Fashion and Dress in the 1800s

Written by melissa mccormick
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Fashion and Dress in the 1800s
Bonnets and bodices were staples pieces in the 1800s. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Bodices, bonnets, hoop skirts and lace were signature pieces in the 1800s. However, similar to the 20th and 21st century, fashion trends in the 19th century changed by the decade. At the start of the 19th century, fashion was very conservative for both men and women. By the end of the 19th century, however, men's dress coats had significantly shortened, and women wore more revealing articles of clothing. Fashion in the 1800s embodied both the Victorian style and romanticism.

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The 19th century began with American women following the French in fashion trends. In the early 1800s, white, high-waisted, loosely draped gowns were popular. In the winter, women often wore overdresses and shawls. By 1820, women were wearing fuller skirts and corsets that defined their waistlines. In the early part of the century, men wore mostly breeches, top hats, fitted coats with long tails and free flowing skirts. By 1820, men began wearing more broad shouldered coats with puffed sleeves, corsets to show off a more narrow waist line and a mix of skirts, trousers and breeches.


Wool, linen, cotton and silk became popular fabrics for both men and women in the late 1820s, a trend that remained in force through mid century. Ruffled collars, puffy sleeves and bonnets were also introduced for women. Bonnets were used to accompany the high-bun hairstyles that many women adopted. In addition, women wore skirts at the natural waistline, tying bodices even tighter and wearing skirts even fuller and in a bell-shape. Men often wore high-standing collars and shirts with frills for evening attire.


By the middle of the 1800s, women let their hair down, wearing lower buns and ringlets. The trend of wearing bonnets accordingly faded out by the 1860s. By the early 1870s, small hats that sat at the crown of the head began to grow in popularity. Women also continued the trend of full skirts by adding cages to make the skirts a hoop shape, earning the name "hoop skirts." Likewise, women continued to wear corsets and shawls and added cloaks as accessories. Men began to wear trousers even more and the neck tie was introduced in the last quarter of the century.


Between 1876 and 1900, fashion and dress began to change dramatically with the invention of the sewing machine, as well as the growing popularity of magazine and department stores. The corset also began declining in popularity. Many women began to wear high-neck collars and long skirts that flowed onto the ground. In addition, women adopted the trend of straw brimmed hats. Men wore shorter, boxier coats with no tail.

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