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Clothing Of The Nineteenth Century

( Originally Published 1928 )

IT had become the thing for civilized nations to follow the decree of Paris in fashions. They had no radio, telegraph or telephone to transmit instantly to the furthermost corners of the globe the dernier cri of a Parisian modiste in the making of a sleeve, but the mail and returning travelers brought the latest wrinkle exploited by French mondaines. For the nineteenth century, therefore, the history of dress as adopted by the English-speaking world need alone be followed.



The coats, usually of blue cloth, were short waisted and double breasted, running to a long tail. A turned-over collar rising high above the throat ended in broad lapels. Sleeves were full at the shoulders. A waistcoat of fashionable buff color showed below the coat.

The Stock.—A very wide band of white linen or black silk swathed the neck, much care being required in its adjustment. That of Beau Brummel is said to have been twelve inches broad, and the task of "creasing down," as the operation was termed, devolved upon his faithful valet, Mortimer, of the play. The head was at first tilted back, the stiff cravat being laid across the throat and lower part of the chin; very slowly the action was reversed until several stiff creases appeared in the smooth linen; lastly, the tie was fastened, leaving the head so rigid that a turn to right or left could be essayed only with difficulty. Such a scene was "shot" but cut from the screen play with John Barrymore as Beau Brummel.

The frilled shirt had a very high collar which required a deft touch in folding it over.

Breeches or "tops" were worn with Hessian boots pulled over them.

The Pantaloons.—Full length and closely fitting the body from the waist down pantaloons were popular owing to their adoption by Beau Brummel. Tight to the leg at first, they were fastened above the ankle with buttons and worn with striped stockings and low buckled shoes. As they increased in length, they were split open over the instep and caught together by loops and buttons ; still later they were held down by a strap placed under the foot, which method continued until the middle of the century.

A fob, with seals depending from it, hung below the waistcoat. Sometimes two were worn, one at either side. The overcoat was made with three or four capes reaching to just below the shoulder line. The snuff box was considered very important. Beaver hats, now grown quite tall, were the mode.

The Hair.—Wigs had gone out of style; the hair was worn short and very full at the sides of the face. Side whiskers in bushy effect were very fashionable.


The Empire Gown.—This fashion resulted from the revival of the classic Greek in women's clothes. For a few years the beautiful lines of this dress were untampered with, but by 1810 its length was curtailed and the sleeve was receiving the attention of the arbiters of fashion. In 1803 it was high waisted with a low-cut neck and a long skirt reaching the floor which was trained for full dress. The sleeve was merely a fanciful puff at the shoulder.

A habit shirt of "clear muslin" called a "dicky" was gathered to a neckband edged with a tiny ruff and was used to fill in the neck on walking-dresses ; there was also a half-habit shirt which stopped below the collar-bone, leaving the throat bare. A pelice was a short jacket with long sleeves worn wide open in front.

Materials and Decoration.—Plain and figured muslins, and fine cambrics, manufactured in England, were extremely fashionable. Evening gowns were made of muslin, plain white being popular and gold and silver considered very elegant. Sarsenet was also in style. Gold fringe enjoyed a great vogue. Wide borders of lace finished nearly all gowns. A "curricle" was a lace overskirt reaching to the knee. Swansdown, a very popular trimming, was used to edge gowns and hats, whole muffs being fashioned of it. The last mentioned were now so enormous that arms could be buried in them to the elbows, a comfortable fashion with sleeves non-existent. India shawls were stylish. A bag or reticule, commonly called "a ridicule," was carried.

Gloves, Shoes and Hats.—Gloves, reaching to the short puffed sleeves, were held in place by armlets of pearl, gold, silver or enamel, some representing wreaths of flowers. A shorter glove, reaching to below the elbow, was also worn.

A shade known as "York Tan," was most in demand, but white and buff were used, too.

Heelless shoes like slippers, in white or blue (often mazarine blue), scarlet, green, yellow or "straw" and made of silk, velvet, and white leather were the correct mode.

Beaver hats in imitation of the men's were popular; straw bonnets fitting the head were trimmed with flowers.

The Hair.—A bunch of curls was caught on top with a row of small ones across the brow. The most popular headdress was a wreath of silver or a bandeau of flowers, with heron's feathers, a "prince's feather" or an ostrich plume occasionally topping them. Turbans of colored velvet were edged with swansdown.

