During the 30 years of the early Victorian Age the style and trend which the women wore transformed from the hour glass figure, to the high waist, gradually leading to the bell shape figure with large sleeves and low cut cleavage style. The main reasons for each change was to try to somehow make comfort for a woman, yet it rarely occurred.
The corset set the tone for the shape of the woman's body. It brought the waist into incredible measurements, a record of 15 inches was reached.
The crinoline was designed to enhance the look of the dress. It allowed the skirts to flare out to great widths, enhancing the value of any woman whom wore the crinoline. The corset was basic to the hour glass look. "The hour glass look was achieved with the corset, a garment made of clothe and wire used to compress the waist to only twelve to fifteen inches, which was highly hazardous the to woman's health yet highly fashionable"(Ruhling 146). Along with the corsets the women wore crinolines, wired hoops that held the dress out, which were often a fire hazard. The crinolines' fullness forced women to have good posture and seat themselves very carefully. Otherwise, women would be considered unladylike. As Cunnington states, "The crinoline was used as a status of wealth, also the wider the hoop, the more fabric had to be used to cover it. Therefore women having enormous widths in their dresses indicated a very wealthy status in life." That was not the end to the additives of what women wore beneath their elaborate dresses. "Many women wore at least four to five petticoats, layers of skirts and cloth, on top of their crinoline to enhance their status of wealth"(Beard 254).
The bell-shaped figure was given its name because of the way the women looked when they walked down the streets of England-like a ringing bell! Changes in fashion came when the corset was readjusted and altered to the waist instead of covering the hips also. With the new altering the corset brought on the high waist figure. "The skirts were actually just raised up to start approximately six inches below the breasts"(Bosse). The skirts still had a narrow top with a broad bottom. The crinoline and petticoats were still worn.
The bell-shaped figure was based on this high-waist shape. Again the corset was worn, yet it gave no appearance of its presence. "The skirts started directly beneath the breasts and immediately began to expand from that point"(Hansen 158). The crinoline and petticoats still worn and gave width and an elaborate look. The sleeves were not attached to the dress itself but were pinned or buttoned on to the dress to give the appearance of very short arms. The sleeves were very wide at the shoulders and gradually narrowed at the wrists. "The cleavage line of the dress was very low, usually to reveal the innocent untouched flesh a young lady may have. This was not taken as an insult or digression from the viewer or the revealer"(Evans 145).
There were fabulous fabrics that were hand woven and designed. Many families had one tailor they went to to make designs for them. The fabrics of these elaborate dresses were delicate and very difficult to manufacture. In fact, some of the cloth made then do not exist now because of the time, effort, and money put into making the fabric. Some of the fabrics used were Levantine foliose (a soft, rich silk with a twilled shot of green and red or blue and gold), sultane (a mixture of silk and mohair, like fine alpaca, with alternate satin or chine stripes), satin flout (described as being as rich as velvet and as supper as muslin), Pekin point (a rich white silk painted with bouquets of flowers or foliage and with a light mixture of gold in the pattern), also Ottoman satin (rich shaded satin embroidered with flowers), and Victorian silk. To sew these rich and delicate fabrics into dresses required tedious labor.
Lace was remarkably fashionable and found on almost every dress. It would cover the entire dress, emboider the design, or trim the hems of the dress.
was highly fashionably because women wanted to shade and protect their fair skin from the sun when they went out.
Lace accompanied almost every style and trend in the early Victorian age. "Lace became a trend and style all its own"(Palmer). Lace was used to indicate style, class and wealth of a woman. The lace was tediously made with precision and distinction to clarify who owned the lace. Although the fabrics of the time were elaborate, lace was emphasized as the only thing that "made" the dress. The majority of day dresses, which survive from the period, were mostly made of heavy cotton. Lace was so popular in Victorian clothing women would hand make their own designs and styles of the lace.
The hairstyles of the time added distinction and sophistication. Women let their hair fall in short ringlets on either sides of their face from a center part, or they combed it over the ears straight down from a center parting. As stated by Wilcox, "The hair of the women in the 1800s was very important to their status"(134). Bonnets were also fashionable headwear. The poke bonnet
had a wide open brim projecting over the face. The jewelry also was very important to women's fashion during the 1800s. Jewelry consisted of gems and artifacts. Other accessories were shoes, shawls, and gloves.
