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1850s in Western fashion

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1859 fashion plate of both men's and women's daywear, with seabathing in background. He wears the new leisure fashion, the sack coat.
1859 fashion plate of both men's and women's daywear, with seabathing in background. He wears the new leisure fashion, the sack coat.

1850s fashion in Western and Western-influenced clothing is characterized by an increase in the width of women's skirts supported by crinolines or hoops, and the beginnings of dress reform. Masculine styles began to originate more in London, while female fashions originated almost exclusively in Paris.[1]

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  • ✪ 19th Century Fashion - How To Tell Different Decades Apart?
  • ✪ Women's Fashion from the 1860's
  • ✪ THE ULTIMATE FASHION HISTORY: The 1830s & 1840s
  • ✪ Fashion History (1700-1900)
  • ✪ THE ULTIMATE FASHION HISTORY The 1850s & 1860s


Hi! So today I'll be showing you how to tell different 19th century fashion decades apart. We're not going to be talking about what affected fashion but rather what the clothes looked like. Everything in fashion happens gradually so to understand what was going on at the beginning of a new century let's move back a bit to 1790s. 1790s were a transition period. A new slender silhouette came to fashion but it took a while till the ladies got rid of their bum rolls, wigs and wide petticoats. That's why in some Jane Austen movie adaptations you can still see the older generation wearing older 18th century gowns, while the youngsters are dressed in the empire fashion. So in 1790s the waist gradually went higher, the skirts got narrower, the hair smaller (though ladies still used to powder them), turbans and ostrich feathers were the thing. Sleeves were usually elbow length. What's typical for the era is that the skirts were gathered at the back of the dress but also in front. That's why when we look at some of the 1790s fashion plates nowadays all of the ladies look kind of pregnant. Also if you look at the back of a late 1790s or early 1800s dress you can notice a very peculiar cut. The sleeves heads were pushed back towards the shoulder blades and the back of the dress was very short with the shortest point being in the center. Women would even pad this bit of the skirt to make it look fuller. Despite a circulating stereotype this new silhouette did not make women toss corsets away. Some brave French fashionistas were not wearing them that's true but corsets never completely disappeared Mainly because the new silhouette required your bust to basically touch your chin. And what better way to achieve that than some good old push-up bra? I mean, stays. The beginning of the 1800s saw the death of the heavily powdered hair and classicism inspired heritage became all the rage. Women would style their coiffures after antique sculptures and paintings. The dresses also changed. Everyone got crazy about light delicate fabrics. The skirts' trains were getting longer and longer, the busts were higher than ever and the bodices were really short. By 1810 the super long trains were no longer in fashion (no longer, get it? haha) the skirts got wider and they became more trapezoidal in shape. Rich Indian silks became fashionable. The waist began gradually dropping around 1815. Also the later in the decade the more decoration on the everyday outfits. Grecian and Roman Hairstyles were adapted into a very popular look which included curls on both sides of the face together with an intricate updo. 1820s were a transitional period from a classical empire silhouette to the crazily over-the-top 1830s. So the skirts got wider and wider shorter and shorter the waist drop lower and lower the sleeves grew bigger and bigger and more and more decorations started to appear on the dresses. The hem of the skirts was padded to help achieve the trapezoidal shape. In 1830s everything kept growing until the middle of the decade and let me tell you got really intense. Women would wear multiple petticoats some of them stiffened by cording or horsehair to hold the volume of the skirts that were now shorter than ever. They even wore special sleeve supports to make the sleeves bigger. The waist was pretty low at this point but still a bit higher than ladies' natural waists. Thanks to Queen Victoria who was coronated in 1837 modesty and minimalism came to fashion. From 1836 everything started decreasing, the sleeve puffs started moving downwards, the decoration started disappearing, the skirts were back to floor length, the updos got flat and in the late 1830s the waist finally reached its natural position. 1840s were a decade of earthy colors, fitted pointy bodices, and fitted sleeves, tight collars usually separately attached, and small geometrical patterns. Basically everything got tighter and the only thing that kept growing was the width of women's skirts that required more and more support. Popular hair style was a low bun and the middle parting and that with some minor modifications was a hot look up until the late 1860s. In the 1850s the problem of growing skirts became so big (big, got it?) that it was necessary to develop a special construction to help them stay in shape and not floppy. That construction was called crinoline and it was patented in 1856. Now note that the crinoline did not exist until then so if you hear about 18th century crinolines, that's absolute nonsense. 18th century ladies were hoop skirts or panniers. 