The Writer’s Guide to 1850s Men’s Fashion

In previous decades men’s clothing had followed the basic shape of women’s fashion. Yet during the 1850s men’s styles remained slim despite the growing width of women’s dresses. Increasingly, men’s suits were looking more and more like those we see today.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Silhouette

The first half of the decade continued with the lean silhouette from the previous decade. Around 1855, everything became roomy and more relaxed. Sleeves became looser and coats became longer. Trouser legs became more generous and were either straight tubes or wide in the hips while tapering to the ankle. [1] Overall, the style became less restrictive and more comfortable.

An 1852 fashion plate showing, from left to right, a tailcoat, frock coat, and morning coat. Also, notice the plaid pants. Photo source.

The Rise of the Readymade & Casual

The adoption of the sewing machine had a massive impact on the availability of readymade clothing. [2] Most men’s items could now be purchased ready-to-wear from shops such as Brooks Brothers rather than going to a tailor and having a garment made. Sewing machines dramatically cut production time. A machine-sewn shirt could be turned out in a little over an hour compared to fourteen and a half hours if sewn by hand. A frock coat could be done in two and a half hours instead of seventeen. [3]

This availability also meant even lower-class men could dress well and in fact, there was some complaint that it was now impossible to tell the classes apart by their clothing. [4]

This decade also saw the invention of the blue jean by Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1850. Seeing the demand for hard-wearing work pants, he first began using the canvas he had originally intended for tents and wagon covers. Within a few years, he switched to denim dyed blue with indigo. [5]

Levi Strauss advertisement. Photo source.

Underwear

The white cotton or linen shirt was still standard with either a standing or turned over collar. Detachable collars and cuffs became all the rage. [6] It is likely the men’s corset began to fade from use with the more relaxed silhouette.

A man wearing a white shirt with a turned over collar and a black necktie. Photo source.

Daywear

The frock coat was still the standard for daytime formal events. It had full tails and a waist seam and was usually single breasted. [7] The morning coat, also known as the cutaway for how the waistline “cut away” sharply to the back, was another formal option. The sack or lounge jacket from the previous decade was popular for informal occasions. It lacked a waist seam, had small lapels, and was cut straight. [8] Although usually made in dark wool, summer coats of light-colored linen were worn in summer.

Vests were increasingly dark colored and matched the coat. [9] However, colorful or patterned silk vests were still seen. It became fashionable to leave the bottom button undone.

Trousers were often light colored for daytime although patterns such as stripes, plaids and checks were popular at the begin of the decade. The fall front had completely been replaced by the fly front and the in-step strap disappeared. Increasingly though, plain black was becoming more common. Breeches or pantaloons paired with tall boots were still worn for riding or country pursuits.

Liberian politician Edward James Roye wearing a frock coat and waistcoat. Photo source.

Eveningwear & Court Dress

The dress coat or tailcoat was necessary for formal evening events. At the beginning of the decade, it was still occasionally seen at formal daytime affairs but by the end it was limited to nighttime only. [10] Both the tailcoat and trousers were commonly black and paired with a white cravat.

The 18th century inspired embellished coat, waistcoat, breeches, white stockings, and buckle shoes were still required to be seen at court.

Left: evening wear composed of a black tailcoat and breeches. Middle: court dress. Right: Appears to be an outfit for a costume ball. Photo source.

Outer Garments

The greatcoat was still the standard outer garment.

Hairstyles & Headwear

The popularity of facial hair came roaring back during this decade and remained popular into the 20th century. I recommend you look at the photographs of the day to see the wide variety of styles.

Most hairstyles involved a side part. [11]

The top hat was still king and growing in height. It usually had straight sides.

During this decade, Locke’ of St. James, a London hatter, introduced the bowler hat. While it would go on to challenge the top hat’s supremacy in time, during this decade it was mainly worn by working class men. [11] Wide brimmed hats were also worn outdoors in sunny locals.

Sam Houston wearing a wide brimmed hat. Photo source.

Footwear

Flat black shoes and boots were common although some shoes did have a low heel.

