“In the 1850s, women’s skirts were domed and bell-shaped, supported by crinoline petticoats. They often featured deep flounces or tiers. Long bloomers and pantaloons trimmed with lace were popular. Tiered cape-jackets were fashionable, as were paisley patterned shawls. Deep bonnets were worn and hair was swept into buns or side coils from a center parting.”
“The mid-nineteenth century lady was a vision of elegance and grace in a beautiful Victorian dress lavishly trimmed with frills, flounces, lace, braid, fringe, ruche and ribbons. The fashion conscious Victorian lady created this appearance with a mysterious combination of the “uncomfortable and inconvenient” with the “frivolous and decorative.” Numerous heavy petticoats, layers of underclothes, a metal hoop skirt, tight corsets worn under-pointed boned bodices of whalebone and steel were hidden by an array of ornately accented undersleeves, collars, pelerines, fans, gloves, hats, and parasols. The finished look was of elegance and grace with an illusion of ease and comfort.”
“Men wore matching coats, waistcoats and trousers, with hairstyles characterised by large mutton-chop side-burns and moustaches, after the style set by Prince Albert.Shirts had high upstanding collars and were tied at the neck with large bow-ties.High fastening and tight fitting frock coats were also very fashionable; though a new style called the sack coat (a thigh-length, loosely fitted jacket) became popular.The bowler hat was invented around 1850, but was generally seen as a working class hat, while top-hats were favoured by the upper classes.”
“Shirts of linen or cotton featured high upstanding or turnover collars. The trend of detachable shirt collars and cuffs (although first appearing in men’s fashion in the 1820s) became highly popularized during this time period. The newly fashionable four-in-hand neckties were square or rectangular, folded into a narrow strip and tied in a bow, or folded on the diagonal and tied in a knot with the pointed ends sticking out to form “wings”. Heavy padded and fitted frock coats (in French redingotes), now usually single-breasted, were worn for business occasions, over waistcoats or vests with lapels and notched collars. Waistcoats were still cut straight across at the waist in front in 1850, but gradually became longer; the fashion for wearing the bottom button undone for ease when sitting lead to the pointed-hemmed waistcoat later in the century.
A new style, the sack coat, loosely fitted and reaching to mid-thigh, was fashionable for leisure activities; it would gradually replace the frock coat over the next forty years and become the modern suit coat.
The slightly cutaway morning coat was worn for formal day occasions. The most formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers, with a white cravat; this costume was well on its way to crystallizing into the modern “white tie and tails”.
Full-length trousers were worn for day. Breeches remained a requirement for formal functions at the British court (as they would be throughout the century). Breeches continued to be worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.
Costumes consisting of a coat, waistcoat and trousers of the same fabric were a novelty of this period.
Starting in the 1850s and surviving until about the early 1900s (decade), facial hair became extremely popular, featuring a vast array of styles. This is well documented in famous photography of the era.
Tall top hats were worn with formal dress and grew taller on the way to the true stovepipe shape, but a variety of other hat shapes were popular. Soft-crowned hats, some with wide brims, were worn for country pursuits. The bowler hat was invented in 1850 but remained a working-class accessory.”
“1850s in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia, May 23, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1850s_in_Western_fashion&oldid=781803037.
- Victoria and Albert Museum. “History of Fashion 1840 – 1900,” July 11, 2013. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/history-of-fashion-1840-1900/.
- “Victorian Dress | 1850s Victorian Clothing.” Accessed July 18, 2017. http://www.victoriana.com/Fashion/1850sfashion/victorianfashionhistory1850.htm.
- 1851 – Great Exhibition, London, people observe fashion and style. American women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer makes the bloomer pants popular.
- 1852 – The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine is published, including advice on needlework from domestic writer Mrs. Beeton.
- 1853-1855 – Crimean War
- 1854 – With the birth of photography comes the “carte de visite,” a fashionable visiting card that includes a photograph of the traveler. Immense popularity leads to the publication of the cards of prominent figures, whose fashions are followed.
- 1855 – A dotted pattern on fabric is named, “polka dot” after the polka, a popular dance.
- 1859 – Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. A new range of dye colors in purple-pink hues are discovered and named magenta and solferino after contemporary battles
Resources for Fashion History Research
To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
Have a primary source to suggest? Or a newly digitized periodical/book to announce? Contact us!
Fashion Plate Collections (Digitized)
NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
- FIT Special Collections (to make an appointment, click here)
- Journal des demoiselles (vol. 19-60, 1851-1892, with gaps) – AP20.J76
- Costume Institute/Watson Library @ the Met (register here)
- New York Public Library
- Brooklyn Museum Library (email for access)