In 1868, skirts with long trains were at the height of fashion, which resulted in noticeable cropping in images depicting this prevalent style of dress. Yet, at the same time, walking dresses became daringly short, showing off fashionable ankle boots.

In 1868, The New York Times outlined the development of dress and accessories in an article titled “Visiting and Evening Dresses:

“One thing only is indispensable, and that is, a train. Provided the train is long, and the skirt narrow, the rest of the dress may be left to Providence. Only ignorant women or vulgar now wear crinoline so that it can be detected. Sashes have become the most important accessory of the toilette. No dress is complete without them.”

In January 1868, a “New York Fashions” column published in Harper’s Bazar describes the trained skirt with more details:

“The long, full-trained skirt is plain about the hips and front, but is gathered at the back in several rows of French gathers. The front width is cut off at the knee and finished by a wide flounce set on in box pleats… There are two waists to this dress – a plain high corsage with flowing sleeves, and a low round waist with a bertha of folds and short puffed sleeves.” (163)

The two quotations have clearly described the silhouette of dresses in 1868. It is thus not surprising to see artists cropping the edge of dresses in their paintings (Fig. 1) because of the long trains.


Fig. 1 - Charles-François Marchal (French, 1825–1877). Penelope, ca. 1868. Oil on canvas; 110.5 x 49.5 cm (43 1/2 x 19 1/2 in). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.138.2. Gift of Mrs. Adolf Obrig, in memory of her husband, 1917. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Couple (Les Fiancés)

Fig. 2 - Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919). A Couple (Les Fiancés), ca. 1868. Oil on canvas; 105 x 75 cm. Köln: Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Inv. no. WRM 1199. Source: Wallraf-Richartz Museum

La Mode illustrée

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown (French). La Mode illustrée, May 1868. Source: Google Books

A Couple by Auguste Renoir (Fig. 2) could capture the viewer’s eyes at once for the vivid colour with stripes on the walking dress. In the July “Novelties for the Month” column in Peterson’s Magazine, it introduces two striped walking dresses, thus I assume her stripe dress is a popular style in that month of the year. The lace sleeve shows her fashion taste also for “…well-shaped arms were mid-nineteenth century advantages, and were shown to great effect in the striped and point d’esprit versions of the sheer yoke and sleeve” (Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs: 1850 to today, 2015). In addition, her hairstyle echoes the trendy hairstyle in the July column of La Mode illustrée (Fig. 3). The vibrant yellow and orange colors are likely achieved using aniline dyes, synthetic dyes that were extremely popular ever since their introduction in the late 1850s. See another bright aniline dye dress in green in figure 6 below.  All in all, her wardrobe is fashionable for 1868.

Les Modes Parisiennes

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown (French). Les Modes Parisiennes, 1868. Source: Google Books

Fashion plate

Fig. 5 - Artist unknown (French). Fashion plate, November 1868. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, b17520939. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Besides the popularity of long or trained dresses, walking suits that normally include a skirt and a paletot (or jacket), become a fashion during this period of time as well. The waist of a paletot could  either hang loosely or be close-fitted with a belt. The seated woman in a January 1868 Les Modes Parisiennes fashion plate (Fig. 4) wears a red paletot. Note that some walking suits featured quite short hems (Fig. 5) that revealed short ankle boots to the passer-by.


Fig. 6 - Designer unknown (American). Dress, 1868. Silk. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.53.72.1a–c. Gift of Mrs. William R. Witherell, 1953. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ball gown

Fig. 7 - Designer unknown. Ball gown, ca. 1868. Champagne-colored silk gros de tours with black machine chantilly lace. Den Haag, Netherlands: Gemeentemuseum den Haag. Source: Pinterest

Ball gown

Fig. 8 - Designer unknown (French). Ball gown, ca. 1868. Silk. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.14.1a, b. Gift of Mary Pierrepont Beckwith, 1969. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eily H.May indicates some changes in the length of dress. In November column of “Novelties for the Month” in Peterson’s Magazine she writes:

“For young ladies who dance, short dresses will be worn quite as much as those with trains; and we certainly think the fashion a sensible one; but care should be taken not to have the dresses too short, as then the feet would be indelicately exposed.” (379)

For two 1868 ball gowns suitable for dancing with moderate trains, see figures 7 & 8.

The sale of ready-made dress for ladies is in its beginning stage at this point, while gentlemen are familiar with buying ready-made clothing as the sack suit did not require the precise tailoring of earlier suit styles (Figs. 9, 10); however, the choices become more and more wide and so too the price range.

There are few changes for children’s wear in 1868. Most of the styles are adapted from adults’ styles directly (Figs. 11, 12).