Accessories

Cravats slimmed out along with the rest of men’s styles. The four-in-hand knot that is still used for modern ties was popularized during this decade. Other styles included tying the cravat into a flat bow or a knot with the tails sticking out. [12]

Accessories such as pocket watches on chains and walking sticks or canes were still popular and practical.

A necktie tied into a wide bow. Tintype of John H. Copeland in an embossed leather case, 1850s. Photo source.
Painter G.P.A. Healy wearing a cravat tied into a knot with tails. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31-33.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 104-105.
[2] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 358.
[3] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 92.
[4] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 85.
[5] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 356.
McNeil, Peter and Vicki Karaminas, ed. The Men’s Fashion Reader. Oxford: Berg, 2009 p. 331.
[6] Chenoune, Farid (1993). A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion. pp. 99–105. ISBN 2080135368.
[7] Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 87.
[8] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31-34.
[9] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 105.
[10] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 370.
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1850s_in_Western_fashion#Men's_fashion
[12] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 32.

The Writer’s Guide to 1850s Women’s Fashion

In the 1850s, the silhouette for women widened again, this time with a focus on the skirt. Although width was also reintroduced to the sleeves with the popularity of the bell-shaped pagoda sleeve. The sobriety of the 1840s was replaced by a love of color, pattern, and trim. Technology was also having a greater impact with the debut of the Singer sewing machine and the development of the first synthetic dyes.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Silhouette

Sloping shoulders, a small waist, and a wide domed skirt were the fashionable silhouette for the 1850s. Increasingly, dresses were two separate pieces: the skirt and the bodice or jacket. The fashion extremes of this decade were roundly satirized and mocked in the press.

An 1859 fashion plate showing the wide stylish silhouette. Godey’s Lady Book. Photo source.

Innovations

The 1850s saw the introduction of several innovations that changed fashion.

In 1851, Isaac Singer began selling his lock stitch sewing machine. Although it was patented in the 1840s, this decade was the first time it was commercially available. The machine became incredibly popular for home sewing, and even professional Parisian dressmakers began using it. [1] It sped up the sewing process substantially. Soon women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady Book began printing patterns and diagrams for the latest fashions. [2]

In 1856, William Perkin, an English chemist, accidentally invented the first synthetic aniline dye. He was attempting to make quinine, a malaria treatment, but noticed when he was cleaning up his mistake that it stained his cloth. He named the rich purple color “mauveine” and opened his own factory a year later. [3] The color became wildly popular and was even championed by Queen Victoria herself. Other chemists quickly followed in his footsteps. [4]

An American dress from 1856-1858 dyed “mauveine.” Photo source.

Titans of Fashion

In 1858, Charles Worth opened his own design house in Paris. He would become a powerhouse of fashion for the rest of the century with an impressive list of clientele that included Empress Eugénie, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Jenny Lind, and Nellie Melba. [5]

Empress Eugénie was a Spanish countess who married Napoleon III in 1853. [6] Gagelin, where Worth was employed, supplied her trousseau. [7] After he established his own house, the empress named him as her court designer. The empress carefully cultivated her appearance for public occasions and her style made her a fashion setter into the 1860s. She also helped popularize the new “mauveine” dye. [8]

Charles Worth. Photo source.
Empress Eugénie. Photo source.

Undergarments

The linen or cotton chemise was worn as the first layer.

Over that was the corset. Since the waistline had risen back to the natural waist from the previous decade, the corset flared at the hips. Also, tight lacing was less important. [9]

To achieve the fashionable wide skirt, a copious number of petticoats was required, up to seven. One of them was usually a crinoline, a skirt stiffened with horsehair and pintucks, or a corded petticoat, which used cording. All that weight could cause back problems and put women in danger of accidentally sticking their skirts in the fire.

