From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Victorian fashion comprises the various fashions and trends in
British culture that emerged and grew in prominence throughout the
Victorian era and the reign of Victoria, a period which would last from
June 1837 to January 1901. Covering nearly two thirds of the 19th
century, the 63 year reign would see numerous changes in fashion. These
changes would include, but not be limited to, changes in clothing,
architecture, literature, and the decorative and visual arts.
Overview of women's fashions, 1794-1887The Great Exhibition of 1851
had a marked impact on fashion, especially home décor, and even social
reform movements influenced fashion, through dress reform and rational
Clothing in the Victorian times
Methods of clothing production and distribution varied greatly over the
course of Victoria's long reign.
In 1837, cloth was manufactured in the mill towns of northern
England, Scotland, and Ireland. But clothing was generally custom-made
by seamstresses, milliners, tailors, hatters, glovers, corsetiers, and
many other specialized tradespeople, who served a local clientele in
small shops. Families who could not afford to patronize specialists,
made their own clothing, or bought and modified used clothing.
By 1907, clothing was increasingly factory-made and sold in large,
fixed price department stores. Custom sewing and home sewing were still
significant, but on the decline.
New machinery and materials changed clothing in many ways.
The introduction of the lock-stitch sewing machine in mid-century
simplified both home and boutique dressmaking, and enabled a fashion for
lavish application of trim that would have been prohibitively
time-consuming if done by hand. Lace machinery made lace at a fraction
of the cost of the old, laborious methods.
New materials from far-flung British colonies gave rise to new types
of clothing (such as rubber making gumboots and mackintoshes possible).
Chemists developed new, cheap, bright dyes that displaced the old animal
or vegetable dyes.
Main article: Victorian decorative arts
Home decor started spare, veered into the elaborately draped and
decorated style we today regard as Victorian, then embraced the
retro-chic of William Morris as well as pseudo-Japonaiserie.
Charles Eastlake's Hints on Household Tastes in Furniture, Upholstery
and other Details (1868) attempted to educate the middle class on the
proper artistic decoration of homes, which required "taste" rather than
"The proper length for little girls' skirts at various ages", from
Harper's Bazaar, showing an 1868 idea of how the hemline should descend
towards the ankle as a girl got olderFor most, the Victorian period is
still a by-word for sexual repression. Men's clothing is seen as formal
and stiff, women's as fussy and over-done. Clothing covered the entire
body, we are told, and even the glimpse of an ankle was scandalous.
Critics contend that corsets constricted women's bodies and women's
lives. Homes are described as gloomy, dark, cluttered with massive and
over-ornate furniture and proliferating bric-a-brac. Myth has it that
even piano legs were scandalous, and covered with tiny pantalettes.
Of course, much of this is untrue, or a gross exaggeration. Men's
formal clothing may have been less colorful than it was in the previous
century, but brilliant waistcoats and cummerbunds provided a touch of
color, and smoking jackets and dressing gowns were often of rich
Oriental brocades. Corsets stressed a woman's sexuality, exaggerating
hips and bust by contrast with a tiny waist. Women's ball gowns bared
the shoulders and the tops of the breasts. The tight-fitting jersey
dresses of the 1880s may have covered the body, but they left little to
Home furnishing was not necessarily ornate or overstuffed. However,
those who could afford lavish draperies and expensive ornaments, and
wanted to display their wealth, would often do so. Since the Victorian
era was one of extreme social mobility, there were ever more nouveaux
riches making a rich show.
The items used in decoration may also have been darker and heavier
than those used today, simply as a matter of practicality. London was
noisy and its air was full of soot from countless coal fires. Hence
those who could afford it draped their windows in heavy, sound-muffling
curtains, and chose colors that didn't show soot quickly. When all
washing was done by hand, curtains were not washed as frequently as they
might be today.
There is no actual evidence that piano legs were considered
scandalous. Pianos and tables were often draped with shawls or
cloths—but if the shawls hid anything, it was the cheapness of the
furniture. There are references to lower-middle-class families covering
up their pine tables rather than show that they couldn't afford
mahogany. The piano leg story seems to have originated in Captain
Frederick Marryat's 1839 book, Diary in America, as a satirical comment
on American prissiness.
Victorian manners, however, may have been as strict as imagined—on
the surface. One simply did not speak publicly about sex, childbirth,
and such matters, at least in the respectable middle and upper classes.
However, as is well known, discretion covered a multitude of sins.
Prostitution flourished. Upper-class men and women indulged in
adulterous liaisons. Then of course there were the artists and
bohemians, as well as the lower classes.