Nineteenth-century England was the centre of the Industrial Revolution. Textile factories popped up in Northern England as early as the 1830s. The increased availability in textile choices meant that women of the aristocracy and middle classes had many elegant options in fashion. It was a Victorian woman's duty to look beautiful in her home and in public. The clothing of the wealthy in 19th century England was heavily decorated, even some of the undergarments. Looking beautiful was the fashion.
The Morning Dress
Upper-class and middle-class women wore two types of dresses: the morning dress and the evening gown. The morning dress consisted of a lot of muslin covering the body. The sleeves came down to the wrists, and the collar covered the neck. The dresses were tight against the torso with a flowing, heavy skirt that almost touched the ground. Morning dresses were often very plain, so that it wouldn't draw attention to the woman wearing it.
It was expected of Victorian women to look exquisite in the evening. Evening gowns were much more revealing than morning dresses. The sleeves were puffy and trimmed just above the elbow. The top of the dress was cut in order to show off a woman's shoulders and breasts. Evening gowns were elaborately decorated with lace and ribbons. The dresses were very colourful and often had enchanting patterns on them. All women wearing evening gowns wore long white gloves with them.
Neoclassical Style Dress
Although only popular for a brief period of time, the neoclassical-style dress was worn by the most wealthiest of 19th-century women. The dress was short-waisted and made of a thin, almost transparent muslin or silk. The gowns were always white and were worn gently draped over a woman. Sometimes, the neoclassical dresses had lace trim and hand-embroidered ornaments on the breast. This dress style, while not high fashion, was acceptable for very wealthy women to wear in the evening.
Layers of Undergarments
Women of the 19th century layered themselves in undergarments. First, a woman wore a white, thin gown called a chemise. This garment protected the more expensive garment from ruin from perspiration. Second, a corset of steel or iron and covered by thick padding was worn in the centre of the body. The corset constricted the waist and separated the breasts. Third, a petticoat, which was sleeveless, was worn to protect the more expensive clothing. The petticoat touched the ground, and was meant to be seen. Often, the petticoats had lots of lace and ruffles.
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