In 1856, the cage crinoline was introduced. It was a framework stiffened by metal wire that held the skirts out. It reduced the number of petticoats needed, which cut down on the weight. [10] It also allowed skirts to become wider than ever. [11] Contrary to popular belief and depictions in movies, cage crinolines were lightweight and flexible. They were not a solid structure. The wire hoops could be compressed to pass through doorways and other tight spaces. They also folded in on themselves when the woman sat. Cage crinolines were cheap and therefore available even to the lower class. [12] I highly recommend you watch this video by Prior Attire to see how easy it was to move in a cage crinoline. L2

Because of the greater risk of a swinging cage crinoline exposing a woman’s legs (or more!), both the modesty skirt and the pantalette were worn. The modesty skirt was a simple, narrow, knee-length skirt, usually made of linen or cotton worn under the chemise. Pantalettes were long drawers that had been previously only worn by children. [13] They commonly had an open crotch seam to make going to the bathroom in a cage crinoline easier. Combinations, which married the chemise and pantalettes into one garment, were becoming more popular.

An illustration of a woman wearing a cage crinoline. Photo source.

Day Dress

As mentioned before, dresses had become two pieces and it became common for them to come in sets: a skirt with a matching daytime jacket and an evening bodice. These sets were prevalent for wedding dresses. Silk was the most popular fabric, although cotton and wool were also used. Wild colors and patterns such as plaids and stripes were all the rage. [14] Skirts and bodices were commonly trimmed with braid, fringe, cording, ribbons, and bows, with military style braid work, such as that seen on the zouave jacket, being especially popular. [15]

For daytime, bodices and jackets usually had high necklines, long sleeves and a straight or curved waistline. [16] Sleeves widened and by 1857 the bell-shaped pagoda sleeve was popular. [17] The wide sleeves were filled in with false sleeves called engageantes. [18] Separate collars of fabric or lace were pinned or tacked to the high neckline. A popular decoration for daytime bodices was the bretelles, a V-shaped piece of fabric or trim that extended from the shoulders to the center of the waist. [19]

A cutaway zouave jacket with wide pagoda sleeves. Photo source.

Eveningwear

Evening bodices had wide necklines that were almost off the shoulder with short, puffed sleeves. [20] Berthas were still a popular embellishment.

Rows of flounces on skirts became trendy and added to the width. [21]

A blue silk evening dress. Photo source.

Outerwear

The shawl was still popular, especially those from India. Although weavers in Scotland, England, and France were busy churning out cheaper imitations. [22] The mantles of the previous decades were also common.

An 1853 fashion plate showing three women in mantles. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

The simple styles of the 1840s were popular with a center part and the hair brushed over the ears into a low bun at the nape. [23] In paintings and photographs of the time, many have puffed out the hair over their ears.

Bonnets were still standard headwear when leaving the home. However, in this decade the brim shortened, and the bonnet was worn further back on the head. [24] The caps of the previous decades shrunk, becoming little more than lace embellishments at the back of the head.

Hair from 1851. Photo source.

Footwear

For daytime, the classic lace or button up “granny boot” that we all think of as the quintessential Victorian shoe, was the standard. [25] For evening, low silk or leather slippers were worn.

Accessories

The accessories from the previous decade were still popular, including the reticule (especially with the scarcity of integral pockets), the parasol, the muff, and the fan. Gloves were also common for both daytime and evening.

The Dress Reform Movement

The satirical cartoonists weren’t the only ones discontent with the decade’s fashions. In 1851, a group of women in Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth Smith Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Jenks Bloomer, introduced their reform outfit. It consisted of a calf-length skirt over “Turkish trousers,” which were promptly nicknamed “bloomers” after Amelia. [26] The dress reform movement also frowned on the tight-laced restrictive corset. The bloomer costume became linked with the early feminist movement. However, it never caught on and many people were offended at the idea of women wearing trousers. [27]

Amelia Bloomer in the 1851 reform outfit. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox, every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here. https://rebeccashedd.com/contact-me/