1850s skirts were often ruffled which is an easy way to tell them apart from 1840s skirts. Same goes for the sleeves which in 1850s were wide and called pagoda sleeves. Women would often wear fake white sleeves underneath so they could peek from the pagoda sleeves. The waist dropped a little bit below the actual waist level and got longer in the front Plaid dresses were all the rage as well as floral motives. In 1860s the shape of the whole silhouette started changing. After the waist reached its lowest point in 1850s it started going a little bit above the natural waist level in the 1860s. Buttoned bodices became fashionable, the ruffled plaid skirts were gone and instead plain solid colors were in fashion, with geometrical trimmings such as the Greek key decorating the hems. The shape of the skirt changed slightly and so did the shape of the crinoline underneath, accentuating the back. Apart from being gathered or pleated at the waist some skirts were also made of panels. From about 1867 the transitional period started. The waist would start traveling even higher but the skirt this time instead of expanding on decreasing would start getting more volume at the back It would also gradually become more and more decorated. The crinolines gradually morphed into crinolettes and then around the beginning of 1870s into bustles. That's how we enter the bustle era. 1870s where a decade I would compare to 1830s - big hair, a lot of decorations, frills, flowers, laces, pinks and pastels. A huge inspiration for 1870s was 18th century fashion and you can kind of tell. Even the hairstyles were sort of Marie Antoinette inspired. Some people would literally take old family dresses from let's say 1780s and redo them into fashionable creations. Dresses were also influenced by Renaissance and medieval fashions. About the butts - the 1870s bustle was large and the skirt was in trapezoidal shape. To accentuate the silhouette even more women would wear two skirts one of them was an underskirt which went - surprise surprise - under, and the other went on top and was called the over skirt. Over skirts were draped to make the butts look even bigger. And then, suddenly the butts disappeared! Around 1878 women dropped the big bustles and chose to wear small bum pads instead. The skirts got really narrow but instead of the fullness the designers came up with length and added long trains. This look called the natural form era lasted for only about four years because around 1882, the bustles were back on track! Remember what happened after 1830s? Minimalism, geometry, earthy tones strictness - well this sort of happened after the 1870s too. 1880s are known as the second bustle era and though at first glance might look similar to 1870s there are some significant differences that make it easier to tell them apart. Firstly the skirts are not the trapezoidal shape anymore. They were just a little bit wider than the hips. Secondly the shape of the corset changed slightly. Spoon busked corsets came into fashion giving the illusion of a full belly and I swear I'm not making it up. And from a more harsh geometrical 1870s shape, a curvy wavy 1880s shape evolved. Thirdly, the bustles shape or rather angle changed. Instead of gradually going down the bustles formed a sort of shelf on the ladies bottoms. Fourthly (if that's even a word) ladies' hairstyles changed. Women would also start cutting their forehead hair and setting it into frizzy bangs. Not the most flattering look but if you have bangs this is one of the rare 19th century fashion history moments when this look is historically accurate. So as you probably noticed, changes in fashion history usually start with something gradually growing or decreasing or getting longer or shorter so because skirts kept changing all the time at the beginning of the 1890s people were like "Hey what about the sleeves" Sleeves it is then - from 1890 to around 1895 the sleeves were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and to balance the huge sleeves the skirts also had to get wider if you wonder what happened to the bustle well it kind of disappeared. The only reminder that the bustle was ever there was a peculiar pleat at the back of the skirts in early 1890s but those pleats disappeared after a while too. 1890s where a time where art noveau was kind of huge so you can see that in the clothes and the way they're cut and made. Floral and geometrical designs cover the dresses, jackets and coats from the era. What I especially love about the 1890s is the collars so especially the coats and capes from the era jackets and generally speaking outerwear often had very high spiky collars you know they're Maleficent kind of collar The skirts changed once again from trapezoidal wide skirts in the middle of 1890s to tulip-shaped narrower skirts by the end of the decade. Later in the decade women also started getting rid of the weird frizzy bangs and a puffy more art nouveau appropriate style was introduced. 1890s were the time of a big discussion around tight lacing, corsets and how they affect women's health. Tight lacing wasn't very popular before but by the end of 19th century more and more fashionistas desired small waists. So the solution to the problem was an invention of an s-bend corset or a health corset in 1900. It completely changed women's silhouette but that's kind of a whole another story so maybe I'll tell you about that when we're discussing 20th century I hope now I hope now when you hear about something being "Victorian- or "19th century style" you know there is no such thing because 19th century was such a huge piece of fashion history with countless silhouettes cuts and styles. Anyway I hope you enjoyed this messy explanation obviously, I missed a lot of things and some things I listed as a typical thing for one decade we're actually also popular in other decades but just to give you a general idea. Ok, thanks for listening and see you next time hopefully.