The sleeve developed into a series of puffs which ex-tended from shoulder to wrist. A long, loose undersleeve gathered to a wrist ruffle was worn when the former short shoulder puff was retained. Ruffles appeared as trimming on the skirt and about the neck; fichus so decorated were worn crossed on the bosom and tied behind. The skirt reached only to the ankles.

Tall straw hats were tied with ribbon under the chin.

In 1817, braiding was used on the bodice in imitation of a soldier's uniform. Mary Astor wore a gown so trimmed in the latter part of "Beau Brummel."

The shoes were low, with round toes.

During the Empire, jewelry was massive in form, the extremely low necks affording much area for cameos and large gems in elaborate settings. Earrings were long and heavy. Jewels were used in trimming turbans, and also to catch up the puff sleeve on evening gowns.

GEORGE IV, 1820-1830


Trousers were strapped under the instep, those known as "peg-top" being very full about the hips and narrowing down to a tight fit at the ankles. The coat, retaining much of the same cut, was made in quiet colors such as buff, blue or gray, its collar high but not so extravagantly so as during the Empire.

A white collar, with high points lying up against the jawbone, was worn with a stock of black silk or satin wrapped about it. The shirts were very much frilled.

The Wellington boot, low-heeled, round-toed and reaching to above the ankle, was in style.

The hair was now bushy at the front with the sides brushed forward toward the eyes. Eyeglasses were suspended on black silk ribbon. Fobs were very fashionable.

High beaver hats were in style.


Round, full skirts were worn over stiff petticoats. The waist, short and pointed in front, was adjusted over a corset, the shoulder seam dropping and the sleeve growing larger. Evening gowns left the shoulders bare.

The hair was parted in the center and arranged with clusters of curls about the forehead and sides of the face.

WILLIAM IV, 1830-1837


Coats had velvet collars and cuffs, trousers remaining the same. Overcoats were made with long capes to the waist; this fashion lasted a long time. High beaver hats were still the mode.

The Hair.—The hair was full about the face, some men using a center parting. A new note was the mutton-chop whisker, which curved forward on the cheek ; mustaches began to appear.


The Leg 0' Mutton Sleeve.—This was a startling and extremely ugly fashion, the culmination of the ever descending armhole. An enormous sleeve presenting a swollen, balloonlike appearance from shoulder to elbow, be-came skin-tight to the wrist. The waist had grown very small, owing to the introduction of stays and lacing. The skirt, standing stiffly out from the figure, reached to just above the ankles. A crowning touch was given this leg o' mutton ensemble by perching a wide brimmed hat, decorated profusely with flowers or feathers, over the curly top-knot with its high supporting comb.



The Coat.—Light trousers were much worn early in the reign, the coat changing gradually to the frock and the Prince Albert for formal wear. The skirts were rounded off in front on morning coats. Colored waist-coats were worn. The stock and high-pointed collar went out of fashion about 1860, when a low turned-down collar began to take their place. During the seventies a very high choker collar was used with very short coats. Cutaways, sack coats, Prince Alberts and frock coats continued in style throughout the century, as did the dress suit of black broadcloth known as the "swallow-tail," with slight alterations in its cut from time to time.

The Tuxedo.—In the early nineties a coat of black broadcloth or other fine material, and made without tails, was adopted by young men for "smokers." It was known as the "tuxedo" and not considered strictly full dress.

In the eighties the "blazer," a coat made of bright colored striped flannel, was popular for summer country wear. White duck or flannel trousers accompanied it, a silk sash taking the place of a belt.

Headgear.—Black, white or fawn colored high hats of silk or beaver were made with bell-shaped crowns before 1860. Their brims became tight rolled, with straight tops. High hats of white or gray felt were in fashion until 189o. Those of silk plush made on a pasteboard frame were considered more formal when the derby, black, brown and gray, became popular. The height and contour of the latter changed from year to year. Straw hats took the form of the "sailor" in the nineties.

The Hair.—Beards became very fashionable in the early Victorian era; side whiskers were also worn. Men extended the center parting of their hair back to the nape of the neck, which resulted in a fullness over the ears. One style familiar in pictures of Lord Tennyson, permitted the locks to grow very long. The pompadour, suggesting an inverted shoe-brush, was popular in the eighties. A middle parting, with the hair worn long and drooping over the temples, was for a time succeeding this affected by young men, alternating with a side parting and the hair brushed back. The latter form continued after the other.

