Sunday, April 20, 2014

Late Victorian Dresses

Late Victorian Era Dresses

Sounds like an easy task, right. 
Find some pictures on pininterest and slap them up.
Here's my problem. Lots of pictures are mislabel to their exact time. They are 1890s. But the decade was far from homogeneous.
The most notable change is the sleeves which are slender in 1890-1892 

(1893 is a transition year and is all over the place.)

During the coming of THE NEW WOMEN (1st named in 1894) they give themselves large puffy 'I am NOT fragile' shoulders. They keep these massive puffs from 1894-1896

In 1987 & 1988 they gave it up, tired of fighting with their coats in the winter, and returned to slender arms. The big difference between the early part of the decade is that the bustle has nearly disappeared this time around and the hats are huge and carry strange items like birds, fruits and dead foxes. 

By 1899, the hints of the Edwardian style show up with the use of lace and draped softer fabrics.

However, most of the ladies continue to wear the more delineated line of 87/88.

There is also a difference between English, American, French and other countries. France, home of House of Worth, would make a dress for any nationality with the funds to buy it, so they sold widely diverse styles, not all which would be accepted in all countries. Thus, when someone moved to a new location, buying a new wardrobe was a top priority.

However, that doesn't mean all ladies wore the same style. We don't now, and we didn't then.
Here are some style sheets showing what was 'in fashion'  and what someone wore instead.

Above left is the 'new' larger sleeve style of 1893. The style to the right is also from 1893, but it is the 'retro' style that grew popular in the early 1890's.

Here's a 1895 'Gibson Girl' style vs. a french style preferred by some.

So as you can see, one style does not suit all.

Nor does one dress a day work.
It was not uncommon for a woman to change her clothes many times in the day.

Staying to year of  1895:

There was the morning gown to be worn in the privacy of your suite

a day dress
This particular dress is called a 'Shirt Waist' because it mimics a man's shirt. (except for the sleeves.) It was the basic uniform for working young women of the growing middle class.

a walking dress, 
no train to drag about in the muck.

an afternoon dress to visit others (with train to drag about in the muck.)

 a tea gown  is likened to a morning gown made of luxurious fabrics. No corset is normally worn beneath it. Notice a strong resemblance between the afternoon and tea dress length of skirt trails. The main differences are the afternoon dress could be worn outside and required a corset, while the tea dress was for intimate indoor occasions only with people you don't mind seeing you without a corset. This means the host of the tea party might wear a tea gown while visitors might prefer arriving in an afternoon dress. Main source 

a dinner dress, to my eye, looks a great deal like a 'day dress' but with more expensive fabrics.  Since a tea gown was not deemed appropriate for the dinner table, the corset must be located and a dinner dress put on for the evening meal.

and last, but not least, the ball gown. 
Notice the train on the ball gown was not normally as long as the trains on the tea gowns. That may be because it was easier to dance in shorter trains.

 I don't know about you, but to have the whole day wasted in changing clothes sounds like hell to me. And don't forget, ladies were advised to bath at least twice a day.

 Of course if you wished to go swimming, 


 or golfing (1899)

or ride a horse

or work out in a gym. (1893)

or riding a bike (1896)

There were special clothes for each.

And let us not fail to mention the sad cries for attention, otherwise known as 'What was she thinking?"

The need to compensate for small breasts

Groping made easy

Can't take your eyes off my chest, can you? 
Stare much longer and you'll have to marry me.

The wonders of fabric folds to give the illusion of breasts. 

Grab the buckle, you know you want to.

Watch me wiggle

Faux cleavage
Assuming the wearer's skin was close to the color of the chest fabric, this ballgown would be most risque.

Thus ends my review of Late Victorian Era clothing for ladies.  Just reading about all these dresses to be worn in a single day exhausts me. I can't blame my character Vic (in my humorous,  Late Victorian  
mystery romance series, Book 1 - August release) for deciding to live the life of a young man instead of a woman. 
Vic makes a handsome young man, doesn't she?


  1. That was really interesting! Beautiful gowns!

    1. Thanks. I think my favorite is the retro gown. Shame that didn't catch on...

  2. The clothes were amazing and yes... the comments even more so! I can just imagine many nicely reared young ladies going crazy with all these changes each day! But then didn't seem that different than what I do on the first date... I have at least as many outfits on, most just as crazy trying to decide how to get to date #2.

    1. Well, if you let the lady change her mind during each change, the dresses could become endless.

  3. Super interesting. I live in the desert and it was in the 90s today. All I can think about looking at those dresses is how hot I would be. Of course, England isn't Arizona-- fortunately for them. Thanks for the education.

    1. I expect they stayed to light cotton fabrics in the hot season, but otherwise, the dresses would be similar.

  4. LOL These totally made me laugh. And it's super interesting to see how different and creatively strange they get.

    1. Yes, some of these ladies or their dress makers went over the line on creative ways to attract a man. But we still do that today. Not an awards ceremony goes by without at least one dress that astounds the masses...and not in a good way.

  5. That was great, Liza!! I love how by the end of the century, the fabrics and styles were becoming softer, much like the Regency, but with waists. Tweeted.

    1. I think the height of beautiful dresses occurred in the Edwardian period right after the Late Victorian. I love the lace and sweeping light fabrics. It's as if with the death of Queen Victoria, we acquired good taste.

  6. Loved this post, Liza. I find it interesting to watch the changes in styles but I agree with Toni, I think I'd need one of those fainting couches if I had to wear one of these on a hot summer day.

    1. It makes you understand why southern women were always pictured fanning themselves.


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