Victorian fashion comprises the various fashions and trends in British culture that emerged and grew in province throughout the Victorian era and the reign of Queen 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.
Towards the end of the 19th century the rate at which the fashionable silhouette changed quickened. The increasing popularity of paper patterns and the growth of women's fashion periodicals encouraged home dress-making during the second half of the 19th century. The withdrawal of the paper tax in the middle of the 19th century had stimulated the growth of publications, especially magazines aimed at women. It was during this period that magazines introduced paper patterns. By the 20th century the pace of change in the fashionable silhouette became ever more rapid as the expanding fashion industry, in conjunction with the media, became more effective at stimulating demand for a constant flow of new styles.
The 1870's had an abundance of feminine hairstyles that rose to the crown from the sides. Hair loops, and false hair braids and falls were favored (although many people detested the use of false hair) as were corkscrew curls, and hair picks, tortoiseshell combs and other hair jewelry with dainty dangled earrings. In the 1880's utilized less complicated hairstyling techniques, the predominant style being tightly slicked back topknots and new frizzled bangs, as not to compete with complex new drapery in gowns.
In the 1850′s, the crinoline was invented, freeing women from the weight of all those skirts, and by the end of the century women’s clothes had taken on aspects of men’s style, such as shirtwaists and tailored suits with exaggerated broad shoulders (although retaining the artificially tiny waist). Color was used generously throughout the era.
In the mid 1850's the hoops became popular to wear. After having put on the chemise, corset, and petticoat the 19th century lady would put on the hoop skirt. Some of the these were made with thin steel wire and other materials. Over the hoop she would wear her finest petticoat with pretty lace and embroidery on the hem. Finally, after layering herself with the undergarments she would then put on the dress. And last but not least, a lady always wore her gloves and her bonnet.
Lacking luxurious court to set styles, fashion turned to the theater, with its performers and fantasies, as a source of inspiration. In this process, fashion became increasingly more eclectic Emulating the past, women dressed in costumes that might have been designed to be worn on the stage.
On their legs (an anatomical region never referred to by a lady) were worn stockings (tights were not popularly worn until the twentieth century). These were held up initially with garters tied round the leg, then with slip-on, elastic ones. Eventually stocking suspenders were sewn to the bottom of the corset by the end of the century. Shoes and boots varied during the century. Flat slippers were fashionable in the first half of the nineteenth century, though flat-heeled, short boots or half-boots were also worn outdoors. Boots and shoes eventually developed heels during the second half of the century and boots also increased in height up the leg.
For those who could afford regular new outfits, women's fashions changed enormously and rapidly through the 1800s - in fact, in the later 1800s, experts can easily date clothes to within a year or two. Modest, ringletted prettiness was 'the 'look' in the 1830s, with bonnets replacing hats. Bell-shaped skirts known as crinolines became wider and wider, needing ever more petticoats, and even hooped supports. But 1860 saw changes: the sewing machine arrived bringing costs down, and synthetic dyes enabled intense colours. The skirt silhouette flattened out at the front and moved out back: soft bustles in the 1870s, and shelf-like hard bustles from 1883. In the mid-1890s bustles disappeared, replaced by the 'power dressing', almost military, look of wide hat, puff sleeves, narrow waist and long flared skirt.
Clothing styles were dictated by propriety, and stylish garments were a sign of respectability. The copious amounts of fabric used in the creation of Victorian skirts usually meant that most women owned few outfits. Detachable collars and cuffs enabled a woman to change the look of a garment for a bit of variety. Of course, wealthier women owned more garments made of finer fabrics using more material and embellishments.
Styles favored in the Victorian era emphasized the notion of being at the height of all possible civilization and refinement, and the elimination of any outward hint of savage or animal nature in humans. "Proper" clothing required covering the entire body apart from the hands and head, although these too were often covered with gloves and a hat.
In 1837 Victoria ascended to the throne. The fashion press looked to this new young queen to endorse new fashions and generally become an icon for her age. Contrary to popular belief Victoria was, until Prince Albert's death at least, interested in fashion. But she was not a frivolous royal leader and her belief in simplicity and demure elegance is echoed by the fashion plates of the day. Gone were the flamboyant fashions of the mid-1830s with the huge balloon-like sleeves, large bonnets and trailing ribbons. Dress of the late 1830s and 1840s was characterised by its drooping shoulders, long pointed angles and low pinched-in waist. These low-waisted dresses required long, heavily-boned corsets to give them their shape.