By Guest Author: Anne Lesley
Prior to the Victorian period men were classed as the style icons of their age but with the reign of Queen Victoria this was to change. It was the wife’s turn to dress to impress and to show off the wealth and status of her husband.
There were many style changes that came and went during the 63 years that Victoria reigned.
In 1840 full skirts with multiple petticoats were worn. These would be stiffened with horsehair or padding, trimmings would be used to accentuate the waist and sleeves on day dresses which were narrow – hence the term straight laced. Evening dresses however were worn low off the shoulder.
Towards the 1850’s sleeves started to get wider in general, more petticoats made the dresses look even more pronounced and flounces became popular. Low necklines were also worn on day dresses.
In 1856 the cage crinoline was reinvented. Evening dresses were worn off the shoulder with shawls to cover the shoulders. By the 1860’s skirts became flatter at the front and the jacket did not necessarily match the skirt and light bustles came to prominence in 1869 as hoop skirts lost their popularity. At this time dresses also had trimmings galore. Evening bodices were worn off the shoulder and had small decorative sleeves with ruffles and bows.
After 1875 bustles became smaller. High necklines or ‘v’ necklines filled with a chimisette were very popular. By 1877 bustles were lost and a much more scandalous look came to be popular. Skirts were made that clung to the legs at the front. This continued with skirts becoming ever narrower. The skirt would remain straight and narrow to the knee and then fan out to its base.
In 1880 the fan started to disappear and dresses became slimmer and necklines were high and conservative.
By 1883 dresses remained slim at the front and bustles reappeared with a vengeance. Evening dresses were worn high on the shoulder and they were often sleeveless. During 1885 trimmings on dresses declined, high necklines remained but with a collar and evening dresses had shawl collars added to make it appear like the dress had a vest or jacket attached.
In 1890 bustles disappeared for good. Skirts were still slim in front and full behind but without lift. Skirts became plainer and the focus was on the bodice which became highly trimmed with frills.
This did not last long and by the mid 1890’s the style was for wide hats, puff sleeves, narrow waist and flared skirts. The many layers of petticoats had returned.