The Victorian era is associated with Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901 upon her death accession. It did mark a pivotal time in the UK’s history and around the world. In dressing and fashion, the Victorian era displays class, beauty, wealth, and purpose for men and women. The layers of the Victorian dress costume were uncomfortable and impractical, though beautifully fashionable. Women’s dressing includes large dresses, poke bonnets, and modest coverings. On the other hand, Victorian-era dress for men displayed pattern, color, and rigidity.
The Victorian dress patterns show the wealthy class’s fashion in the 19th century and also exhibit their lives and aspirations. Victorian wedding dress, Victorian mourning dress, Victorian corset dress, Victorian Lolita dress, or Victorian walking dress showcase a high level of skill and fashion sense. It was taken to ready Victorian-era dress, and how to make a Victorian dress meant that these dresses were expensive and skill intensive. Moreover, Victorian-style dresses were highly fashionable as compared to today’s haute couture. There are few examples of Victorian men’s dress because men began to wear darker colors for formal occasions and business.
On the other hand, Victorian-era dress for the middle class differs from the dress of the wealthy class. The former could afford fashion copied by the local dressmakers or made their new clothes. While the poor could only afford second-class clothes trade, spending hours to alter and fit those dresses for the family. Children’s clothes were made from the right parts of the garments. Clothes were also dyed. An important thing to remember while discussing the Victorian era dress for both males and females is what professions both the genders were attached to.
That is the reason dresses differed with the profession like Victorian porn dress, Victorian governess dress, Victorian maid dress, free people Victorian dress, Victorian peasant dress, Victorian prostitute dress, Victorian formal dress, Victorian queen dress or Victorian bridesmaid dress, etc. in addition to this, dresses for different occasions were different. For example, Victorian tea dress, Victorian evening dress, Victorian day dress, Victorian wedding dress, Victorian Halloween dress, Victorian Christmas dress, Victorian funeral dress or Victorian casual dress, etc.
As women used to work in private and domestic spheres during the Victorian era, the Victorian female dress followed the pattern. Unlike the pre-Industrial Revolution, gender roles became more defined, and women were no longer helping their husbands or fathers in the family business or labor. Victorian lady dress reflected this new, sedentary lifestyle. Clothes were an expression of women’s place in society. For example, women belonging to the upper-class used to wear a tightly laced corset over a chemisette or bodice.
Along with them, there did go the pair of a skirt adorned with numerous trims and embroideries; over layers of petticoats. As already said, these layers were most uncomfortable. While women belonging to the middle class followed the same dress patterns but their dresses were not extravagant. Although clothes were painful, yet Victorian dress fabric and the layers represented the symbol of wealth.
Victorian Female Dress in the 1830s and 1840s:
During the start of the Victorian era, Victorian corset dress and Victorian lace dress were common. To achieve a slim and low waist, corsets were tightly laced and extended down towards the hip. However, to avoid exposure, women used to wear a chemise under the corset and cut relatively low. Another layer was of the bodice featuring a low waistline that was worn over the corset. Moreover, to create fullness, a long skirt featuring a horsehair petticoat was used. Victorian dress layers were unnecessary and uncomfortable, yet women used to wear them.
With the new decade, low necklines, collapsed sleeves, V-shaped bodices, and fuller skirts feature Victorian women’s dresses. At the start of the decade, sleeves were tight that restricted the movement of the arm. That is why sleeves were changed into a funnel shape. However, skirts length and width increased with the horsehair crinoline’s introduction in 1847 that became the status symbol. The 1840 decade dress was called Victorian Goth dress and perceived as conservative compared to the glitz of the 1830s.
Victorian Women Dress in the 1850s and 1860s:
A similar silhouette was sustained in the 1850s with few modifications in the Victorian ladies’ dress. Victorian day dresses were dropped even lower into a V-shape, needing a chemisette to cover the bust area. While on the other hand, the Victorian evening dress featured a Bertha is making the off-the-shoulder Victorian dress. The length and width continued to increase, especially when rows of flounces were added in the Victorian women’s dress. Nevertheless, skirts further expanded in 1856 with the invention of the first artificial cage crinoline. Meanwhile, new colors were added in the Victorian dress costumes with the design of synthetic dyes. Women now began to wear light colors.
However, technological advancements of the 1860s expanded women’s choice. In the early years, crinolines began to decrease in size at the top, but the bottom remained the same. Moreover, the shape was also changed, now flatter and voluminous. On the other hand, bodices ended with the natural waistline, had high necklines and collars for a Victorian day dress, while low necklines for Victorian evening dress. But in the later years of the 1860s, the silhouette was replaced by the bustle, while length and fullness remained at the back.
Necessary Components of Victorian Women’s Dress:
Throughout the Victorian period, women used to wear the following components that make Victorian dress consumes.
During the Victorian era, a low shoulder neckline was used to wear by women. Women’s shoulders were exposed by the cut, and sometimes it was three to six-inch deep lace flounce. However, as already said, that dress represented the class, so the neckline’s exposure was restricted to women belonging to the upper and middle class. Women belonging to the working class were not allowed to reveal so much flesh according to Victorian dress-up.
Boning corsets or the Victorian corset dress were worn to emphasize the female body’s small and thin waist. Functioning as an undergarment, they were adjustable according to the waist. Moreover. It stopped the bodice from horizontal creasing. But Victorian corset dress was responsible for causing many diseases because of the tight lacing, but the practice of wearing boning corsets was less commonplace than generally thought today.