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 352, 358.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 192.
[2] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 90-91.
[3] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 361.
[4] Garfield, Simon. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000 p. 65, 78.
[5] Krick, Jessa. "Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895) and The House of Worth". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
[6] Seward, Desmond. Eugénie: The Empress and Her Empire. London: Thistle Publishing, 2013 ch. 1-2.
[7] "Charles Frederick Worth". designerindex.net. Archived from the original on 26 December 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
[8] Garfield, Simon. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000 p. 59-61.
[9] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 192.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 98.
[10] Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 178-179.
[11] Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 41.
[12] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 14.
[13] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 99.
Lynn, Eleri, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Underwear: Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2010 p. 170.
[14] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 95, 155.
[15] Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 p. 178.
[16] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 175.
[17] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 83.
Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 37.
[18] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 363.
[19] Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 37.
[20] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 365.
[21] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 96.
Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 37.
[22] Fukai, Akiko, ed. The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: Fashion, A History from the 18th Century to the 20th Century. Kyoto: Taschen, 2013 p. 192.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 103.
[23] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 155.
[24] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 12.
[25] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 184.
[26] Fischer, Gayle V. Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001 p. 79.
[27] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 181-182.
Fischer, Gayle V. Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001 p. 3, 83-85.

The Writer’s Guide to 1840s Men’s Fashion

The sobering of fashion during this period impacted men’s styles as well. This decade leached most of the color and swagger out of men’s attire. The flamboyant influence of the “Prince of Dandies,” Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d’Orsay, was displaced by the restrained and carefully cultivated clothing of Prince Albert. An increasing amount of importance was placed on respectability. [1]

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Silhouette

The fashionable figure for men followed that of women. This decade saw a lowering of the waistline and a sloping shoulder. Sleeves were now smoothly fit into the armhole, removing the puffed shoulder of the previous decade. [2] The dramatic curvy silhouettes of the 1830s gave way to a long line although with a rounded chest. Only the upper class clung to the hourglass figure.

Men’s clothing was available readymade unlike women’s clothing that was still mostly constructed at home or by a seamstress. [3]

An 1848 fashion plate showing the long, round-chested fashionable silhouette. Photo source.

Underwear

The standard was still a white linen or cotton shirt with a standing collar. They were almost always white. During this decade the dickey, a false shirt front, was introduced [4] Underwear consisted of simple, homemade, cotton or linen boxer-like garments. The upper class was still wearing the male corset to achieve the nipped in waist.

Day Dress

The frock coat was standard for daytime occasions. It was commonly wool in a dark color. [5] It had full skirts that ended at the knee and had a waist seam. The “newmarket” coat was introduced during this decade. A type of dress coat, it was an informal style with gradually sloping tails that began above the waist. [6] This coat was the ancestor of the later morning coat. The lounge or sack jacket was another new informal style. They did not have a waist seam and had a snug fit. [7]

Trousers were light-colored for daytime, although patterns such as stripes, plaids, and tweeds were seen. [8] Generally, they were not made of the same fabric as the rest of the suit, although “ditto” suits could be purchased. [9] The in-step strap was still in use but fell out of fashion by the end of the decade. The fall-front had completely disappeared, replaced by the fly front. [10]

Knee breeches and pantaloons were worn for riding and sporting, usually with tall boots. [11] Suits made of tweed were also popular for the country. [12]

Waistcoats or vests were worn for all occasions, and they were the last holdout of color and pattern in men’s fashion. They came in a rich variety, with silk being a popular fabric. [13] They could have shawl or notched collars with a deep V neckline and could be single or double breasted. They had lengthened from the previous decade, often ending in double points.

An 1843 fashion plate of day dress. The gentleman on the left and right are wearing “newmarket” coats while the man in the middle is wearing a frock coat. Photo source.
The lean sober style of the 1840s. Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant (1800–1886), 1st Lord Penrhyn of Llandega. Eden Upton Eddis (British, 1812-1901). Photo source.

Eveningwear

The dress coat or as it was increasingly being called, the tailcoat, was the standard for evening although it could also be worn for formal daytime affairs. They were still cut straight across at the waist with long tails in the back.

Trousers were commonly dark-colored.

1840s men’s eveningwear. Photo source.

Court Dress

The court required a dress coat, a white satin or black silk waistcoat, and knee breeches with white stockings and buckle shoes. Trim and embroidery reminiscent of the late 18th century was common. In fact, the whole look was a throwback to the previous century.

Outer Garments

The greatcoat was still popular for outerwear and was usually long and double breasted. The carrick coat was a variation of the greatcoat that sported shoulder capes. The paletot, a short loose coat without a side seam, was another option. [14]

A carrick coat. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

The tousled curls of the previous decades gave way to a more restrained straight side part. Being cleanshaven was the standard although facial hair made a reappearance at the end of the decade. [15]

The silk top hat was still the standard. During this period, it had straight sides and gradually increased in height, foreshadowing the stovepipe top hats of the 1850s. [16] Wide brimmed hats were used outdoors in sunny locals.