Footgear.—The boot known as "congress" with side insets of elastic which did away with fastening, and low heels, was the most popular form of foot covering for years. For evening wear, pumps were worn; these toward the end of the century were of patent leather. Men wore buttoned or laced shoes from the seventies on. Russet and various shades of tanned leather came into style during the last decade. Oxford ties of white canvas or tanned leather replaced them in summer.

Neckwear and Jewelry.—The small necktie, purchased made up with a long band attached to go around the collar, was succeeded by the kind which required self-tying. Large cravats called Ascots were made up by knotting and crossing the two wide ends of padded satin or silk, which, when so arranged and held by a scarf pin, completely filled the V-opening of the vest. Four-in-hand ties replaced them. Bow or string ties were always popular.

Gold or silver watches were carried in a lower vest pocket; heavy chains with seal and ornamental key attached hung across the vest and were secured to a button-hole by a bar. Fobs were also used. In the sixties gold pencils with large jewels set in the end were fashionable.


Pantalettes.—At the beginning of Victoria's reign the skirts were made so full and short that the modesty of the time required the wearing of pantalettes. These rather resembled muslin pillowcases and were gathered to the legs by means of elastic run through at top and bottom. Lace frills attached to their lower edges flopped about the ankles. By 1860 only the old-fashioned wore them.

The sleeve had taken on a round balloon shape; this gradually straightened out, losing all fullness at the armhole, which now was normal. A wide bell shape, of elbow length, became fashionable in the sixties. With it was worn an undersleeve, often of expensive lace or the finest lawn exquisitely embroidered, cut very full and gathered to a tiny wristband.

The Hoop Skirt.—Crinoline petticoats, made with many flounces and stiffened with whalebone, were used to inflate the skirts. By 1855 the hoop appeared. It was constructed in this wise : from a broad band about the waist, others depended to which huge hoops of whale-bone were attached, gradually widening in circumference as they descended to the floor. A valance of lace and lawn was attached to its inside for concealment in case of tilting. The hoop skirt became passe in 1863, when it was replaced by flounced crinoline petticoats.

The very small-waisted bodice, running to long points at front and back, was boned and laced. Evening gowns were worn off the shoulders, their sleeves standing out in flattened puffs. With the bell sleeves, a high-necked waist, with a round collar of embroidery or lace matching the undersleeves, was used. Honiton and point lace were very fashionable.

The waist accompanying the hoop-skirted evening gown had no sleeves ; it was cut very low, the front and back meeting in a narrow band slipped below the shoulder. All waists as a rule laced up the back.

The Poke Bonnet.—The poke bonnet made its entry about 184o. It was made with a wide arching brim under which roses or other flowers were placed against the hair; its crown rose to a high puff with a curtain of lace or silk hanging across the back of the neck. Wide rib-bons secured this coquettish affair beneath the chin.

Caps.—White caps were worn by all matrons. These were often quite imposing, very full of frilled lace and ribbons. When ladies went to stay overnight or spend the day, a two-handled basket of wicker, opening through its center somewhat after the fashion of a lunch basket, was carried. In it reposed the fresh, frilly cap, while on their heads sat another crushed under a poke bonnet. Some-times they were made with long tabs hanging each side of the face. Their heyday was in the forties and fifties.

The Hair.—This was parted in the middle with clusters of curls at either side—a fashion accompanying the poke bonnet. Long braids, composed of many strands and interwoven until they looked like basketwork, were wound about the ears by young girls. The hair of older women was brought over the ears and fastened in a knot at the back, from which long curls were carried forward over the shoulders. The smoothly brushed hair caught planes of light as it curved about the head. During the sixties the back hair was caught in a coarse, meshed net resembling a caul ; a narrow black velvet ribbon was run through its edge and tied in a bow on the crown of the head.

Poke bonnets of a smaller size, also wide-brimmed leg-horn hats, were worn. With the long riding habit which trailed from the left hip, a silk hat resembling a man's was used.

Prunella boots or congress gaiters with elastic insets on the sides were made of black cloth. The slippers of 1860 had no heels whatsoever; the boots only a small elevation. This lasted until the seventies.

The Seventies.—By 1870 the dress clung to the figure except at the back, where a bustle made its appearance. All materials, save the gauzes used on evening gowns, were heavy and opaque; yards and yards were piled in draperies over the bustle, descending thence in a train. Ruffles, flounces, bands, borders—all of them fringed—were placed in every conceivable position on the front of the skirt. The basque, tight fitting and boned, was high necked, the trimming on the elbow sleeves duplicating that in the skirt. On evening gowns the neck was cut higher at the back. Ruffles, ruches and the like trimmed it.

