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Victorian Costume - Online Resources

Updated on February 20, 2012

Fashion of the Late 1830s

The Victorian Era was named for Queen Victoria, who was queen of the British Empire from June of 1837 through January of 1901. Fashion of the era began with an hourglass silhouette and large puffed sleeves. The era ended with the silhouette of a mature woman, full low bust and curvy hips, being the fashionable silhouette.

In this modern era we see the rise of what is termed Neo-Victorian, which is actually a blending of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  Time having given these periods of history a rosy glow people look back and think of a more intimately social time.  A time when technology did not distance us from one another.

This Neo-Victorian fashion can cause confusion as to what is actually Victorian fashion and what is a modern reinterpretation.

Fashion of the Early 1900s

 As Queen Victoria's reign moved from the late 1830s to the early 1840s the wide sleeves that were popular before her reign gave way to a more natural shoulder line.  As can be seen in the pictues to the right.  As the 1940s progressed the sleeve detailing also dropped from the elbows down to the wrists.  The waist also dropped and was pointed giving a more elongated appearance.  And, with the aid of a new method of attaching the skirts to the bodice, skirts became less conical and more bell shaped.

Sleeves were not the only thing to loose their wide appearance.  Hairstyle began to be worn closer to the head.  Bonnets too were smaller and less decorated.

Fashion of the Early 1940s

Fashion of the Late 1940s

 As the 1840s moved into the 1850s the bell shaped skirt began to widen with the use of flounces.  This can be seen in the picture to the right.  By the late 1850s the steel cage crinoline was used to expand the skirt still further and the flounces where dropped.

Jacketed bodices were introduced.  However, evening wear was still off the shoulder.  It was also very low necked.

Hairstyles remained simple.  Although the sides began to be worn puffed out over the ears in imitation of the styles of the early 17th century.

This decade also saw the introduction of the bloomer suit.  But this style was an object of ridicule and had little impact on mainstream fashions.

Fashion of the Early 1850s

Fashion of the Late 1850s

 In the 1860s women's skirts reached their widest point.  The 1860s also say a change in the sillohouette of the skirt.  No longer was it bell shaped.  Instead it became flatter in the front with more width behind.

Daytime looks remained demure with high necklines and collars.  The sleeves were wide pagoda sleeves at the begining of the decade but narrowed as the decade progressed.  In the evening necklines remained low and the sleeves were short and worn with gloves.  Skirts began to be looped up to reveal underskirts in matching or contrasting colors.

Hairstyles remained parted in the middle and wide over the ears.  The hair was also pinned up at the back of the neck.  Bonnets of the decade also saw more elaborate trimmings.

In response to the elaborate decorations then in fashion an anti movement sprung up, Artistic dress.  This movement was more medieval in style featuring long tight sleeves with a puff at the top, narrow skirts and only simple decoration.

Fashion of the Early 1860s

Fashion of the Late 1860s

In the 1870s the flattening of the skirt and the movement of fabric to the back evolved completely into the bustle. This fullness too eventually flattened into a more tight fitting silhouette. The bodice became more long waisted reaching below the hips. Sleeves were tight.  Daytime dress retained their high necklines.  While evening dresses remained low cut.  A velvet ribbon around the neck was added as ornamentation--the precurser to the modern choker necklace.

The artistic dress of the previous decade gave rise to tea dresses used for informal entertaining in the home.

Hairstyles were now pulled back at the sides and worn in a topknot.  The bonnets were smaller to accomidate the hairstyles.

Fashions of the Early 1970s

Fashions of the Late 1870s

The 1880s saw the bustle returned after its brief departure at the end of the 1870s. It was balanced by a full low bosom. This created an s shaped silhouette. The looped up skirt over matching or contrasting underskirt remained popular. Jacket-like bodices remained long.

Evening dresses retained their low necklines. They were worn sleeveless with gloves. Tea dresses continued to gain popularity. And the artistic dress was still seen as the anti-movement in fashion.

Hair remained pulled back but was worn in a low knot or cluster of ringlets. As in the previous decade bonnets resembled hats.

Fashions of the Early 1880s

 The 1890s saw the rise of a more natural silhouette.  Instead of bustles, the tight bodices were matched with skirts gathered at the waist and falling gently over hips and undergarmets.  The skirt began to be more A-line in shape.  By the end of the decade skirts were more trumpet-like in shape.  Fitting closely then flaring out at the knee.

Leg o'mutton sleeves were introduced (large puffed sleeves) but they disappeared by 1896.  By the late 1890s sleeves were again worn tight.

Sportswear for women was introduced.  Moreover, tea gowns began being worn outside the home.

Fashions of the Late 1880s

 As Queen Victoria's reign came to an end and the Edwardian era began the hourglass shape was the popular silhouette.  Hair was still worn pulled up.  And the Artistic dress movement saw the rise of lingerie dresses--frothy day dresses of linen or cotton.

Fashions of the Early 1890s

Fashions of the Late 1890s

So, now that you have some concept of true Victorian costume versus Neo-Victorian here are some links for costumes that might interest you:


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    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good hub.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      great hub, thank you. It all looks pretty uncomfortable, though, glad I don't have to wear it (-:

    • Joy M profile image

      Joy M 8 years ago from Sumner, Washington

      I always thought the dresses were particularly elegant.

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 8 years ago from Oregon

      I love Victorian era dresses! I have made several myself and enjoyed looking at these pictures for ideas. Thanks for writing about this! :)