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The History of Fashion. The Victorian Era to the 1960s Styles.

Updated on July 6, 2014

The Victorian Era - Full Hair & Big Hat

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The Glorious Victorian Era

Women's fashions have changed dramatically from the Victorian era to modern times, but the days of the Victorian inspired "Gibson Girl" are perhaps the most admired as far as artistic beauty goes. The ultimate decked out lady with perfect attention to detail is a far cry from the casual styles of today. Those of us who who put sweats on in the morning are fascinated at the level of glamor and pomp of yesteryear. The Victorian era was everything beautiful, stylish and intricate from the home to the attire. This era was lush and extravagant in its detail of gingerbread and exquisite with its graceful line, and fussy accessories.

Beauty standards were not totally different in late 1900s from our modern ones, but the way women went about achieving their looks was an entirely different. We are often amazed to see photos of street scenes taken in the Victorian era and seeing crowds of women of all ages wearing corsets. Even the middle aged and overweight were doing what they could to have as much of an hourglass as possible. There was definitely a level of pride in appearance that no longer exists today. The women of today who gain a few pounds, put on a moo moo and simply give up, and young girls don't care or accept the status quo. Victorian ladies were relentless in their quest for beauty, refinement and elegance.

Victorian Corset

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The Victorian Tiny Waist

Probably the most important part of a Victorian lady's wardrobe was her corset. The goal was an hourglass shape and the corset was the key. Victorian corsets were durable and could be tugged and laced using great force. These little miracle workers caused women to instantly loose inches in their waistlines after being laced up this wonder device. True to the times, a Victorian corset was a beautiful masterpiece itself, often trimmed with rows of lace and pipping. The center was as solid as a rock with numerous different sized "bones" that forced any shapeless lady into the perfect woman instantly. This piece of lingerie was not only strong and durable, but it could stand alone as beautiful as anything else Victorian.

A large single breast was the ideal compliment to the tiny waist. Women often padded the area between the breasts to create the look of one large round mass in the front of the chest.

The lady in the photo below uses a large flower to keep the center of her chest looking full. Notice also the beads draping around the top of her dress, and ornate ruffles with lace everywhere. Every inch of this lady from her full, wavy hair, to her intricate fan and dress train were not ignored. The result was stunning!

Victorian dresses dragged on the ground. Simply ending at the ankles was not fashionable enough for the Victorian era. After yards of silk and ruffled fabric gathered around the full bustle, they cascaded down at least one foot past the shoes, creating a U shape. Women did not walk down the street with their dresses dragging, they placed one hand inches below their buttock to grab a handful if skirt as they ambled along.


Small Waist of a Victorian Woman

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The Victorian Dresses

Victorian dresses dragged on the ground. Simply ending at the ankles was not fashionable enough for the Victorian era. After yards of silk and ruffled fabric gathered around the full bustle, they cascaded down at least one foot past the shoes, creating a U shape. Women did not walk down the street with their dresses dragging, they placed one hand inches below their buttock to grab a handful if skirt as they ambled along.


The photo above is a fine example of a tiny waist and the large, single breast well balanced with the full bustle in back.

A Victorian Bustle

The Hourglass Victorian

While the corset was pulling in the bustle was adding fullness in the deriere. It was not exactly something to make the rear end look larger, but to simply shape the dress to keep it from hanging straight down. The shape of the bustle also heped elevate the entire dress making it simpe for the wearer to raise the skirt for walking with a single hand.

Profile of a Corseted and Bustled Victorian Dress

Victorian Ladies at a Garden Party

Victorian Formality

Looking at the three ladies above check out the lady on the far right. She is holding her skirt up the way all ladies of the Victorian era were accustomed to. When the fashion gradually changed, women who had been walking with one hand on their skirt for so long felt unusual to be walking hands free. On one level they were free of lugging the baggage of their skirts around, but on the other hand they had lost their security blanket and felt as though they did not quite know what to do with their hands.

Notice also in the above photo the large hats and the enormous flowers in the center of the chest, adding the the uni breast illusion. The intricate parasol completed the elegance of daytime fashion for ladies. The parasol went out of style shortly after the Victorian era, but is making a comeback today, now that skin cancer is well understood. The Victorian had her hands full with her skirt in one hand and her parasol in the other.

From Victorian to Edwardian

1909 Style

Hats began to evolve from the wide brim Victorian hats with the plumes and sheer veils, to a variety of high fashion styles. Designers began to introduce unusual hats that did nothing for shielding the sun, and simply added a high fashion look. The sporting female was coming into vogue and they were no longer shunning the sun, and with the skirts shortened to ankle length, they were riding bikes, and participating in tennis.

