Clothing during the early part of the 19 th century consisted of simple lines and bright, Oriental inspired colors. But, by mid century, widespread use of the sewing machine started a revolution in clothing akin to the industrial revolution that brought it to the forefront. The stronger stitches and faster methods presented the possibility for more intricate details and trim. The poorer class still sewed the clothing by hand. But, for those with the means, Victorian clothing began to take on the fussy characteristics that we commonly associate with the era.
For women, dressing was all about layers…and layer, and layers. It was typical to find, from the inside to the outside:
- Lace trimmed drawers made of cotton or linen
- A corset with boning to provide structure
- A camisole to cover the corset
- A hoop skirt
- Stockings attached to garters
- A very full skirt, some dresses for daytime even had a train
- A bodice, with additional boning, that fastened in the front
- Some kind of outer garment, such as a shawl
- Mitts or gloves
- Boots with button closures
- A hat or bonnet to cover the head
- Numerous accessories like handkerchiefs and fans
All of the pieces would have been made from rich fabrics accented with elaborate twists, tucks, and trims. Women had special dresses for everything from mourning, to ball gowns, to outdoor recreation. The improved railway system made travel more efficient. It was fashionable to spend weekends “in the country” for recreation. The multiple activities meant that women spent much of their weekend changing their clothing.
Prosperity afforded more leisure time and men’s clothing began to reflect a more casual lifestyle. Drab knickers and fitted coat tails gave way to more colorful fabrics and flowing lines. Coats were longer and fuller and echoed the small waist silhouette of women’s clothing. As the era progressed, it became common to see men with colorful scarves or ascots. The Victorian fussiness was also apparent by the addition of scarf pins, cuff links, and heavy watch chains crossing the waist to a pocket. Men carried canes with intricate carvings and silver knobs. As the Victorian era neared its end, men were seen carrying accessories used for cigar smoking. And, in a trend that would last until the middle of the next century, men sported the single lens monocle associated with an English dude.
Later Victorian Clothing
It is no surprise that the approach of the 20th century found Victorians weary with all of the detail. Late Victorian clothing was becoming simpler with more muted colors. It was the beginning of a design movement that would, within a couple dozen years, progress to the streamlined deco style.