The stylish side part of the 1840s. Photo source.

Footwear

Men wore plain black shoes. The heel ranged from flat up to two inches (5.08 cms).

Accessories

The cravat was still a vital accessory and stood with the waistcoat as the only spots of bright color and pattern in a man’s wardrobe. It could be tied in a variety of styles. The stock, a stiff back-fastening neckband, was also worn. [17]

Men carried a variety of canes and walking sticks, some of which were quite decorative. However, they could also be handy in a fight against street ruffians. There is, in fact, an entire fighting style for canes known as bartitsu.

Gloves were necessary for most outings and essential for evening in keeping sweaty hands off women’s silk dresses.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 169-170.
[2] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[3] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 2, 19.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 144.
[4] Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion In History. Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1979.
[5] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 30.
[6] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 140.
[7] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 19.
[8] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 168-169.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[9] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 20.
[10] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 116.
[11] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[12] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 87.
[13] Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 p. 198.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31.
[14] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 343.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 114-115.
[15] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 23.
[16] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 31.
[17] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 21, 63.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 118.

The Writer’s Guide to 1840s Women’s Fashion

The 1840s continued the somber formal trend that had begun in 1836. The depictions of and expectations for women changed. With the fading of Romanticism, carefree exuberance was replaced by a cultivated austerity and a focus on domesticity. Queen Victoria was a big reason for this shift. She married Prince Albert on February 10th, 1840, and gave birth to their first child on November 21, 1840. They went on to have nine children in seventeen years.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1841. Photo source.

Underwear

The standard first layer was still a linen or cotton chemise or shift. During this decade they often had a drawstring neck that allowed for adjustment between different necklines.

The corset was an important structural undergarment and was stiffened by heavy cording and whalebone. They laced in the back and most also had a pocket in the front for a busk. [1] The corset flattened and spread out the bust. [2]

Petticoats were essential for creating the fashionable wide and dome-shape skirt silhouette. A woman would wear at least two and up to seven. [3] One was usually stiffened with pintucks, horsehair, or wool weft to provide width and support. [4] The bum pad or bustle from the 1830s continued to be used at the beginning of the decade before disappearing. [5]

An 1840s corset. Photo source.

Dresses

The fashionable silhouette of the 1840s consisted of a long, pointed waistline, narrow sleeves, sloping shoulders, and a wide, floor-length skirt in a dome shape. Trim and embellishment were uncommon with the fabric being the real star of the show. Silk was becoming more widely used and became acceptable for daytime. It was particularly suited to the crisp front points and wide pleated skirts of the era. Shot silk was especially popular. With the warp and weft different colors, the fabric subtly shifted hue. [6] Wool, cotton, and linen were also used but for morning and informal dresses. Patterns, such as plaid, florals, and stripes, were popular. Most women’s clothing was either made at home or by a seamstress, with only corsets, cloaks, and mantles available readymade. [7]

Bodices were tailored to fit snugly and smoothly and often came to a sharp point, although it softened to a rounded curve by the end of the decade. [8] Gathering, shearing, and pleating was a popular form of embellishment. [9] By the late 1840s, darts had become more common. [10] Various necklines were seen including a V or a wide and shallow curve for dressier daytime gowns [11] Evening dresses had a wide long neckline that was almost off the shoulder and usually embellished with a bertha, a pleated or hanging panel of fabric that covered the short sleeves. [12]

The voluminous sleeves of the 1830s continued until about 1842 when they were replaced by a narrow, fitted sleeve. They were usually cut on the bias, resulting in patterned fabric appearing to spiral up the arm. [13] Sleeve caps were common and were sometimes embellished with fringe or ribbon. [14] The sleeves began to loosen going further into the decade, opening into a narrow bell shape, and predicting the pagoda sleeves of the 1850s.

