Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oh, the Fashion!

The elegance of 19th century fashion is one of the many reasons I write historicals. I’m forever fascinated by the gowns, accessories, and undergarments worn by women of a bygone age, and I love inserting those details into my novels. The variation from the fashions of the Regency to the early 20th century is fascinating.  I thought it would be fun to see the changes throughout the century by taking a brief look at the fashions of the Regency era to the end of the Victorian era, thus compare how things altered…and how they stayed the same.

Regency- 1810-1820
The one word I would use to describe Regency fashion would be- simplicity. Compared with the large bell skirts of the 1850’s and 1860’s, to the elegant clutter of the early 20th century, the straight skirts and simple muslin frocks have an understated beauty that the rest of the era (despite being oh, so gorgeous) lacks.

Regency ladies went light with the undergarments; a thin chemise, stockings, and petticoat were all they wore with their stays. Corsets weren’t the Scarlett O’Hara affairs of later decades and could be either very long and, with lacing down the front and little boning, or very short and flimsy. They were tied snugly, but not as tightly as in later years. A fuller more natural figure was “in” as opposed to an hourglass shape.
The gowns were high-waisted and very Grecian looking. Tight at the bodice, they flowed loosely down to the floor. Pastel colors were favored although daring ladies still wore flashy darker colors. White was the only color a debutante could wear. Long sleeved jackets called pelisses were worn out of doors, along with a brimmed bonnet tied under her chin with a ribbon.

Victorian - 1820-1900
A whirlwind of fashion ensued after the Regency ended. From the crinolines and bell skirts of the 1850’s and ‘60’s, to the leg o’ mutton sleeves and shorter skirts of the ‘90’s, things were a changin’.

Corsets changed drastically with the invention of metal grommets, which made them sturdy enough for a lady to completely reshape her figure. Contrary to common belief, a lady didn’t put on her corset and pull it until she couldn’t breathe. Training for a corset started early, beginning with a training corset when a girl was 13 or 14, which was slowly tightened to make the waist smaller. In the 1820’s and 1830’s, heavy petticoats were used to accentuate and make a small waist stand out, but by the 1850’s cage crinolines replaced petticoats, which were made of metal, bamboo, and horsehair. The predecessor of the bustle, half-crinolines, which made the back of the dress stand out became popular in the late 1860’s. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the crinoline was replaced completely by the bustle, a padded undergarment worn at the back of the dress.

Every decade saw changes in dress, and a lady who left high society in the 1860’s, would be amazed if she came back ten years later and saw what everyone was wearing. In the 1840’s and 50’s, gowns were small and tight at the top, expanding into a bell shape created by petticoats and crinolines. A modest long sleeved dress was worn during the day and an off the shoulder gown in the evenings. In the 1860’s a half crinoline made the front of the dress flat and accentuated the back, evening dresses were the same as in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. Colors were more loud than in the Regency era, darker colors were favored. In the 1870’s, the bustle took over, making it much more difficult for a lady to recline back in a chair. Thankfully, the invention of the tea gown; a flowing corsetless gown to be worn during the late afternoon hours made it possible to get some comfort. By the 1890’s, the Gibson Girl look took over and “modern women” wore puffed sleeved blouses and simple skirts, to compliment their poofed hairstyles. Their evening dresses were slimmer and without wide hoops, and were similar in many aspects to their Regency counterparts.


So there you have it! Fashion in a nutshell. I could go on and on for pages about the intricacies of 19th century fashion, but hopefully this gives you an inkling of what it would have been like to wear one of those fabulous gowns. I certainly would love to try it!

Until next time,

Your Turn – What’s your favorite fashion era? Your least favorite? As always, if there are any topics you would like to see covered in my historical posts, leave a comment and let me know!


Mary Connealy said...

I know I'm a stick in the mud, but lovely as those are, I really like blue jeans and t-shirts.
I'm big into comfort. I love READING about beautiful clothing though. I'm a big regency romance reader.
I love that era.

Amanda said...

Oh, I agree, Mary! Much as I love dressing up in costume and even wearing corsets, it’s always a relief to get back into comfortable clothes. No wonder the elite had so many servants, they couldn’t move around fast enough to do anything themselves! :)

Thanks so much for stopping by!