Notice also that although they were still wearing corsts, they were in no way as extreme in their shape.

1914 Fashion

The Modern Teens

In the teens, ladies wore their dresses ankle length and the layers of sheer and contrasting fabric of the Victorian era were gone for good. With the coming of the movies women were indulging in more sports and physical activity. They were sacrificing some fussy glamor for practicality. Notice the trimmed down millinery.

Hats were still a major fashion statement, but all of America was attending local movie theaters and huge hats were a nuisance. Hats were more aerodynamic than they had been and suited the more overall sporting look of the modern female.

Transitional 20s

The 1920s "Bob"

The Roaring 20s

Never has there been such a major change in style as in the 1920s. Women went from waist length hair to the ultra short bobbed hairstyles, skirts went from angle length to knee length, and the fitted dresses were out for the decade. The 1920s fashions are forever remembered for the shapeless, boyish silhouette, the bee stung lipstick design, and the rolled down stockings.

1920s Evening Dress

20s Elegance

Typical 1920s evening dress. Louise Brooks, the model of the 1920s, is seen here wearing an evening dress shaped in the fashionable dropped waist style. The dress is slightly longer than what women typically wore during the daytime and the shoulders are exposed.

1920s fashions could have an elegance, charm and artistic appearance, however, in reality it was not a very flattering look for the average woman. Only well proportioned models such as Louise Brooks really looked good wearing a dress that actually distorts the female shape.

The wedding dresses of the royal family in England are often displayed for posterity and viewing the beautiful dresses from the early 1800s to modern times is a breathtaking experience. The only oddity is the dress that the Queen mother wore in the 1920s. The Queen was no fashion model and she looked positively dowdy in her 1920s wedding gown, and stands out amongst all the other royal dresses and the shapeless potato sack.

CLICK HERE to see Wedding Dresses of The Royal Family

Ladies of the 1920s

Flappers

The stylish hats, long beads and the lack of waistline. These ladies were in fashion. The dropped waist gives the illusion of a long body and short legs, and can cause a woman of a few extra pounds to look down right fat. The lady second to the left is most definitely wearing a dress she is well suited for. The 1930s were just around the bend and normal waistlines would came back into style, as well as an overall more tailored dress.

Actress Louise Brooks with a Very 1920s Pageboy and Flapper Hat

Jean Harlow with 1930s Finger Wave

Jean Harlow and the 1930s Fashion

In the 1930s, fashions became more sophisticated and elegant. Skirt lengths dropped to the ankles once again. The evening dresses were very much influence by blond bombshell, Jean Harlow. Jean wore clingy,curve hugging satin. The big difference between the Victorian women's fashions and the 1930s, was the absence of restrictive undergarments. In the 30s women were not all wearing brassieres yet, and a tank vest was worn, giving the most natural silhouette in women's fashions ever.

Hairstyles were not as short as the had been in the 1920s, and the finger wave was growing in popularity. The 1930s fashions were more feminine that they had been in the 20s. The overall look was soft, feminine and glamorous. It was like a modernized Victorian era. When one looks at the hairstyle of a Victorian, there are piles of waves that graduate into curls, and the 30s, had the same idea, but shorter and more coiffured. The suits and dresses were fitted, with evening dresses often featuring a train.

Slinky and Feminine were the 1930s

1930's Style

The elegant evening gown above is typical of 1930s fashion. Silk was a popular fabric that largely come into vogue when Jean Harlow, made her appearance in movies, mostly playing the part of a glamorous, spoiled woman. The "train" finally came back into style after being out of fashion for thirty years. Trains were only for evening wear in the 1930s and were not as grand as they had been in the Victorian era.

1940s Fashion

Frilly Forties

The 1940s are often called the prettiest era in women's fashion without being the impracticality of the Victorian era. The styles were ultra feminine, with fitted waistlines and slightly flared skirts. The shapes of the 1940s dresses are probably the most universally flattering to the female form that we have ever seen. Hem lengths were slightly below the knee, being the ideal length for most women of any weight and height.

During the daytime women wore fitted suits or dresses and in the evening, gowns of a slightly longer length of taffeta and satin were the most common rich fabrics that symbolized the 1940s fashions.

1950s Wide Skirt Dress

Fashions of the 50s

Fashion in the 1950s went from the ultra feminine 40s to a slightly more down to earth look that consisted of fuller skirts, spiky heels, and shorter hair styles. 1950s fashion is considered today, to be the ultimate classic look. The decade of the 1950s is by far the era that stands out as the most nostalgic, and treasured era. White gloves were still being worn by ladies during the daytime, and the 50s was the first decade to see hats start to lose popularity. They were still a major fashion statement, but there was a movement of youngsters who were hatless, and would stay that way.

