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The Misconception of Victorian

Updated on July 8, 2015
Marie Anoinette, 1778
Marie Anoinette, 1778 | Source

It never fails. I'll see a title of an event, editorial spread, and/or article with the word Victorian in it as a descriptor for the era of clothes that will be featured. However, when I go to look at the supposed Victorian era (or Victorian themed) clothing, I usually end up seeing clothes from the era of Marie Antoinette; whom was very much deceased during the Victorian era.

Despite Marie Antoinette no longer walking amongst the living in the Victorian era, the two styles of clothing from each era (hers and Victorian) differ so much that it should be quite embarrassing for any fashion expert, or even fashion enthusiast, to not know that Marie Antoinette's widely recognized style of dress is NOT Victorian. But, year after year, day after day, I still see and hear people within the fashion community perpetuate this misconception. Time to get the facts straight.

Let's start first with clearing up the misconception; Marie Antoinette's specific era is referred to as Georgian/Roccoco/Pre-Revolutionary. The revolution being when the French revolted against her and the rest of the royal family. At the time of Georgian/Roccoco/Pre-Revolution such fashions were popular: Robe a l'francais; Robe a l'anglaise; engageants; bergere hat; fichus; calashes; panniers; domino cloak. Marie, herself, was famed for creating styles like the Chemise a la Reine and the Gainsborough hat, as well as the Hedgehog hairstyle. After the onset of the revolution in 1789, however, she was beheaded on October 14, 1793.

An Afternoon Tea by Federico Andreotti
An Afternoon Tea by Federico Andreotti
Click thumbnail to view full-size
1857 Men's Fashion1869 Women's FashionBal Bullier, Paris, 1876Mens Coats 1872
1857 Men's Fashion
1857 Men's Fashion
1869 Women's Fashion
1869 Women's Fashion
Bal Bullier, Paris, 1876
Bal Bullier, Paris, 1876
Mens Coats 1872
Mens Coats 1872

Now, we can get to what the Victorian era really was about and when it actually took place. This era gets its name from Queen Victoria of England, and for the most part, spans her time as queen which began in 1837, ending at about 1900. Many women during this era were sporting stiff collars that just brushed the chin for day wear. Corsets were pulled tighter, skirts became narrower. The pannier was dropped altogether for first the cage crinoline, and later for the bustle; moving the fullness from the hips to the backside in order to create a flat skirt front and give the appearance of a very small looking waist.

For a brief period of time, loose trousers that were gathered at the ankles called "bloomers" were worn by women's suffrage activists. More popular garments and styles of the era were: bertha collars; pagoda sleeves; ikat fabrics; tea dresses; short fingerless lace or crocheted gloves (mitts); opera length gloves w/short sleeved evening gowns; basque bodices. This period of time was the setting for such fictional characters as Alice from 'Alice in Wonderland' and Sherlock Holmes.

Ah! Wrong has been set right, and you've probably learned a lot you didn't know in a short amount of time. As you can now see, the styles from the two eras differ greatly. Marie Antoinette's period of dress was a time of lush silks, extravagant uses of bright fabrics, and full sensual silhouettes. While the Victorian dress was stoic, more texture with less pronounced colors, and elegantly demure. Soak it in, drink it up, but whatever you do... get it right. Pass on the facts to the uninformed, or better yet, this article, so that together we can clear up the terrible misconception of Victorian.


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