1864 womenswear featured dresses adorned and trimmed lavishly with ruffles, bows, and lace, among many other luxurious fabrics.
In the fashion column of The Lady’s Friend, the editor speaks to the spirit of the clothing in 1864:
“Two years ago the fashions were borrowed from the taste of the eighteenth century, and particularly the Pompadour style, and now they are borrowed from the more scanty toilettes of Louis XVI reign.” (246)
This meant increased ornamentation, more obvious with evening wear, in the form of “trimmings (ruching, velvet appliqué, passementerie, lace)” which “seem to have taken up the slack where tiers and double skirts once reigned” (Rennolds Milbank 26). Another common trend for the evening are “the open wide neckline [that] was practically universal” (26). This can be seen on Emile Pingat’s ball gown (Fig. 1) where the neckline is so wide that it is nearly an off-the shoulder one. Though the black lace trimming at the hem of the skirt is simple, the intricacies of the gown lie elsewhere, such as on the bodice and on the ornamentation of the skirt that also includes fringe.
Though the volume of skirts was most definitely retained, it is more so in the back than evenly distributed all over, making it so that the front is a bit more flat.
Dresses this year have a multitude of flowers, bows, lace, flounces, and frills (Figs. 2-3). Tassels are another popular trimming that adorn even the simplest of day dresses (Figs. 4-5) as captured by a number of photographs of women of respectable social status, but are nowhere near royalty, and also on fashion plates (Fig. 6).
In a May 1864 column of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, the editor speaks to the rise of passementerie (or heavy braid) as a form of ornamentation:
“Passementerie with jet was never more worn than now. It is placed upon everything. If an elegant and at the same time rich body is required, passementerie mixed with jet must not only be put round the edge of it, but round the pockets, and even the seams at the back. This trimming is rather heavy, but quite in fashion.” (304)
This kind of trimming along with more simple rope braiding can be seen on many of the day dresses (Fig. 7) and cloaks illustrated in fashion plates and can be rendered more interesting with shapes like the zigzag edge highlighted by the trim on the black cloak (Fig. 8). The fashionable crinolined silhouette popular in 1864 is very evident in the beach scene depicted by Eugène Boudin (Fig. 9). A few of the dresses show the trend of raising the overskirt with a hidden system of cords to reveal a complementary underskirt, as does a surviving dress in the Met’s collection (Fig. 10).
Women could also be extremely fashionable in their clothing without being excessive, as evidenced by James Tissot’s Portrait of Miss L. L. (Fig. 11). Though her ensemble is simple, the vibrant punch of color of her bolero, a garment gaining popularity at the time, combined with its playful pompoms make it so she is an undeniably well-dressed woman (De Young 234).
The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine further describes the appropriate trimmings of 1864, particularly bows:
“Another style of trimming very much approved of is that of a bow or rosette upon each breadth of the skirt from which depend three long ends fixed to it. The bows may be either in ribbon or velvet, the ends more or less long.” (119)
It is clear from Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Portrait of Princess Sophia Radzivil (Fig. 12) that this trend extends to different areas of Europe as well, such as Germany. In addition to the ruffled ribbon trimmings at the neckline of the gown, there are also numerous dusty lilac ribbon bows with lengthy ends that adorn the center front of the bodice and the skirt. The pointed bodice and the fact that more of the skirt’s fullness is directed towards the back of the gown make it clear that the Princess is dressed in the most current fashions of her time.
- De Young, Justine. “Fashion and the Press.” In Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity, edited by Gloria Groom, 233–43. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/878842920.
- “Fashions.” The Lady’s Friend 1 (March 1864): 246. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951000753433o;view=1up;seq=262.
- “La Mode.” The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine 10, no. 49 (May 1864): 304. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.c0000044222;view=1up;seq=25;size=200.
- “La Mode.” The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine 10, no. 64 (August 1864): 119. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.c0000044222;view=1up;seq=231;size=175.
- Millbank, Caroline Rennolds. Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs: 1850 to Today. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2015. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/938800542.
- Tétart-Vittu, Françoise, and Gloria Groom. “Key Dates in Fashion and Commerce, 1851-89.” In Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity, ed. Gloria Groom, 270-79. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/878842920.
- “The United States and Canada, 1800–1900 A.D. | Chronology.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/10/na.html.
- President Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
- England: Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
- France: Emperor Napoleon III (1852-70)
- Queen Isabella II (1833-68)
- 1861-65 – American Civil War
- “The United States Civil War, a military conflict between the Union and the Confederacy, begins in April 1861 when Charleston’s Fort Sumter is fired upon. The conflict lasts four years, takes more than 600,000 lives, and emancipates 4 million enslaved people.” (The MET)
- “Charles Frederick Worth is listed in the directory of commerce as an official purveyor to Empress Eugénie.” (Tétart-Vittu 273)
- October 31: “Nevada is admitted as the 36th U.S. state.”
- November 8: “Abraham Lincoln is reelected, in an overwhelming victory over George B. McClellan.”
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)
- Costume Institute Fashion Plate collection
- Casey Fashion Plates (LA Public Library) - search for the year that interests you
- New York Public Library:
NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
- FIT Special Collections (to make an appointment, click here)
- Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine (London: 1852-79), 1860-64, 1867-69 (TT500 .E6)
- Costume Institute/Watson Library @ the Met (register here)
- New York Public Library
- Brooklyn Museum Library (email for access)
Womenswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Etiquette Books (Digitized)
Menswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Also see the 19th-century overview page for more research sources... or browse our Zotero library.