prince of Wales, Princess Alexandra. Together they set the tone for society and fashion in the last decade of the century in the 1890s and into their own reign of the Edwardian era from 1901 to 1910. Read more detail about the era 1890-1914 in the section La Belle Époque 1890-1914 Fashion and The Mood of Edwardian Society.

  • Costume Drawings 1914-1915
  • Costume Drawings 1916-1917
  • 1910-20 Black Costume Silhouettes
  • 1910-20 Outline Costume Silhouettes


What kind of dresses were worn in the Victorian era? ›

The fashion of the 19th century is renowned for its corsets, bonnets, top hats, bustles and petticoats. Women's fashion during the Victorian period was largely dominated by full skirts, which gradually moved to the back of the silhouette.

How did middle class Victorians dress? ›

Women in the middle class usually wore dresses or gowns. The lower middle class wore simple dresses, and were plain. Usually, women would wear petticoats, corsets, or chemises under the gowns or dresses. During the 1860's skirts for women were flatten near the neck area and towards the back of the skirt.

What did people wear in the 1860s? ›

Shirts, more often concealed underneath high-buttoned jackets, were now more plain than previous decades. Shirt collars were not particularly high, and often folded down, completed by a variety of ties and cravats. Waistcoats were usually single-breasted and often featured a shawl collar (Severa 209).

What kind of dresses were worn in the 1800s? ›

Dress for ladies in the first half of the 19th century ranged from high-waisted gowns with long, simple lines to gowns with low, pointed waists, large sleeves (in the 1830s) and full,wide skirts. Fabrics in the early 1800s were usually soft muslins, some figured or embroidered, and silks.

What color were Victorian dresses? ›

"During the 1860-85 period generally colors were delicate, white, blue, gray, lilac, pink and pale brown; trimmings were often dark, such as black on soft pink and white, or bright blue on pale green-gray. Dresses of two colors and two textiles were typical.

How do you describe a Victorian dress? ›

The typical Victorian dress shape was an elongated V-shaped bodice, and full skirts with the sides of bodices stopping at the natural waistline with sleeves that were tight at the top, but wider from the elbow to the wrist.

What were Victorian dresses made of? ›

Fibres used were all natural ones such as cotton, wool and silk. Making the very tight bodices and sleeves of women's dresses required far more skill than the straight-seamed skirt.

What were rich Victorian dresses made of? ›

Rich Victorians would have had lots of outfits and would have chosen material such as silk and satin for their finest clothes. Poor Victorians were not able to spend very much money on clothes. They had to choose practical and warm clothing and would not have had a selection of clothes to choose from.

What did Victorian ladies wear under their dresses? ›

Corsets, crinolines and bustles: fashionable Victorian underwear. It was often the structures beneath Victorian clothing that gave women's fashion its form. Corsets (also known as stays) moulded the waist, while cage crinolines supported voluminous skirts, and bustles projected a dress out from behind.

What were dresses made of in the 1860s? ›

Daily Garments

Day dresses for ladies typically had long sleeves and a high neckline and were most often made from cotton, fine wool, or silk. An evening or ball gown would have very short sleeves, often small puffs, and an open neckline and would be made out of silk or other especially fine cloth.

What was the 1860s era called? ›

Ideologically, the Victorian era witnessed resistance to the rationalism that defined the Georgian period, and an increasing turn towards romanticism and even mysticism in religion, social values, and arts.

What did people wear in the 1969s? ›

Sheath and A-line minidresses, both without defined waists, were popular silhouettes. These modern designs dominated the mid-sixties as fashion moved toward a more playful and freeing look. While the miniskirt reached its height mid-decade, by the late 1960s, a new style and culture was emerging.

What were popular colors in the Victorian era? ›

The traditional Victorian colour palette was dark and consisted of dark, rich and deep shades of maroon, red, burgundy, chestnut, dark green, brown and blues.

Why were Victorian dresses so big? ›

Women were literally carrying around yards and yards of fabric everywhere they went. With the invention of the hoop skirt, ladies could still get the enormous bell shape to their skirts without all that extra fabric. Because they were so lightweight, hoop skirts got bigger and bigger.

What were old dresses made of? ›

Wool, cotton and linen for the common people and silk, cotton and linen for the noble/rich. Linen- for shirts, underdresses and lining. Plain cotton- for shirts, underdresses and lining. Printed cotton- for dresses.

Why is it called Victorian style? ›

Victorian architecture is a blanket term used to describe the many ornate architectural styles that emerged during Queen Victoria's reign over the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901.

Why did Victorians wear a lot of black? ›

Wearing black had become a fashion after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, when Queen Victoria herself continued to wear combinations of black until she died in 1901. This mourning mode directly influenced textile choice during several decades, especially among middle-aged and elderly middle-class women.

