Ten Fashions of the Victorian Era

As with so much else in Victorian times, fashion ranged from the weird to the practical and sometimes combined the two.

Let's take a look at just 10 of them:

1. The Bonnet

A bonnet was a must for almost all women and girls until the mid-19th century. At their most extreme, poke bonnets had such a wide brim that the wearer’s face was concealed and her vision obstructed.

From the mid 19th century, younger women took to hats. Bonnets fell out of fashion, to be worn only by elderly ladies.

2. Top Hats

Top hats were popular for men throughout Victorian times. Shapes changed with fashion and they were generally taller than now.

An ‘opera hat’ had a hidden mechanism to collapse it so that it took up less space at the theatre or cloakroom.

Towards the end of the Victorian era, top hats became restricted to formal wear, as they are now. Flat caps were worn, but didn’t achieve the height of popularity until the 20th century.

3. Frock coats

A long tailored coat known as a frock coat was popular throughout Victorian times. As the century wore on, the frock coat, along with men’s fashion generally, became plainer and darker and standardised.

The gentlemen in the picture show fashions of different eras, with, to the right, earliest, and, centre, latest.

4. Waistcoats

The waistcoat was often the most decorative item of a man’s outfit, and at different stages in the era waistcoats matched or contrasted the jacket.

5. Shawls

The bigger and fancier the better! Tartan was all the rage, inspired by Queen Victoria’s fondness for Scotland. The correct carriage of the shawl indicated a lady’s decorum.

6. The Tie

Colourful cravat or tie. Neckties began in 1850. By 1870, the long narrow knotted tie known as a ‘four in hand’, with matching trousers, waistcoat and ‘lounging jacket’ became the prototype of the modern suit.

7. Dresses

In early Victorian times the shape of women’s skirts was a huge dome. After 1860, the skirt became flattened at the front and from the 1870s, flatter in front, narrower at the sides and high behind – a bustle. Colours changed too.

In 1856, the first artificial dye was developed. It was a dazzling shade of purple, starting a craze for all things mauve. Other artificial dyes followed, all much brighter than natural dyes. No outfit could be too gaudy!

8. Crinoline

Made of whalebone or, later, metal hoops to give the full shape to the skirt, the crinoline certainly classed at weird. It was so impractical to manoeuvre crinolines that systems of hidden pulleys were invented to hoist the skirt around obstacles.

Crinolines were much ridiculed and even dangerous, with records of them catching fire.

9. The Corset

Every woman wore a corset. And yes, many men wore corsets too. Corsets were meant to confer a health advantage, supporting the back and tummy. Bertram’s blog, Ten Weird Things the Victorians Did, describes how by ‘waist training’, girls reduced their waist measurements by 14 inches. However, for most people corsets were surprisingly comfy.

10. Everything else…

We’ve already got to 9 and haven’t mentioned shoes, boots, gaiters, gloves, and the many other layers of undergarments including shirts, chemises, petticoats, drawers, etc. Throughout Victorian times, rich or poor, we’d all be wearing A LOT of clothes. At least we’d have been warm. Victorians believed that fresh air was essential for health, so homes and buildings were cold and there was no heating on transport.

But in one respect, Victorian clothing was the same as for the centuries before back to the Anglo-Saxons – a washable underlayer and a non-washable outer layer, all in natural fabrics. it would take the invention of the washing machine, central heating and man-made fabrics to change all that for ever.

Written by Matilda

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