Women's fashion


The Princesse de Broglie wears a blue silk evening gown with delicate lace and ribbon trim. Her hair is covered with a sheer frill trimmed with matching blue ribbon knots. She wears a necklace, tasseled earrings, and bracelets on each wrist.
The Princesse de Broglie wears a blue silk evening gown with delicate lace and ribbon trim. Her hair is covered with a sheer frill trimmed with matching blue ribbon knots. She wears a necklace, tasseled earrings, and bracelets on each wrist.
Fashions of 1853: Flounced skirts, cape-like jackets, and heavily trimmed bonnets.
Fashions of 1853: Flounced skirts, cape-like jackets, and heavily trimmed bonnets.

In the 1850s, the domed skirts of the 1840s continued to expand. Skirts were made fuller by means of flounces (deep ruffles), usually in tiers of three, gathered tightly at the top and stiffened with horsehair braid at the bottom.

Early in the decade, bodices of morning dresses featured panels over the shoulder that were gathered into a blunt point at the slightly dropped waist. These bodices generally fastened in back by means of hooks and eyes, but a new fashion for a [jacket] bodice appeared as well, buttoned in front and worn over a chemisette. Wider bell-shaped or pagoda sleeves were worn over false undersleeves or engageantes of cotton or linen, trimmed in lace, broderie anglaise, or other fancy-work. Separate small collars of lace, tatting, or crochet-work were worn with morning dresses, sometimes with a ribbon bow.

Evening ball gowns were very low-necked, off-the-shoulder, and had short sleeves.

The introduction of the steel cage crinoline in 1856 provided a means for expanding the skirt still further, and flounces gradually disappeared in favor of a skirt lying more smoothly over the petticoat and hoops. Pantalettes were essential under this new fashion for modesty's sake.


The fabrics had been made up of cotton and linen as well as other herbs


Cape-like jackets were worn over the very wide skirts. Another fashionable outer garment was an Indian shawl or one woven in Paisley, Renfrewshire in a paisley pattern in imitation of Indian styles. Hooded cloaks were also worn.

Riding habits had fitted jackets with tight sleeves, worn over a collared shirt or (more often) chemisette. They were worn with long skirts and mannish top hats.

Hairstyles and headgear

Hair was dressed simply, middle parted and in a bun or wound braid at the back, with the sides puffed out over the ears or with clusters of curls to either side in imitation of early 17th century fashions.

The indoor cap became little more than a lace and ribbon frill worn on the back of the head.

Beginnings of dress reform

1851 marked the birth of the Victorian dress reform movement, when New England temperance activist Libby Miller adopted what she considered a more rational costume: loose trousers gathered at the ankles, topped by a short dress or skirt hemmed just below the knees. The style was promoted by editor Amelia Bloomer and was immediately christened a Bloomer suit by the press. Despite its practicality,[2] the Bloomer suit was the subject of much ridicule in the press and had little impact on mainstream fashion.

