Victorians wore very different clothing than we wear. Their attire was modelled after that of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Phillip. Two people, very much in love, made their mark upon the clothing chosen by both the upperclass and the lowerclass English people. Victoria's personal viewpoints, more inline with the middle class, were characterised by hard work, devotion, true love, and submissiveness. Each of these qualities are seen in the types of clothing worn in her more than 50-year reign. At a time when most travelled by horse, the clothing of the Victorian era was sturdy, chaste, and surprisingly intricate in design.
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Women's dresses were long, and somewhat free-flowing in the early part of Victoria's reign. By the mid- to late-Victorian era, however, the skirts were heavily bustled, or under-sewn with layers of crinoline in the upper rear area. The thick, sturdy material of a Victorian gown was usually tapered at the waist. The bodice was closely fitted, custom-made for the wearer, and was modest in design. Bonnets were worn, rather than the elaborate hats of earlier periods. In the early era, circa 1840, the princess design of dress was cut from a single piece of cloth from neck to toe. Shaping was done via the seam work. These dresses were simpler in body, but often sported flamboyant detailing on the sleeves. Post-1860, the entire dress became more intricate, with flounces, ruffles, and gathers, along with the soft bustling. These dresses were far less practical than in the earlier period, and served to further differentiate class lines.
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You might think men were not concerned with fashion in the Victorian era, but they were indeed quite conscious of fashion and couture. Men spent their time in practical pursuits, but still made attempts to look their very best. The cut of a man's suit was important, especially in the Victorian era. Their suit was built around the waistcoat, or vest. Hats were worn by gentlemen. A top hat was worn for formal occasions, but other less-conspicuous hats were typically adorned for casual occasions. Shirts were looser than our button-ups, and their trousers were a bit higher, sitting above the navel, but otherwise those items have barely changed. Accessories were widely used by men of taste. A pocket watch on a fob, a walking stick, and a cravat attired many gentlemen. Gloves were worn by both men and women because it was unseemly to allow men and women to brush skin against one another, even in greeting.
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Children of the Victorian era wore similar clothing to their parents. Boys wore button-up shirts and short trousers, with the cuff or binding falling below the knee. They might also accessorise with a tie. Boys typically put away their short trousers as they grew into young men, close to puberty. Suspenders were often worn as well. Girls wore simpler versions of the long dresses their mother's wore, only shorter, falling mid-calf or as high as the knee. They wore stockings and leather shoes. While boys wore subdued colours, females chose bright, vibrant dresses and hair ribbons.
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Horses in the Victorian Era
Horses were the primary mode of transportation during the Victorian era. While they served as vehicles of utility, they also were prized objects, often only afforded by the rich. Families were judged on both the number of horses they owned and the quality and lineage of their thoroughbreds. Men were seen as lacking gentlemanly qualities if they could not handle a spirited horse. Women wore special clothing, riding habits. These were made to both make riding easier, and to show off the habit when riding side saddle, the appropriate posture for women. Rich families owned both a full carriage and perhaps a racing phaeton. It was a popular pastime of the rich to see and be seen riding through Hyde Park on weekday afternoons, when the lower classes were busy at work.