Gazette of fashion, and cutting-room companion

Fig. 9 - Artist unknown. Gazette of fashion, and cutting-room companion, January 1868, Vol. 22. Source: Google Books

A.M. Ross

Fig. 10 - William James Topley (Canadian, 1845-1930). A.M. Ross, April 1868. Photograph; (3.25 x 4.25 in). Ottawa: Library and Archives Canada, 1936-270 NPC. Source: Library and Archives Canada


Fig. 11 - Ludwig Angerer (Austrian, (1827-1879)). Wien, 1868. Photograph. Source: Pinterest

Child's dress

Fig. 12 - Designer unknown (French). Child's dress, 1868. Wool, silk. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.56.43. Gift of A. Hyatt Mayor, 1956. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art


Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1868

Europe in 1867. Source: Omniatlas

  • Creation of the Chambre Syndicale des Confectionneurs et des Tailleurs pour Dames, the first union for seamstresses and dressmakers. In 1910 it will become the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. (IFM 274)
  • In Chicago, Field, Leiter and Co. opens in a six-story building at the northeast corner of State and Washington Streets. It will become Marshall Field and Co. in 1881 and will remain Marshall Field’s until the firm’s acquisition by Macy’s, Inc., in 2005. (IFM 274)
  • Emergence of new technological developments in the manufacture of corsets, such as the steam-molding process. (IFM 274)
  • March – The first transnational women’s organization, Association internationale des femmes, is founded.
  • May 16, May 26 – President Andrew Johnson is twice acquitted during his impeachmenttrial, by one vote in the United States Senate.
  • September – Glorious Revolution: Queen Isabella II of Spain is effectively deposed and sent into exile; she formally abdicates on June 25, 1870.

Primary/Period Sources

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
Womenswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Bow Bells. Vol. 8. London: John Dicks, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=9s4aAQAAMAAJ.
Der Bazar : Illustrirte Damen-Zeitung. Berlin: Bazar-A.G., 1868. http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/ihd/periodical/structure/2911606.
Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine. Vol. 76–77. Philadelphia, 1868. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015067908890.
Harper’s Bazar. Vol. 1. New York: Hearst Corporation, 1868. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/h/hearth/browse/title/4732809.html#1868.
Journal des demoiselles. Vol. 36. Paris: Bureau du journal, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?vid=HARVARD:HN73JH.
La Mode illustrée: journal de la famille. Paris: Firmin-Didot frère, fils et cie, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=Wb9eerF-iwQC.
La Sylphide : journal de modes, de littérature, de théâtres et de musique, 1868. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb34444962f/date1868.
Le Journal des coiffeurs : publication des coiffeurs réunis, 1868. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb344436197/date1868.
Le Journal des marchandes de modes : revue spéciale des chapeaux, bonnets, coiffures et lingeries. Paris, 1868. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb32800020n/date1868.
Le Moniteur de la mode: journal du grand monde : modes, illustrations, patrons, littératures, beaux-arts, théatres. 1. Paris: Goubaud, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=BsdBAAAAcAAJ.
Les Modes parisiennes. 1. Paris: Aubert, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=a8NBAAAAcAAJ.
Les Modes parisiennes. 2. Paris: Aubert, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=fcNBAAAAcAAJ.
Peterson’s Magazine. Vol. 53–54. C.J. Peterson, 1868. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076519998.
Peterson’s Magazine. Vol. 53–54. C.J. Peterson, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=zcU6AQAAMAAJ.
Victoria : illustrirte Muster- und Moden-Zeitung. Berlin: Victoria-Verl., 1868. http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/ihd/periodical/titleinfo/2181751.
Etiquette Books (Digitized)
Abell, L. G. Woman in Her Various Relations: Containing Practical Rules for American Females. New York: Hubbard & Burgess, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100192096.
Aster, Jane. The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen. With Thoughts, Hints, and Anecdotes Concerning Social Observances, Nice Points of Taste and Good Manners, and the Art of Making One’s-Self Agreeable. The Whole Interspersed with Humorous Illustrations of Social Predicaments, Remarks on the History and Changes of Fashion, and the Differences of English and Continental Etiquette. New York: Carleton, 1863. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008676290.
Cox, Sydney. Friendly Counsel for Girls, or, Words in Season. Words in Season. New York: G. W. Carlton, 1868. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011538429.
D., and D. [from old catalog] C. The Matter of Manner. Sudbury: H. S. Pratt, 1863. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100138761.
Fox, George Patrick. [from old catalog]. Fashion. New York, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009597581.
France. Cérémonial. Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008404138.
Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell. Manners: Or, Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year Round. Boston: J. E. Tilton, 1868. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011563026.
Hartley, Florence. The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette: And Manual of Politeness: A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society: Containing Full Directions for Correct Manners, Dress, Deportment, and Conversation ... and Also Useful Receipts for the Complexion, Hair, and with Hints and Directions for the Care of the Wardrobe ... Boston: G. W. Cottrell, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/005777142.
Hartley, Florence. The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness ; a Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society. Boston: G.W. Cottrell, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100685756.
Leslie, Eliza. The Ladies’ Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners: Or, Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book, a Guide and Manual for Ladies ... Philadelphia: B. Peterson, 1864. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100165382.
Merten, Heinrich. Modernes Komplimentirbuch; Oder, Die Quintessenz Des Anstades Und Der Eleganz. Ein Unentbehrlicher Rathgeber Für Personen Beiderlei Geschlechts. Reutlingen: Fleischauer und Spohn, 1863. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008679336.
Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette. London ; New York: Routledge, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007672052.
The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen. With Thoughts, Hints, and Anecdotes Concerning Social Observances. New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1860. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011159230.
The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen...The Whole Interspersed with Humorous Illustrations of Social Predicaments. New York: Carleton, 1864. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008676292.
Menswear Periodicals (Digitized)
Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-Room Companion [Afterw.] Minister’s Gazette of Fashion, 1868. https://books.google.com/books?id=tCIGAAAAQAAJ.