Why did Victorians dress boys in dresses? ›

The main reason for keeping boys in dresses was toilet training, or the lack thereof. The change was probably made once boys had reached the age when they could easily undo the rather complicated fastenings of many early modern breeches and trousers.

What did Victorians Wear facts? ›

Women wore dresses and shawls while men wore trousers, shirts and jackets. Women would wear a cap or bonnet and men wore a hat. These were not just to be respectable but also to keep dirt and lice away, and to keep hair out of the way of factory machines. Rich Victorians would wear much more elaborate clothes.

What is the Victorian era known for? ›

The Victorian Era was a time of vast political reform and social change, the Industrial Revolution, authors Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, a railway and shipping boom, profound scientific discovery and the first telephone and telegraph.

What was the original purpose of dresses? ›

Perhaps the most obvious function of dress is to provide warmth and protection. Many scholars believe, however, that the first crude garments and ornaments worn by humans were designed not for utilitarian but for religious or ritual purposes.

What did Victorian clothing look like? ›

Women's fashion in the Victorian era was known for its big skirts, tight corsets, and bonnets. Women in this time period wore many layers of dresses, blouses, skirts, coats, and they were prohibited to show as little as an ankle. Under these dresses the women wore corsets that limited their movement throughout the day.

How did poor Victorian dress? ›

Poor Victorian women wore thin dirty dresses which were dark colours and made from cotton or wool because silk and linen would be far too expensive and wouldn't last as long as they needed them to last for ages.

How many layers are in a Victorian dress? ›

Dresses in the Victorian era consisted of two distinct pieces, the bodice and the skirt.

What did a poor Victorian child wear? ›

Poorer children often wore patched and mended clothes that had been bought second-hand or passed down through the family. Boots and shoes were the most expensive items and some children were forced to go barefoot, even in winter.

What did Victorians wear to bed? ›

Sleepwear during the Victorian age was usually referred to as 'night clothes' and often consisted of ankle-length nightshirts or nightgowns and floor-length robes. Almost everything was white, especially when the style was first adopted (eventually colors and patterns became fashionable).

How did Victorian ladies wear their hair? ›

Most respectable women wore their hair in an intricately braided or twisted up do. Women would even add additional pieces of human hair, similar to modern day extensions, to give their hairstyle more volume and height. The most important aspect of Victorian hair was neatness.

Did Victorian ladies wear makeup? ›

The use of excessive makeup in the Victorian age was viewed as promiscuous and would only be seen on performers or prostitutes. A pure, natural face, free from blemishes, freckles, or marks was considered beautiful.

What did Victorian ladies wear on their heads? ›

As you probably already know, bonnets were the number one women's headwear choice in the 1830s because this is when women liked big hair with many loops and knots. The Victorian bonnets had large crowns and were often trimmed with frills, feathers, artificial flowers, ribbons, lace, or some kind of fruit or vegetable.

What were dresses made of in the 1900s? ›

Women's Dresses in the 1900s

Women wore dresses or tailored suit dresses. Those who could afford it chose sumptuous and elegant fabrics, such as silk, satin, damask, or chiffon. High lace collars topped long-sleeved tops that were often heavily embellished and bloused loosely at the bodice.

How did people dress in 1867? ›

OVERVIEW. 1867 saw an increasing popularity of princess-cut dresses (those without a waist seam) as well as a greater emphasis on back volume as the crinoline begins to disappear. Men's trousers began to be more narrowly cut in the “French style.”

How did people dress in 1865? ›

In 1865 the shape of the crinoline had shifted—flattening in the front, with greater fullness in the back. Blue, neutral, and striped fabrics were quite popular and often accented with contrasting trimmings.

What is Victorian culture? ›

The cultural era of this period is known as “Victorianism,” the culture of the dominant bourgeoisie in the second half of the nineteenth century. That culture was named after the British Queen Victoria, who presided over the zenith of British power and the height of British imperialism.

What are five characteristics of the Victorian era? ›

Victorian era, in British history, the period between approximately 1820 and 1914, corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria's reign (1837–1901) and characterized by a class-based society, a growing number of people able to vote, a growing state and economy, and Britain's status as the most ...

Why is 1860 important? ›

The Republican Party was relatively new; 1860 was only the second time the party had a candidate in the presidential race. The Constitutional Union Party was also new; 1860 was the first and only time the party ran a candidate for president. The results of the 1860 election pushed the nation into war.