Flat shoes with no heels were worn with lacing up the lower part of the leg. As stated by Wilcox, "Women wore the black leather shoe for everyday dress, but slippers with the Louis heel were to be had of colorful kid, thin morocco and many fabrics such as velvet, satin, brocade, and damask"(227 The Mode). Stockings were made of thick material used to keep women legs warm. They were usually fashionable and were never seen.
The shawl draped over the upper body of the woman. Usually the shawl would be large enough to cover the head, neck, shoulders, back, chest, and arms of the woman.
The shawl was almost the equivalent of a scarf today. The shawl was used with dresses, enclosing the neck and also spread over the shoulders over the wide collars. As Ruhling states in her book, "The Kashmir shawl with its oriental palm or pine design made the shawl an extremely appealing and exotic piece of apparel from the early 1800's up to about 1870"(156). Hand woven in India from the soft wool of the Tibetan goat, the shawls were terribly expensive, even by today's standards they would be expensive costing usually five hundred to five thousand dollars. They were such a status symbol some women preferred them above diamonds. Gorsline states that, "A loom woven version of the coveted and more costly Kashmir shawl was the Paisley shawl, made in Scotland. It got a real royal boost when none other than Queen Victorian draped one over her stately shoulders"(144).
The gloves were usually too small but the women all wanted the image of small delicate hands.
Fashion indicated that women should wear gloves. They were to wear tight fitting kidskin gloves that were fastened by up to one hundred tiny buttons. Much advice was given not only on buying gloves, but putting them on also. Women were advised to allow at least one half hour to squeeze each hand into the binding leather. The process was vast and intense. Women had to use great forces of pushing and pulling the hand in the glove. There was a special hook used to fasten the buttons on the gloves. Knitted gloves were worn in the morning and black silk mittens were put on the back with gloves of white silk net or white kid for dinner parties.
False hair, make-up, jewels, and fans were used to make the appearance beautiful and appealing. Jewelry was also used to show mourning and happiness. Bentley states that, "Mourning jewelry was a very important and fashionable, of gold and black enamel, dull jet, often with a coil of the hair of the 'beloved departed' cleverly inserted in the ring, brooch, or locket"(178). Queen Victoria for instance could not be parted from her bracelet that held a portrait of her beloved Albert with a lock of his hair. Human hair was not only for mourning jewelry, but also given to daughters from their mothers. Engagement rings, were usually a diamond symbolizing innocence, it was what every bride wanted to wear on their finger. Each stone of an engagement ring was represented by a meaning such as sapphires which meant immortal life, rubies represented affection, emeralds brought success in life, and pearls and opals were avoided because they were considered hard brings of ill luck.
The fan was highly recommended and requested to use. Many women used the signals and codes for communicating with gentlemen.
Make-up was used to a maximum. During this period, women wanted to cover things up. It was commonly known for women to pile the make-up on the cover all the flaws in their skin. Women wanted to achieve the look of fair white skin with colored lips. Every one could not afford make-up; therefore, the woman did not wear it or she substituted with various creams and chemicals. "Fans were more than a decorative accessory, they wore a device for reviving the more than occasional swooning bathroom dancer"(Boucher 89). Fans were considered as a flirting device. Although it is questionable how much of this flirting was actually done there were complex rules about the meaning of the position of the fan when held in the hand of a young women. If a woman fanned fast, she was conveying her independence, if she fanned slowly she was already engaged. A fan with the right hand in front of her face encouraged advances, while when done with the left it recommended retreat. An open fan meant love, while a closed one meant hate, and a half-opened fan signaled friendship. A fan that was open and shut meant, "Oh kiss me, please."
As Queen Victoria's reign reached its peak, like any other, it came to an end. She became known for her simple sense of fashion and grace. She took her turn at the spotlight then let the throne have another ruler. While she stood in the light, she let it be known that she set the fashions and style for the aristocratic English women in her society. This motivated the status and rank of these women to be known by all. The clothing may have been a little bit uncomfortable with the crinoline and layers of petticoats, and the fabrics were pretty complicated, but some are still around now like cotton and silk. Women in that period were very conscience of their figure and they all went after the feminine look of a thin waist and broad lower body. The basic observance of this period was that it dealt with a lot deception. Women had to wear certain things to make it seem to all they were frail and fragile with a petite well shaped body. Women also caked on make-up to hide blemishes. The style of the period was very distinguished, yet it started from the Queen and trickled down to all women. The dress was very elaborate, while the accessories were compliments to the women who wore them.