Young girls began to wear a casual ponytail that did not work well with a hat, and some of the young men wore the DA hairstyle of Elvis Presley that was a "cool" statement in itself.


Miniskirts and Loud Color

The 1960s Fashions

The 1960s was a very transitional decade for fashion. The ever present ladies hat was still a staple of fashion in the very early 60s, but almost completely disappeared by the mid 1960s. The beehive, and bouffant hairstyles may have helped push the treasured hats out of style. Ladies suits of the early 60s were boxy, with the jacket being straight and waistless, and pencil skirts falling a few inches below the knee. Suddenly the mod look and the hippie fashions began to disrupt everything. The mini skirt was introduced at the same time as loud colors, and stringy hair. By the end of the 60s fashions for both men and women were basically to do the opposite of what was considered traditional. The 60s are considered to be the beginning of the end of real fashion and style. It was anything goes by 1969.

Boxy Jackets and Short Skirts.

1920s Fashions

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      One of the most fun hubs to read. I loved following your fashion show from historical times. I love the flappers and I absolutely adore Victorian fashions..Not so comfy though. You did a fabulous job with absolutely great photos..Up and shared.

    • Gypsy48 profile image

      Gypsy48 4 years ago

      An enjoyable hub. I love, love the clothes from the Victorian era and the 1940s. I wish I could go back in time just to wear some of those clothes! Well done Skarlet:)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This was a great trip through the fashions over the years. I really love the styles of the forties and actually discovered a few of these old outfits in some of my treasure hunts. The accessories that go along with them, like the jewelled cigarette cases with rhinestones, are very collectible along with the hats. What a great hub full of entertaining and enlightening nostalgia.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great research and presentation my friend. This was really fascinating! Can you imagine wearing one of those corsets? I don't know how they could breathe!

      I really enjoyed this look at fashion, and that's quite a statement in itself. :)

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Skarlet....This was fun! I have to say that Victorian is my favorite. I'd love it if we dressed like that now...even once in a while. I have always thought the '40's was fantastic. I think there are 2 reasons for this....I thoroughly enjoy the old classic films and the fashion reminds me of my mother in all the old Black and White photos I have of her as a young woman. All the women of the '40's were dressed so well....and included gloves, a hat and handbag!! Seamed stockings! I even like the way they wore their make-up and the '40's hair styles.

      We CAN actually dress '40's style today and pull it off quite well.

      This is an excellent hub, Skarlet. I love it. Voted UP & shared!

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 4 years ago from California

      Carol777- Thank you for your visit, and the kudos. I actually enjoy writing on this subject.

      Gypsy48-The Victorian and 40s are my favorites too. I want to go back to that time too. If you find out how, let me know:)

      PegCole17-I know what you mean. I have found a few treasures too. The colors and shapes are so different than what we have today that they stand out all the way from the back of the store.

      Hi billybuc- Thank you so much, I am glad you enjoyed it. Those corsets are scary. Definitely not the best thing to wear to McDonalds, but I did get married in a modern one, and somehow ate a lot of cake, pasta, chicken, and wandered around looking for more things to eat. So, it didn't stop anything.

      fpherj48 - Thank you for the compliment, and the vote up. I am with you on this. I actually think it would be good for us to dress. Wearing schlep clothes all the time gets boring. I also love the forties because I watched a lot of old movies growing up and its kind of like I know those people.

      I actually do wear a modern 40s style in business and when going out. I love it.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I love many of the styles you posted here, Skarlet. The hourglass is so perfectly beautiful, but I love the roaring 20's look with the loose style. Harlow certainly knew how to define a style, didn't she? The corset was a body cast! Great read and voted up.

    • kristyleann profile image

      Kristy LeAnn 4 years ago from Princeton, WV

      Cool article. :) I love seeing how fashion has changed throughout the years and I've always been particularly fascinated with the changes that took place in the 1920s...up until then people were SO covered up...it was quite a change. :)

    • Saladbar profile image

      Michala Salazar 4 years ago from the EARTH

      Beautiful! There is just something so elegant about the clothing of our past.

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      I love reading your hub, educational and entertaining. Utterly fascinated by the transition of fashion and clothing throughout the decades. Many of those styles are slowly coming back in today's fashion, there are even some elements of the Victorian style seen in the dresses of many celebrities. Voted and awesome, beautiful, interesting. :)

    • carlajbehr profile image

      Carla J Behr 4 years ago from NW PA

      fascinating!! I loved your hub from start to finish!!

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