The Victoria & Albert Museum writes of 1870s women’s dress:

“1870s women’s fashion placed an emphasis on the back of the skirt, with long trains and fabric draped up into bustles with an abundance of flounces and ruching. The waist was lower in the 1870s than the 1860s, with an elongated and tight bodice and a flat fronted skirt. Low, square necklines were fashionable. Hair was dressed high at the back with complicated twists and rolls, falling to the shoulders, adorned with ribbons, bands and decorative combs. Hats were very small and tilted forward to the forehead. Later in the decade wider brimmed ‘picture hats’ were also worn, though still tilted forwards.”

Wikipedia summarizes women’s fashion of the 1870s, writing:

“By 1870, fullness in the skirt had moved to the rear, where elaborately draped overskirts were held in place by tapes and supported by a bustle. This fashion required an underskirt, which was heavily trimmed with pleats, flounces, ruching, and frills. This fashion was short-lived (though the bustle would return again in the mid-1880s), and was succeeded by a tight-fitting silhouette with fullness as low as the knees: the cuirass bodice, a form-fitting, long-waisted, boned bodice that reached below the hips, and the princess sheath dress. Sleeves were very tight fitting. Square necklines were common.

Day dresses had high necklines that were either closed, squared, or V-shaped. Sleeves of morning dresses were narrow throughout the period, with a tendency to flare slightly at the wrist early on. Women often draped overskirts to produce an apron-like effect from the front.

Evening gowns had low necklines and very short, off-the-shoulder sleeves, and were worn with short (later mid-length) gloves. Other characteristic fashions included a velvet ribbon tied high around the neck and trailing behind for evening (the origin of the modern choker necklace).”

Men's Wear, Plate 013

Fig. 1 - Artist unknown. Men's Wear, Plate 013, 1860-1899. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: The Costume Institute

Mrs Bischoffsheim

Fig. 2 - Sir John Everett Millais (British, 1829–1896). Mrs Bischoffsheim, 1873. Oil on canvas; 136.4 x 91.8 cm (24 in). London: Tate, N05572. Source: Tate

Moniteur de la Mode

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown. Moniteur de la Mode, 1875. Source: Pinterest

Portrait de Mlle X, Marquise d'Anforti

Fig. 7 - Carolus-Duran (French, 1838-1917). Portrait de Mlle X, Marquise d'Anforti, 1873. 206 x 127.5 cm; oil on canvas cm. Cambrai: Musée des Beaux-arts de Cambrai, RF2753. Source: Musée des Beaux-Arts

Le Moniteur de la Mode

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown. Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1878. Source: Pinterest

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 8 - Jules David (French, 1808–1892). Le Moniteur de la mode, 1875. Source: Pinterest

Walking dress

Fig. 5 - Designer unknown (possibly Italian). Walking dress, ca. 1878-80. Two pieces (jacket, skirt) of wool muslin and ecru silk. Florence: Costume Gallery of Palazzo Pitti. Source: Europeana collections

La Danse

Fig. 9 - Jean Béraud (French, 1849-1935). La Danse, 19th century. Oil on panel; 26.6 x 15.3 cm (10 1/2 x 6 in). Source: Sotheby's

Berthe Studying a Fan

Fig. 6 - Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931). Berthe Studying a Fan, 1878. Oil on canvas; 61.6 x 40.6 cm. Private Collection. Source: Wikimedia

Ball gown

Fig. 10 - Designer unknown (French). Ball gown, 1876. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983.3.2a–c. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1983.. Source: The Met


Of 1870s men, the Victoria & Albert Museum writes:

“Coats and jackets were semi-fitted and thigh-length. Generally, both jackets and waistcoats were buttoned high on the chest. Shirt collars were stiff and upstanding, with the tips turned down into wings. Hair was often worn parted in the centre, and most forms of facial hair were acceptable, though being clean shaven was rare.”

Of 1870s men, Wikipedia writes:

“Innovations in men’s fashion of the 1870s included the acceptance of patterned or figured fabrics for shirts and the general replacement of neckties tied in bow knots with the four-in-hand and later the Ascot tie.”
Gentleman's Magazine

Fig. 1 - Artist unknown. Gentleman's Magazine, January 1870. Source: Pinterest

Double-breasted morning coat

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown. Double-breasted morning coat, 1873-75. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, T.3-1982. Source: V&A

Napoleon Eugene Bonaparte

Fig. 3 - Photographer unknown. Napoleon Eugene Bonaparte, 1877. Photograph. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of Paul Hugot

Fig. 4 - Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848-1894). Portrait of Paul Hugot, 1878. Oil on canvas. Private collection. Source: Wikimedia


Princess Irene of Hesse (Darmstadt) and By Rhine

Fig. 1 - Photographer unknown. Princess Irene of Hesse (Darmstadt) and By Rhine, 1873. Source: Pinterest

Le Moniteur de la mode

Fig. 2 - Jules David (French, 1808–1892). Le Moniteur de la mode, 1877. Source: Pinterest


Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (American). Dress, 1879. Silk, linen. New York: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3047. Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Arthur Clement, 1945. Source: The Met

Mademoiselle Sabine

Fig. 4 - Carolus Duran (French, 1837-1917). Mademoiselle Sabine, 1875. Source: Pinterest


Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1870-1879

Europe, 1871. Source: Omniatlas

  • 1870 – Italy united
  • 1870-71 – Prussians besiege Paris
  • 1871 – Germany united under the Second Reich
  • 1872 – The marcel wave is first developed by hairdresser Francois Marcel, and remains popular for more than 50 years.
  • 1873 – First color photos appear
  • 1874 – Impressionists hold first group show
  • 1875 – Liberty Co department store opens in London.
  • 1876 – Bell patents telephone
  • 1879 – Edison invents the electric lightbulb
  • Primary/Period Sources

    Resources for Fashion History Research

    To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
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    NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
    Womenswear Periodicals (Digitized)
    Etiquette Books (Digitized)
    Menswear Periodicals / Etiquette Books (Digitized)

    Secondary Sources

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