Victorian Fashion

Coco Chanel rightly quoted, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” In other words it is not just what we observe and what we wear but also what we feel and what we express.

Fashion is one such industry, which throughout the world has constantly evolved and changed over time and is changing even now with every minute and every second. New styles of dressing, clothing and makeup constantly flow through the market and society. Current fashion statements are circumstantial in nature as they are both comfortable and extravagant .Over the years the fashions and dresses have lightened and have become comfortable to suit the needs of changing times. From jeans to ball gowns to shorts and skirts and t-shirts, summer dresses are the preferred choice for today’s women. Various fashion designers from all over the world have contributed something or the other to this industry with their own unique style.

However, over the years the Victorian era has been considered as the most fashionable and evolving age in the history of fashion. Under the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 in the midst of the 19th century there have been numerous and extravagant changes in dressing and styling of English ladies. Not only t was it politically and industrially very evolving and thunderous due to the industrial revolution, in fact the fashion industry itself flourished to monumental heights during this era. It is often believed that fashion was used as a mode of communication and imparting ideas and femininity during that time. Till the Victorian era it was the time and age where the status of women was very low and homely as compared to men, however, during this time womanhood and femininity grew towards an independent and confidant stance and fashion and style were used as a tool to further enhance the character, the intention and motives of women in those times. Fashion and dresses in those times were both extravagant and changing over the vast time span of almost 65 years; fashion changed considerably yet remained an important aspect of social structures.

An extremely fashionable dress was viewed as both a weakness, as well as the strength of English society, where men considered them as a weakness as it enhanced a women’s body and women considered them as strength, a weapon to hold their position in the society. Tight corsets, hoop skirts, outrageous bustles, Indian shawls, Gignot sleeves, dropped shoulder dresses, tight fitting bodices to enhance the waist, cartridge pleats, off shoulder ball gowns with soft colors for the day and bright for the night were characteristically associated with the women of the Victorian era. Even during that time women’s fashion underwent a massive change from hoop skirts where the skirts were made bulky while wearing a lot of petticoats and the waist was narrow. Knee length chemise and tight bodice were also popular at that time. During the 1850’s number of petticoats became less as carolines were worn, necklines further increased for evening wear, shawls, opera gloves and tight fitting bodice was adorned with it. 1860’s on the other hand saw a flatter front and bulky back. The day dresses had high necks and tatted collars whereas the evening dresses included low necklines and short sleeves, and were worn with short gloves. Fingerless lace or crocheted mitts were also used in places of short gloves. With the 1870’s uncorseted tea gowns were draped for informal entertaining at home and crinoline were replaced by the bustles to hold the skirts up behind the woman, even for “seaside dresses”.

By the 1880’s new arenas of stylish dressing came up, including riding and hunting dresses where former had matching jackets and skirts with high collared shirts and veiled hats, while the latter had ankle-length skirts with boots or gaiters to complete it. Walking dresses also came up and had long jackets and skirts with a bustle and a bonnet to complete the look and travelling outfits included long coats.

By the time the last decade of the Victorian era came, women’s fashion became simpler, comfortable and less extravagant; the use of both bustles and crinoline fell out and extremely tight fitted dresses lost their charm. Slightly longer corsets came into use, giving women a slight S-curve profile or silhouette. Trumpet shaped skirts, closely fitted over the hip with a flaring above the knee and a wasp-waist cut became popular along with high necks and puffed sleeves. For the first time sportswear for women, like bicycling dresses, riding dresses, tennis dresses, swimwear and hunting dresses became popular and came as another dimension to stylized fashion.

In totality the overall development and changes that happened in this age highlights the extravagance, the importance as well as an evolving fashion industry, which in itself is a massive mode of communication regarding thoughts, ideas and social structure. Victorian fashion is both vintage as well as unique in its own style and is best suitable for English ladies only. For women in those times it became a source to channel their womanhood, their femininity and develop an independent personality. So, we can say that a good, fashionable and stylish dress can act as an armor to hide the weakness in a woman’s personality. Also it can be used to project a confident, independent and strong personality of a women and this statement was true for not only the Victorian era but is applicable even in the current and modern times as well.

Aarshi Dua