A new technique for pleating skirts was introduced in 1841: gauging, also known as organ or cartridge pleating. This method allowed the fabric to “spring” out from the waistline and create the distinctive dome-shape of the decade. It also allowed for more fabric to be used, increasing the width of skirts. Since the hemlines had lengthened, a band was added inside at the hem to protect them from wear. [15]

Pelerines were commonly worn outside the home. They were a light, cape-like garment that covered the top of the dress and extended to the elbows. They often had long lappets in the front. [16]

An 1848 fashion plate showing the fashionable silhouette. Photo source.
A detail of pleating on an 1845 dress. Photo source.
An 1843 evening dress with a bertha. Photo source.
A woman wearing a pelerine. Photo source.

Outerwear

Mantles, mantlets, coats, and jackets were popular and were generically referred to as pardessus. [17] There were also ankle-length cloaks with slits for the arms covered by cape-collars. The shawl had returned to popularity. While those from India were the most highly prized, mills throughout Europe churned out imitations. [18]

Hairstyles & Headwear

“Spaniel curls” were still popular from the previous decades but the bun or chignon moved down from the top of the head to the nape. [19] Hair was usually parted in the center. Another popular style was smoothing the sides over the ears and tucking it into the bun.

Linen or cotton caps were worn by married and conservative women indoors. They could be plain or adorned with lace, ribbons, and frills. [20]

The bonnet was practically mandatory for outdoors. The brim became narrower around the face and extended past it, limiting the peripheral vision. [21] This style was named the “coal-scuttle” bonnet after the buckets used to carry coal. [22] Married women wore their caps under their bonnets. They were less decorated that previous decades, mainly with flowers on the inside of the brim or a veil.

“Spaniel curls,” 1842. Photo source.
A woman wearing a bonnet (left) and a cap (right). Photo source.

Footwear

Stockings made of silk, cotton or wool came above the knee and were secured with ribbon garters.

Shoes for daytime were usually boots with low thick heels. They typically extended from the ankle up to the mid-calf and could be buttoned or laced.

Accessories

Several accessories were popular including fans, parasols, and muffs. Gloves were worn for evening, usually opera-length, and some daytime occasions. Reticules were necessary for carrying belongings since integral pockets were uncommon.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Cunnington, Phillis. The History of Underclothes. London: Michael Joseph, 1951 p. 148-149.
[2] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 8.
[3] Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 178.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 17.
[4] Cunnington, Phillis. The History of Underclothes. London: Michael Joseph, 1951 p. 145.
[5] Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 35.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 50.
[6] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p. 9.
Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p. 35.
[7] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 330.
[8] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 75.
[9] Fukai, Akiko, ed. The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: Fashion, A History from the 18th Century to the 20th Century. Kyoto: Taschen, 2013 p. 180-181.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 335-336.
[10] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 9, 43.
[11] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 135.
[12] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 336.
[13] Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p 27.
[14] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 7-9.
[15] Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 8.
[16] Thieme, Otto C., Elizabeth A. Coleman, Michelle Oberly, and Patricia Cunningham. With Grace and Favor: Victorian & Edwardian Fashion in America. Cincinatti: Cincinatti Art Museum, 1993 p 31-35.
Cumming 153
[17] Shrimpton, Jayne. Victorian Fashion. Oxford: Shire Publications, 2016 p 10.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 338.
[18] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 175.
[19] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 13.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 43.
[20] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 338.
[21] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 13.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1995 p. 10-11.
[22] Buck, Anne (1997). Victorian costume and costume accessories. Costume & Fashion Press. ISBN 0896762203.

The Writer’s Guide to 1830s Men’s Fashion

Men’s fashions during the 1830s reflected the trends in women’s fashion but in a subtler way. Early in the decade, the stylish silhouette was one with wide shoulders, a nipped-in waist, and flaring coattails. Gradually, the shoulders slimmed, and the waistline lengthened.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

The Prince of Dandies

Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d’Orsay, also known as the “Prince of Dandies”, brought a French flair to the ascetic of the dandy. An aristocrat from France, he moved to London in 1830 with his wife and her mother, Lady Blessington, who was also his patron. He created quite a splash in London society with his extravagant and excessive style. He famously wore five pairs of gloves throughout a day, each one a different color and scented with perfume. He displayed his sumptuous waistcoats, accessorized with multiple gold chains, by throwing back the lapels of his coats. He ran in select social circles and his house was a sought-after gathering place for the elites of the artistic, literary, social, and political spheres. [1]

Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d’Orsay. Photo source.