In the early Victorian era, sleeves were tightly fit. The tight fit of sleeves matched with the women’s small waist in the design and the shoulder sleeve seamline was dropped more to expose a tighter fit of the arm. That is why tight sleeves restricted women’s movement. However, with crinolines’ introduction, sleeves began to resemble large bells, which gave the dress a much heavier volume. Under the sleeves, engagements were worn, made of linen, lace, or lawn with Broderie Anglaise and cambric. An advantage of these bell-like sleeves is that they were easily removable, washable, and restitched into position. But they were worn under the Victorian day dress.
Silhouette is another essential component of Victorian dress designs that changed with time by the undergarments’ evolution. During the early period of the Victorian era, fabrics like linen that used horsehair in the weave supported the wide skirts. Women wore crinolines to give their dresses a beehive shape, with at least six layers of petticoats were worn under the skirt that weighed as much as fourteen pounds, making Victorian dress uncomfortable. Later, women were freed from the heavy petticoats with the induction of cage crinoline. This made women move their legs freely while wearing the cage crinoline. However, in the later period of the Victorian era, a slope towards the skirts’ back was emphasized by silhouette. Polonaise style was also introduced. Being dangerous to the women belonging to the working-class, crinolines and cages started to disappear. Then bustles and tournures were developed. These were some essential components of Victorian dress designs. Let’s now look at the dress women and men used to wear in the Victorian period.
Victorian Women Dress in the 1870s and 1880s:
During the 1870s, women stopped wearing broad skirts as women started preferring slimmer silhouettes. Necklines varied, and sleeves were under the shoulder line. However, an overskirt began to be worn over the bodice. With time, overskirts decreased in size resulting in an elongation of the bodice over the hips. In 1873, the polonaise was introduced in the Victorian dress style. The tournure was also introduced. But in 1877, Victorian lady dresses began to fit the figure due to the invention of the cuirass bodice, which functions like a corset. Although Victorian dress costumes took a natural form, yet narrowness of the skirt hampered walking.
The dawn of the new decade brought a period of stylistic confusion. On the one hand, the over-ornamented silhouette with contrasting accessories and texture was used. On the other hand, an alternative and severe style emerged with the growing popularity of tailoring. This change is credited to the Victorian dress reform like the Aesthetic Costume Movement and the Rational Dress Movement advocating natural silhouette, lightweight underwear, and renouncing tightlacing. Few credited cycling and tennis as acceptable feminine pursuits that demanded ease of clothes. However, the earlier fashion reappeared in 1883 when Victorian dress costumes featured exaggerated horizontal protrusion at the back. However, in the later years of this decade, the silhouette was once again a slimmer. The sleeves of the bodice were tighter and thinner. The neckline was now higher also. In addition to this, an even further tailored-look started developing until it improved in the 1890s.
Victorian Female Dress in the 1890s:
In the last decade of the Victorian era, bustle and crinoline were given up. Victorian lady dress and skirts flared away from the wearer’s natural waist. Now it was in a bell shape and made to fit tighter in the hip area. Victorian high neck dress was every day while sleeves were increased in size during 1894. Later on, women adopted the tailored jacket style, which improved their confidence and posture and reflected the standards of early female liberation.
Victorian dress style is incomplete without mentioning hats. Wearing hats was crucial for the respectable appearance of both men and women. Going bareheaded was considered improper. For upper and middle-class men, a top hat was normal formal wear. On the other hand, designs of hats for women were evolved and designed to match the outfit.
Victorian Dress for Men:
At the beginning of the Victorian era, men wore tight-fitting, calf-length frock coats and a vest or waistcoat. For formal occasions, a cutaway morning coat with light trousers was worn during the daytime, while a dark tail coat and trousers were worn in the evening. In the next decade, the 1850s, men began to wear shirts with high upstanding collars and four-in-hand neckties. Top hats and bowler hats continued to be worn by the upper class and working class, respectively. However, in the 1860s, men began to wear wider neckties. Frockcoats were decreased in length and fixed for formal occasions and were the traditional Victorian dress. At the same time, mid-length sack coats were the Victorian casual dress. During the next decade, the popularity of three-piece suits grew. Both sack coats and frock coats decreased in length. In the later period of the Victorian era, tuxedo, white bow tie, and Norfolk jacket were the feature of the Victorian male dress. Blazer was introduced in the 1890s and began to be used for sailing, sports, and other casual activities.
Victorian Mourning Dress:
Black is a symbol of death in literature. In Britain as well, black is associated with mourning the dead. The wearing of the black Victorian dress was associated with the relationship with the deceased. The closer the relationship, the longer the mourning period and the wearing of black. The black Victorian dress was known as First Mourning, followed by the Second Mourning, then followed by the Ordinary Mourning, and then the Half Mourning. The black Victorian dress was also the Victorian funeral dress and Victorian Mourning dress for both men and women.
To sum up, the Victorian dress includes various fashion trends that emerged during the Victorian era starting from 1837 to 1901. The Victorian male dress and Victorian female dress witnessed many changes in fashion, style, fashion technology, and distribution method. The dresses were worn during the Victorian era represented class, gender, age, and profession. Although Victorian dress layers were uncomfortable, yet they exhibited a high sense of fashion.