Why did they wear so many layers in the 1800s? ›

The Victorians, too, wore *more* layers of clothing in the cooler, winter months for protection and warmth. They shed most of those layers when hot weather came. But know for sure, a chemise, drawers, corset, and *at least* one but maybe more petticoats were worn under even light summer ensembles.

Why were fashion dresses most welcomed by the masses? ›

Answer. Answer: Crinolines Were Designed To Accentuate Women's Crinolines created a broad silhouette - skirts billowed out from the waist and expanded a woman's lower half, thus "exaggerating" her waist and hips.

How many colors did Victorian have? ›

Typically, Victorian house paint colors rely on no fewer than three shades of paint. Some Victorian color schemes resemble an amalgam of cotton candy colors, while others are more muted but no less distinctive.

What are the 3 original colors? ›

Understanding the Color Wheel

Three Primary Colors (Ps): Red, Yellow, Blue. Three Secondary Colors (S'): Orange, Green, Violet. Six Tertiary Colors (Ts): Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, which are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary.

What are the 3 most important colors? ›

The three additive primary colours are red, green, and blue; this means that, by additively mixing the colours red, green, and blue in varying amounts, almost all other colours can be produced, and, when the three primaries are added together in equal amounts, white is produced.

What were Victorians obsessed with? ›

The Victorians are known for their prudish and repressed behavior. But few are aware of their almost fanatical obsession with death. And no one was more fixated than the era's namesake, Queen Victoria, ruler of England from 1837 to 1901.

What did poor Victorian ladies wear? ›

Victorian clothing for the poor primarily consisted of an over sized coat and trousers with no under garments. Shoes were rare for the poor and for the winter many poor…

What did the ideal Victorian woman look like? ›

Clear faces, bright eyes and tinted lips were desirable, but everything had to look natural. It was believed that cheeks painted with blush had to look flushed, and lips had to look bitten rather than painted.

What gender were dresses originally made for? ›

Skirts and dresses were everyday attire for most of humanity's ancient civilizations, regardless of gender.

Who invented dress first? ›

The first known humans to make clothing, Neanderthal man, survived from about 200,000 B.C.E. to about 30,000 B.C.E. During this time the earth's temperature rose and fell dramatically, creating a series of ice ages throughout the northern areas of Europe and Asia where the Neanderthal man lived.

How did they clean dresses in the 1800s? ›

Washing clothes in the late 1800s was a laborious process. Most household manuals recommended soaking the clothes overnight first. The next day, clothes would be soaped, boiled or scalded, rinsed, wrung out, mangled, dried, starched, and ironed, often with steps repeating throughout.

How should a Victorian woman dress? ›

Women's fashion in the Victorian era was known for its big skirts, tight corsets, and bonnets. Women in this time period wore many layers of dresses, blouses, skirts, coats, and they were prohibited to show as little as an ankle. Under these dresses the women wore corsets that limited their movement throughout the day.

What did poor people wear in Victorian era? ›

Poor Victorian women wore thin dirty dresses which were dark colours and made from cotton or wool because silk and linen would be far too expensive and wouldn't last as long as they needed them to last for ages.

What were vintage dresses called? ›

Retro, short for retrospective, or "vintage style," usually refers to clothing that imitates the style of a previous era. Reproduction, or repro, clothing is a newly made copy of an older garment. Clothing produced more recently is usually called modern or contemporary fashion.

Why did Victorian dresses have so many layers? ›

The Victorians, too, wore *more* layers of clothing in the cooler, winter months for protection and warmth. They shed most of those layers when hot weather came. But know for sure, a chemise, drawers, corset, and *at least* one but maybe more petticoats were worn under even light summer ensembles.

What is female under clothes called? ›

Women's undergarments collectively are also called lingerie. They also are called intimate clothing and intimates. An undershirt (vest in the United Kingdom) is a piece of underwear covering the torso, while underpants (pants in the United Kingdom), drawers, and undershorts cover the genitals and buttocks.

What did Victorians wear in school? ›

Girls would wear a knee-length woollen dress, usually in a dark colour. They also wore a white apron tied at the back to protect their dress, thick black stockings and black shoes or boots. Boys wore a shirt, trousers and ankle boots, or shorts with long socks, with a jacket with a waistcoat or a jumper underneath.

How did rich Victorian dress? ›

Rich women wore corsets under their dresses. At the beginning of Victoria's reign it was fashionable to wear a crinoline under a skirt. These hoops and petticoats made skirts very wide. Later in the period skirts were narrower with a shape at the back called a bustle.

What was a dressmaker called in the 1800s? ›

Dressmakers, mantua-makers, or seamstresses/sempstresses, (and sometimes also called needle-women as were the lower class workers), were those catering to the upper classes and learned their trade through an apprenticeship.

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