The Chignon or Waterfall.—The hair was carried high on the back of the head, then allowed to descend in a cascade of ringlets.

A bonnet, tilting forward over the forehead, was placed in front of the chignon. With this was affected the Grecian bend, i.e., the body was bent forward from the waist so that the lady with her bustle advanced somewhat like a camel.

High heels were worn. Shoes of bronze leather fastened up the front by many little buttoned straps were very stylish.

The Eighties.—The bustle was still worn but by 1890 it had gone out completely. The skirt was cut round, being trained only for night. The hour-glass figure was the fashion. The basque fitted like a glove over a high corset, closely boned and well laced. Not a. wrinkle was permitted anywhere ; sleeves exactly fitted the armhole. The waist was cut in sections ; the material of which it was to be made and a piece of heavy lining of silk or muslin, the two exactly matching in form, were then basted together. When all the corresponding parts were so arranged, the whole cut-out puzzle was carefully joined and fitted until no pucker remained. Every seam and dart was stiffened with whalebone, the latter being covered with ribbon shirred on to insure a better fit. The skirts were also lined with muslin or silk, a fashion which existed throughout the entire Victorian period and added greatly to the weight of the costume.

The basque was fastened up the front with fancy but-tons, some of wood covered with velvet, silk, beading or embroidery. A standing collar, edged with white ruching, bought by the yard at the notion counter, was secured by a brooch. The evening gown was high backed with a square-cut opening in front.

Jerseys of both silk and wool were very fashionable; they buttoned in front and were, of course, skin tight.

Overskirts, carefully draped over the bustle, constantly changed in cut. One variety was called the "shawl."

The bustle was made in various ways, any combination of wires, whalebone and crinoline accomplishing the trick. Some were long, reaching to below the knees, others only extended a foot or so downward. Strings held the lower ends together to prevent a collapse. Muslin bags stuffed with horsehair and tied about the waist with a tape, did service for some. An old lady who paid a continuous round of overnight visits to her numerous descendants, carried her nightgown as a bustle !

Passementerie, a trimming of fancy braid, in various designs and heavily beaded, was appliqued to all parts of the gown.

The skirt always contained a placket hole, i.e., the skirt opening. This was placed on the left of the bustle and had to be carefully closed with hooks and eyes. Petticoats of cambric and muslin carried wide flounces of embroidery, lace edged. Two at least were worn, both being stiffly starched.

Squirrel lined "circulars" of black silk, ankle length, were very popular in the early eighties. Dolmans of brocaded velvet trimmed with chenille fringe, had fitted backs reaching to just below the waist, long hanging fronts, and loose pieces covering the arms. The back was pulled in by a ribbon attached at the waistline underneath and tied in front.

The chignon was discarded, the hair being curled on top of the head; across the forehead a bang or "fringe" was worn. Some women arranged their tresses in a knot at the nape of the neck, as worn by Lily Langtry, the most famous beauty of the time. Either way, the ears showed.

Small bonnets, made of fine material and with care, were worn well back on the head and tied with strings under the ear. Hats of felt had tall crowns and close-rolled brims ; leghorns, flower trimmed, were also worn.

The Nineties.—The skirt was cut in gores, lined, and stiffened around the bottom with crinoline, starched petticoats helping to distend it. The waist fitted the corseted figure and the sleeves, which had begun to show a slight fullness at the shoulder in the last three years of the eighties, were gradually enlarged, taking on various forms which included a revival of the leg o' mutton of 183o, with the important difference that it was attached to a normal armhole. These sleeves were lined with crinoline and their set was important; women fussed side by side in street cars, each endeavoring to place her own in front of her neighbor's lest they be crushed. The hats were perky, turned up at the back, and much trimmed. Long cape coats, also long tight-fitting ones, were worn. Sealskin (real, not muskrat) was the mode for fur coats. Tailored suits of serge and various other cloths were introduced, all with large-topped sleeves. High shoes, both buttoned and laced, were worn, oxford ties taking their place in summer.

The Shirt Waist.—The craze for this had its outset in 1893, in time spreading even to the men. It was at first strictly tailored of colored or white linen, China silk, or percale with a stiff high collar and laundered cuffs. The four-in-hand tie, cuff buttons and belt which accompanied it became objects of much attention. Belts were mostly of leather with fancy buckles. Some women preferred tiny silk girdles laced in front or ribbons finished with bows.

