The restrictive nature of fashion in the last decade of the 19 th century reflected the position of women in the era.
Women concentrated their efforts on their families. Very few women worked outside the home. Female attire reflected a husbands wealth and position in society. Improper behavior often affected the husbands business as well as social status. Strict rules of etiquette corresponded with the restrictive fashion of the age.
Dressing for Day Victorian women changed clothes numerous times in one day with morning dresses, tea gowns, day dresses and skirts, and evening dresses. Considering the amount of time needed to fasten the numerous buttons and hooks and eyes, it truly is amazing they had time for anything else.
Table of Contents Undergarments Petticoats Day Ensembles Bodices and Skirts Hats Gloves Parasols Footwear Day Wear Reference List
Undergarments Ladies wore bloomers or drawers and a chemise before donning a corset and corset cover. Corsets Bloomers *Click on the images to view the undergarments of the age. *Click on the hyperlinked words to view information. Chemise
PetticoatsPetticoats followed the corset and corset cover. Petticoats
Footwear * Click on center image for information.
Bloomers or Drawers The first layer of clothing for the 1890s woman consisted of drawers or bloomers. Mainly made of embroidered or plain cotton, silk, or linen, they tied at the waist or had button closures on the sides and gathered at the knees with ruffles, lace, or crochet edging and a split crotch. Drawers came into fashion in the 1830s and have existed in one form or another ever since.
The chemise was a long loose cotton garment, sometimes embroidered and adorned with ribbons and lace, and usually with extra trimming over the bust line to add fullness. They definitely were loose and worn as protection from the following layer, the corset. A shorter version of the chemise called the camisole is often worn today as an outer garment. Chemise
Corsets have a long history in fashion. A corset consisted of whalebone stays with a laced back that molded the figure. The corset cinched the waist to the optimal fifteen or so inches while shoving the bosom upward creating an hourglass effect when worn with the bustle for the S bend look of the era. By 1860, the corset no longer consisted of steel, but the stays still consisted of whalebone. Women wore corsets at all times and different corsets were available for different activities: rustproof corsets for swimming, shorter corsets for horseback riding, and elastic inserts for housekeeping chores. Corsets Next
The injurious nature of the corset proved to create many health problems. Corsets interfered with breathing, digesting, sitting, moving, and childbirth. Breathing became the most common problem connected to the corset and the vapors or fainting spells were a direct result of being unable to breathe. Some women requested surgical removal of the lowest rib bone to accommodate wearing the corset and achieving a smaller waist. Corset wearing began in the teenage years at the insistence of mothers feeling it their duty. The length of time wearing a corset created problems or death in childbirth.
Petticoats were worn underneath skirts and dresses to add fullness. They were made of cotton, silk, or flannel. The weather determined the number of petticoats worn. In summer, only one petticoat was worn, but in the winter up to five or six helped keep a lady warm. Most Victorian undergarments were very pretty and had elaborate embellishments of lace, ruffles, and embroidery. Petticoats especially, had trim extensively at the hem with ruffles and frills where they might possibly be seen. Petticoats
In the 1890s, fashionable clothing consisted of two pieces, the bodice and the skirt. This decade returned a focus to the sleeve. The puffy sleeve, known as the leg of mutton or gigot sleeve of the 1830s returned. Rather than swelling from the low dropped armhole of the 1830s, the 1890s leg of mutton or gigot sleeve was now set into a high or normal armhole with the width at shoulder level becoming narrow at the elbow to the wrist. Fullness added to the skirt balanced the enormous sleeves while keeping the slim waist accentuated. Bodice Next
As in the earlier period, evening dresses often had a lace flounce added above the sleeve to increase the impression of width. As skirts became plainer, the tight, high-necked, high- busted, and long waisted bodice became more ornate with lace jabots or frills, crossovers, or epaulettes. The matching, but separate bodice, often buttoned up the back or wrapped around the torso in a maze of hooks and eyes.
Added width at the hemline balanced the width at the shoulder. Gored skirts gave a close-fitting effect over the hips, widening in a straight line to the hem. Some pleating from the waistband was retained at the back and a certain amount of padding was added when necessary to round out the hips. A preference for the tailor-made suit, and in particular the image of the American Gibson girl, elevated the combination of blouse or shirtwaist and skirt into the realm of fashion. Skirts Next
Ready-made blouses were available in great variety, high-necked and masculine or dressy enough to wear with a plain skirt on informal evening occasions. The tailor-made suit of the 1890s had a three-quarter-length jacket, wide reverse and enormous sleeves, a plain skirt to instep or ground level, and might sport a waistcoat. Most Victorian skirts were quite heavy and always fully lined with muslin or silk and stiffened at the hem to help hold the skirt away from the body. Because they were so heavy, it was necessary to have hooks at the waistband, which attached to the bodice to keep the skirt in its place.
Fashion etiquette mandated that women wear gloves when they went out in public. Typically, they were white tight-fitting kidskin gloves that fastened with up to one hundred tiny buttons. First, women talcum powdered their hands, then a glove stretcher was placed in each finger of the glove to stretch the leather. With lots of pushing and pulling, the hand would finally somehow fit into the glove. Finally, a special hook fastened all the buttons. Gloves
Further etiquette demanded completing the Victorian outfit with a hat. During the 1890s, bonnets lost favor with the fashionable although still worn by some elderly ladies after 1900. Hats became wider- brimmed, worn high on the head over the fuller hairstyle. Toques were often quite large with drapes or ruches in velvet, silk, or tulle. Trimmings, ribbons, flowers, and feathers still emphasized a vertical line. Hats
The fashion of the day dictated fair and smooth skin. To achieve this, parasols, a lighter version of an umbrella, protected the skin from the sun. The parasol often used the material of an ensemble with adornments of lace They had more than a functional purpose. Parasols were also a form of communication as were fans. Parasols
Victorians were sticklers for detail, and that included the detail on their shoes, as well. High-button shoes were extremely difficult to wear, All those tiny buttons had to be fastened with a hook called a "shoe button hook". It was similar to the "glove hook", except it was slightly longer because the buttons on shoes were a bit larger than the buttons on gloves. They were typically about six to ten inches in length, and the price for them ranged between one and eighty cents, depending on the construction material. Bone-handled button hooks sold for about five cents while the rosewood hooks sold for six to eight cents. Since the Bloomingdale's 1886 Illustrated Catalog offered them for purchase singly or by-the-dozen, it would have been necessary to have a variety. Footwear
Fashion Plates Cathys Wee Victorian Page Marquise de - Fashion Plates Timeline of Costumer History Bissonnette on Costume * Click on the roses to view examples of 1890 ensembles