May 282011
 

Introduction to Fashion

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, there is a wonderful summary of fashion in the 19th century. There’s a snippet below and more is available at their site.

Men’s Dress

By the early 19th century men’s fashions had also undergone a radical change. The coat still finished in long tails at the back but was cut higher in front. The waist-length square-cut waistcoat showed beneath it. The lining of the shoulders and upper chest of the coat was sometimes quilted to improve the fit. In the early 19th century some dandies wore boned corsets to give them a small waist.

Gradually men adopted long trousers rather than knee breeches. Trousers became increasingly fashionable in the first quarter of the 19th century. At first they were only worn for day and informal dress but by the 1820s they were acceptable for evening wear. Breeches continued to be worn at court.

The tall hat from the late 18th century was still worn and developed into the top hat which was worn for day and formal dress throughout the 19th century. Hair was carefully styled into a windswept look or worn short and curled.

During the second half of the 19th century men retained the white waistcoat and black tail-coat and trousers of the early 19th century for evening wear. For day wear they wore a frock coat with straight trousers, a short waistcoat and a shirt with a high stiff collar. The single- or double-breasted frock coat fitted quite closely to the torso and had a waist seam. The skirts were straight and finished at mid-thigh or below. The front of the coat was square cut. Hair was still styled but by the late 19th century it was short and cut close to the head. Many men had beards and moustaches.

Women’s Dress

As the 19th century progressed women’s dress gradually revealed the actual form of the body. In the 1820s and 1830s the waistline deepened, returning to its natural position. As the natural waist returned the bodice required a tighter fit and in contrast the skirt became fuller and bell-shaped. There were several different sleeve styles but short puffed sleeves were generally worn for evening and long sleeves for day. Corsets continued to be worn. These were lightly boned and quilted, with a deep busk. Several layers of petticoats with frilled hems, sometimes of horsehair, were worn to support the full skirts. Some petticoats of the 1840s were feather-quilted. Later examples of the 1850s and 1860s were made of ‘crin’ and steel hoops. The term ‘crinoline’ is derived from the French word crin which means horsehair.

This fashion plate from 'Ladies' magazine of 1801 shows the characteristic high waistline of the time. Museum no. E.249-1955

1801 Fashion Plate with characteristic high waistline

This fashion plate from ‘Ladies’ magazine of 1801 shows the characteristic high waistline of the time. Museum no. E.249-1955

Dress with a pattern that complements the shape created by the cage crinoline worn underneath it. Museum no. T.702-1913

Dress with cage crinoline underneath

Dress with a pattern that complements the shape created by the cage crinoline worn underneath it. Museum no. T.702-1913

Bonnets or hats were worn outdoors and linen caps indoors. During the 1820s hair styles became very elaborate with raised top knots and the crowns of bonnets or hats were designed to accommodate them. By the middle of the century, by contrast, hairstyles had become smooth with a central parting finished with ringlets on either side of the face and a small bun at the back or simply swept back from the face to a chignon (a mass of hair arranged on a pad at the back of the head and held in place with a net or snood). Bonnets and hats continued to be worn until the 1860s when small, elegant styles appeared which simply perched on top of the head.

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