Secondary Sources

Also see the 19th-century overview page for more research sources... or browse our Zotero library.

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“Costume Institute Fashion Plates.” Accessed May 7, 2018. http://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15324coll12.
“Der Bazar - Title - Digitale Sammlungen - Digital Collections.” Accessed May 7, 2018. http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/ihd/periodical/titleinfo/2083461.
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“Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-Room Companion.” Accessed May 7, 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=tCIGAAAAQAAJ&source=gbs_similarbooks.
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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/.
Cook, Michael. “Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History,” January 1, 2003. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/h/hearth/browse/title/4732809.html#1868.
Victoria and Albert Museum. “Introduction to 19th-Century Fashion,” January 25, 2011. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/introduction-to-19th-century-fashion/.
Glasscock, Jessica. “Nineteenth-Century Silhouette and Support.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, n.d. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/19sil/hd_19sil.htm.
“Victoria - Title - Digitale Sammlungen - Digital Collections.” Accessed May 7, 2018. http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/ihd/periodical/titleinfo/2181751.
History of Fashion and Dress. “Victorian Era: The Crinoline Period (1850-1869),” n.d. http://www.maggiemayfashions.com/belleepoque.html.
Acton, William R. Acton’s Improved System of Actual Measurement. [New York, De Vries & Wood, printers], 1867. http://archive.org/details/actonsimprovedsy00acto.
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Ashelford, Jane, ed. A Visual History of Costume. London : Batsford ; New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1983.
Ashelford, Jane, and Andreas Einsiedel. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/759883168.
Bailey, Colin B. Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting. New York: Yale University Press, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/786139582.
Beukel, Dorine van den. Fashion Design 1850-1895. New York: By Design Press, 1997. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/743141113.
Boucher, François. Paris, Miroir de La Mode: Crinolines et Calèches, 1855-1867. Paris: Éditions Rombaldi, 1959. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/438804700.
Boucher, François. 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment. Expanded ed. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1987. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/979316852.
Brockaway, W. [from old catalog. The Great Balance-Measure System, for Cutting Coats, Vests, Pants, Cloaks, and Shirts. New York, Baker & Godwin, printers, 1864. http://archive.org/details/greatbalancemeas01broc.
Brown, Susan, ed. Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. New York: DK Publishing, 2012. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/840417029.
Brundage, William W. [from old catalog. A Complete System of Cutting. [New York, Printed by A. Marrer], 1867. http://archive.org/details/completesystemof00brun.
Cole, Luman E. [from old catalog. The Tailors’ Guide: Containing Systems of Draughting Frock and Sack Coats, Pants, Vests and Shirts, with Valuable Improvements, Warranted Superior to Anything Ever Offered to the Trade. Milwaukee, Stan & son, book and job printers, 1868. http://archive.org/details/tailorsguidecont00cole.
Cole, Daniel James, and Nancy Deihl. The History of Modern Fashion from 1850. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/900012311.
Costume Society. High Victorian Costume, 1860-1890 Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Costume Society, March 1968. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1969. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/620413645.
De Young, Justine. “Representing the Modern Woman: The Fashion Plate Reconsidered (1865-1875).” In Women, Femininity and Public Space in European Visual Culture, 1789-1914, edited by Heather Belnap Jensen and Temma Balducci, 97–114. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/876466633.
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Dolan, Therese. “Skirting the Issue: Manet’s Portrait of Baudelaire’s Mistress, Reclining.” The Art Bulletin 79, no. 4 (December 1997). http://www.jstor.org/stable/3046278.
Edwards, Lydia. How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/988370049.
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Pocket Museum. “1860s Underwear,” 1860s. https://www.pinterest.com/pocketmuseum/1860s-underwear/.
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