Style gallery 1850–1854

  1. The Bloomer suit, a short dress worn over full trousers gathered at the ankle, briefly adopted by dress reformers in the United States in the 1850s.
  2. Male outdoors attire and female riding-habit of 1850 (New York).
  3. 1851 Parisian fashion plate shows the fashionable use of fabrics printed â la disposition (with border-prints) on skirt flounces and for bodices and sleeves.
  4. Madame Moitessier wears a black off-the-shoulder evening gown with ruffles. She wears a brooch and bracelets on both wrists. France, 1851.
  5. Mrs. Coventry Patmore wears a small fancy-work collar and a ribbon at her throat. Her thick, wavy hair is parted in the center and poufed over her ears, 1851.
  6. Matilde Juva-Branca wears a dark morning dress with a lace blouse or chemisette and cuffs and short leather gloves. Her hair is parted and worn in long sausage curls, 1851.
  7. Doña Josefa García Solis wears a simple green satin dress with laced short sleeves over a linen chemise or chemisette. Her lace cap is trimmed with rose-colored tassels and ribbons, and she carries an elaborate fan, 1852.
  8. Doña Amalie de Llano y Dotres, Condesa de Vilches wears a bright blue dress with a tiered skirt. The long pointed bodice is trimmed with horizontal bands of ruching over a chemise or chemisette (or an underlayer styled to look like a chemise), 1853.
  9. A reform corset from Madame Caplin. This corset was adjusted to the body, not to the dress as before.

Style gallery 1855–1859

  1. Empress Eugenie and her Ladies in Waiting wear formal dress (despite the outdoor setting). The hair styled with ringlets or curls on the sides and a small bun in back is typical. 1855.
  2. French plaid silk taffeta morning dress has wide sleeves with box-pleated frills. c. 1855. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.767.
  3. Mme Moitessier wears a floral evening gown with ribbon streamers. Her lace cap is little more than a frill trimmed in red ribbons. (It is possibly a dinner dress, worn with a full dress cap. However, owing to the size of her cap, it is more likely an irregular headdress.) 1856.
  4. Charlotte Cushman wears her hair parted in the center and brushed into puffs over each ear. Her morning dress has wide pagoda sleeves and is worn over undersleeves or engageantes. The high neckline is set off with a white collar. American, 1857.
  5. "Going Swimming Fully Dressed" or swimsuit of 1858 is styled like a Bloomer suit (acceptable in the context of beachwear), and includes a cap to confine the hair.
  6. Fashion plate from Godey's Magazine, with full-blown little girl's crinoline.
  7. Countess Alexander Nikolaevitch Lamsdorff wears a morning dress with ruched violet ribbon trim and an elaborate lace collar, 1859. The violet trim and black cap may indicate the later stages of mourning.
  8. Jacket from Godey's Lady's Book, December 1859. Colorful, braid-trimmed Zouave jackets based on military styles became fashionable in the late 1850s and remained so well into the 1860s.

Caricature gallery

The crinoline style gave wide scope to satirists, and many cartoons and comic odes to the crinoline appeared.

  1. "A Splendid Spread", satire on an early inflatable (air tube) version of the crinoline by George Cruikshank, from The Comic Almanack, 1850. (Crinolines did not actually come into wide use until about 1854.)
  2. Cutaway view of a flounced skirt over a crinoline, Punch magazine, August 1856.
  3. A satirical cartoon from the July 11th 1857 issue of Harper's Weekly, contrasting the supposedly becoming styles of the time with the supposedly ugly Grecian-influenced Empire/Regency styles of an earlier generation...

See also: The Comparative Sizes of Bell(e)s

Men's fashion

John Ruskin wears a dark frock coat over lighter trousers and low-heeled shoes.  He carries a soft-crowned brown hat.  Detail of a portrait by John Everett Millais, 1853–54.
John Ruskin wears a dark frock coat over lighter trousers and low-heeled shoes. He carries a soft-crowned brown hat. Detail of a portrait by John Everett Millais, 1853–54.

