Women's fashion in the late 1800s

Written by alice stewart | 13/05/2017
Women's fashion in the late 1800s
Oversized emblellished hats and decorated bonnets were popular in the late 1800s. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

The late 1800s refer to a period approximately between 1880 and 1899. These years are known as the late Victorian era, while the 1890s to 1900s are called the "mauve decade." Women's fashion styles varied greatly depending on the occasion. Luxurious bustle dresses, elegant evening gowns and sharp tailored skirts and jackets were all popular fashions in the late 1800s.


The bustle dress was one of the most popular styles of the late 1800s. A bustle is a fashion accessory that was worn underneath dresses and skirts to support and add volume to the garments. Bustles were made out of straw filled cushions and a steel structure, which was either sewn into the skirt or attached around the waist. Bustle dresses were often adorned with ruffles, lace and bows. Smart tailored long sleeved jackets, or Basques, and long skirts were worn in the daytime, while sleeveless, low-cut bustle dresses were favoured for formal evening wear.


Formal evening gowns were created out of fine silks, while tailored skirts, jackets and coats were fashioned out of linen or wool. Thick velvet fabrics were used in clothing made for more mature women. Cotton was imported from abroad, although it was extremely rare and generally reserved for royalty or wealthy families.


Many of the daytime jacket and skirt combinations featured bright and bold colours, such as peacock blue, apple green, purple and royal red. Tartan and plaid fabrics also were popular. For evening gowns softer hues were preferred, such as creams, whites and pastels. Clothing was created with two or three different colours of fabrics which often clashed to produce a striking effect. The 1890s are often referred to as the "mauve decade" because of the invention of the aniline dye which allowed garments to be dyed that colour for the first time.


Bonnets remained popular throughout the late 1800s. They were secured around the chin with ribbon or lace. Many bonnets were elaborately decorated with flowers, feathers and bows, and were often designed to match an outfit. A tight fitting necklace called a choker was made popular by Queen Alexandra of England, who wore one to disguise a scar on her neck. Ostrich feather, silk or organdie fans were used at evening functions and were designed to complement an outfit.

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