Later the tailored look disappeared and the fashion of elaborately trimmed, separate waists made of silks, satin, velvets, foulards, lace, etc., lasted for a long while. With the addition of several well made skirts, usually black, say one of cloth, one of satin, and another of some light crepey material, a woman was provided with an extensive wardrobe.

Up to this time a woman's skin, excepting that of her face, had always been invisible on the street due to the opaque materials in use. Toward the end of the century, however, English eyelet embroidery became fashionable and shirt waists were made of it. This was considered as scandalous as it was unprecedented—that the neck and arms of woman, her very flesh itself, should be exposed through the tiny openings in the goods ! It also became a staple for joke-makers. Much is said against the modern flapper, but the so-called fin de siecle girl gave her Victorian mother many a jolt.

The "shirtwaist man," who arrived soon after, was regarded with horror by many females. His retort was that if he could sit in an open car and gaze upon the skin of woman, why then should not he be coatless and comfortable in a starched, immaculate shirt that was quite opaque?

Gauzes and chiffons were used in evening gowns; the necks cut round and low, the sleeves mere puffs hanging below the shoulder. In the wake of the eyelet embroidery followed a stream of sheer materials, chiffons, voiles, and finally georgette becoming the mode for street use; lace yokes were put in dresses.

With the end of the century a train was attached to a skirt that fitted smoothly over the hips and flared below the knees. Gowns and shirt waists, made with full elbow-length sleeves, were fastened up the back; this was the age when women had to be hooked up. Hats were large and much befeathered. Muffs and long boas reaching to the knees were in style; the latter made of ostrich or coque feathers for summer.

Houses up to this time had depended largely on heating methods not so effective as those of today, and what was known as "heavy underwear" was considered necessary for the winter months. These heavy silk, all wool, or wool and cotton mixed, garments, long sleeved and ankle length, were systematically changed to, almost as a rite, at the first nip of frost.

Jewelry.—Victorian jewelry in the sixties comprised sets of pin, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Very large brooches and wide bracelets were much worn. Watches enclosed in gold cases were, during the time mentioned, attached to long gold chains often studded with gems and fastened to a matching pin placed at the collar opening. In the nineties, the watch, now open faced, was tucked inside the bosom of the gown between its hooks, while a shower of charms, pendant to tiny chains, hung from it.

Earrings became very long in the seventies ; in the eighties, solitaires (single diamonds) were in the ears of every woman who could afford them, or rhinestones and paste imitations substituted. The fashion, except for older women, went out in the nineties ; all earrings had been worn like rivets through a hole in the lobe of the ear, but now the younger set revolted, considering it a relic of barbarism.

Bangles, chains and jeweled snake bracelets superseded the round, heavily chased ones of gold.

Lockets were in style during the entire Victorian period, in fact, they endured until displaced by the La Valliere, which made its appearance early in the present century. In 1895 a variety of locket known as the "Trilby heart," made of gold or silver, hung on a long chain of the same metal about the neck of every woman.

"Chatelaine" bags of black velvet suspended from the waist by a silver chain and hook, also beaded bags, knitted purses and "portemonnaies" of the Victorian age were followed by the leather pocketbook with many small receptacles and one closed for money, the covering flap fastened on the side by a metal catch. This, in the eighties and nineties, was carried in the muff, pocket (the wide seams in the skirt boasted pockets), or openly in the hand. Alligator bags, fashioned like miniature traveling lug-gage, were used during the same period.

Veils.—Face veils reaching to the nose were suspended from the brim of the tilted hat in the seventies. In the nineties a craze for veils swept over the world of women, driving the eye-doctors to exasperation, for the chenille dot reigned supreme. This, in varying sizes, was spread over the whole surface of the veil either separately or symmetrically clustered, necessitating great care in the pinning on in order to achieve a becoming, and not disfiguring, arrangement.

Long chiffon veils in various colors were pinned around the hat, thrown up off the face and allowed to fly back-ward in the breeze. Frenchwomen had a strong penchant for those of white lace, which always had an especial al-lure. "Complexion veils" were of the finest white or gray gauze with an overlay pattern in the sheerest black thread.

Young girls of the nineties cast off the high, ugly corset and wore a girdle about five inches wide, which merely laced the figure about the waist. Their Victorian mothers were, of course, aghast. The flapper of the Mauve Decade had fired the first shot. Other women of a common sense and rather mannish style, a type of new woman the world was then viewing for the first time, took to wearing Ferris waists ; these were made without bones and gave them a dowdy, shapeless look.

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