Shirts of linen or cotton featured high upstanding or turnover collars The trend of detachable shirt collars and cuffs (although first appearing in men's fashion in the 1820s) became highly popularized during this time period.[3] The newly fashionable four-in-hand neckties were square or rectangular, folded into a narrow strip and tied in a bow, or folded on the diagonal and tied in a knot with the pointed ends sticking out to form "wings". Heavy padded and fitted frock coats (in French redingotes), now usually single-breasted, were worn for business occasions, over waistcoats or vests with lapels and notched collars. Waistcoats were still cut straight across at the waist in front in 1850, but gradually became longer; the fashion for wearing the bottom button undone for ease when sitting lead to the pointed-hemmed waistcoat later in the century.

A new style, the sack coat, loosely fitted and reaching to mid-thigh, was fashionable for leisure activities; it would gradually replace the frock coat over the next forty years and become the modern suit coat.

The slightly cutaway morning coat was worn for formal day occasions. The most formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers, with a white cravat; this costume was well on its way to crystallizing into the modern "white tie and tails".

Full-length trousers were worn for day. Breeches remained a requirement for formal functions at the British court (as they would be throughout the century). Breeches continued to be worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.

Costumes consisting of a coat, waistcoat and trousers of the same fabric were a novelty of this period.

Starting in the 1850s and surviving until about the early 1900s (decade), facial hair became extremely popular, featuring a vast array of styles. This is well documented in famous photography of the era.

Tall top hats were worn with formal dress and grew taller on the way to the true stovepipe shape, but a variety of other hat shapes were popular. Soft-crowned hats, some with wide brims, were worn for country pursuits. The bowler hat was invented in 1850 but remained a working-class accessory.

Style gallery

  1. Painter G.P.A. Healy wears a shirt with a round-cornered collar and a pleated front. His necktie is tied in a small bow. America, c. 1850.
  2. James Fennimore Cooper wears a standing collar with a necktie folded on the diagonal and tied into wide "wings". His coat has wide lapels and a contrasting (perhaps velvet) collar. His contrasting waistcoat has lapels. United States, c. 1850 (Cooper died in 1851).
  3. Fashions of 1856 show an idealized rounded chest over a low waist. The cutaway morning coat (left) is worn with trousers trimmed with braid down the outer seam. Shirts have short straight collars and are worn with narrow neckties tied in wide bows. Half-boots have short heels. Coat sleeves are cut long, showing very little shirt cuff.
  4. 1857 fashion plate shows formal evening wear, informal day wear, top coats, and a dressing gown.
  5. Sam Houston, 1858, wears the wide-brimmed hat common on the American frontier.
  6. Artist Eugène Delacroix wears a stiff tie over a tall standing collar. His double-breasted waistcoat is cut straight across. His frock coat, waistcoat and trousers are all of different fabrics. France, 1858.
  7. Liberian politician Edward James Roye wears a frock coat with a wide collar and lapels over a waistcoat with lapels and eight buttons.
  8. Artist Henri Fantin-Latour wears a shirt with a turnover collar and a black necktie.

Caricature gallery

Vicissitudes of the Cravat compares "The Fast Man's Neckerchief in 1809" and "The Fast Man's Neck-Tie in 1859".

Children's fashion

  1. This young boy wears a belted tunic over pantalettes. His governess wears the modest, dark dress appropriate to her occupation.
  2. Hans Haubold, Graf von Einsiedel wears a three-piece suit with rounded collar and lapel peaks, and the round, frilled open collar favored for children, 1855.
  3. Young girl wears a knee-length skirt with crinoline petticoat, 1858–59.
  4. A girl in a dress and pantalettes, 1855

See also


  1. ^ Russell, Douglas A. (1983). Costume History and Style. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. p. 357. ISBN 0-13-181214-9.
  2. ^ Iowa to the "Land of Gold" Eliza Ann McAuley
  3. ^ Chenoune, Farid (1993). A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion. pp. 99–105. ISBN 2080135368.


External links

This page was last edited on 8 September 2019, at 21:24
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