Underwear

White, high-collared shirts of cotton or linen were still the standard. Those worn during the day had tucks while evening shirts had frills down the front. [2]

The male corset was also discretely used to achieve the dramatic slim waist that was fashionable during this period. Padding was subtly added to coats and waistcoats to expand the chest and shoulders. [3] This padding disappeared after 1837 in favor of a slimmer silhouette. [4]

The Suit

The suit did not change much from the previous decade.

The dress coat, also known as the tailcoat, was standard for formal daytime and evening events while the frock coat was popular for casual daytime affairs. [5] The morning coat, a variation of the dress coat, was worn for early daytime occasions and for riding. [6] All coats were usually made of wool in dark colors such as black, navy, brown, and green.

Waistcoats switched from the standing collar to a shawl collar. Later, they would change again to a notched collar. Just like the previous decades, they were the most elaborate part of a man’s dress and more than one could be worn. [7]

Light-colored trousers were the standard for daytime and could be paired with any of the coats. [8] They were narrow with an in-step strap to keep the line straight. The fly-front began to replace the fall-front. Cossacks were a baggier style inspired by Russian dress that had wide legs that tapered to the ankle and a pleated front. The standard for evening was blank pantaloons, an older, more fitted style. [9] However, light-colored pantaloons could be paired with tall Hessian boots for riding. [10] Breeches were still required for court dress and would remain so throughout the century.

Two gentlemen wearing a dress coat (left) and frock coat (right). Photo source.
The man and boy on the left are wearing trousers with in-step straps. The man on the right is wearing pantaloons with Hessian boots. Photo source.

Outerwear

Greatcoats were worn during the day. They were long with wide sleeves. [11] Cloaks were the outwear of choice for evening.

A greatcoat being worn by the man on the right.
Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

Curly hair with sideburns was still a popular style. Straight hair parted to the side was also trendy.

The top hat was still the standard for daytime and evening headwear. By the end of the decade, silk was overtaking beaver felt as the standard material. [12] The crown was straighter than the previous decades. The “gibus hat,” a collapsible top hat invented by Antione Gibus, was patented in 1835. [13]

Footwear

The low, slipper-like shoes and the boot styles of the previous decade were still the dominate footwear.

Accessories

Neckwear was an essential element with the choice being either a stock or a cravat. The “scarf cravat,” also known as the “waterfall” was a large cravat that filled in the entire neckline and was secured with a decorative pin. [14]

Gloves were an essential accessory.

Canes and walking sticks were also popular and commonly seen in fashion plates and paintings of the day.

The watch fobs were steadily being replaced by watch chains. One style was known as the Albert chain, after Prince Albert, the consort to Queen Victoria. It came in single and double variations.

A gentleman sporting a large cravat, gloves, top hat, gold watch chains, and a cane. Antoine Julien Meffre-Rouzan of New Orleans painted in Paris, 1833. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here. https://rebeccashedd.com/contact-me/

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Foulkes, Nick. Last of the Dandies: The Scandalous Life and Escapades of Count d’Orsay. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014 ch. 14.
[2] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341.
[3] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 164.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 113.
[4] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 287–89.
[5] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 9595-96.
[6] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p.113.
[7] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 115.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 97.
[8] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 95.
[9] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 116.
[10] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 97-98.
[11] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 287–89
[12] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 86.
[13] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 98.
[14] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 97.
Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 52.

The Writer’s Guide to 1830s Women’s Fashion

The 1830s continued the trend of brash, exuberant styles from the previous decade. However, by the middle of the decade, bold trends were suddenly reigned in for a more understated and modest look as Romanticism gave way to the Gothic Revival.

The coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 had a large impact on women’s fashions and officially kicked off the Victorian era.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Long Live the Queen (of Fashion)

Just as with most monarchs before and after her, Queen Victoria had an outsized impact on fashion. Whatever the queen wore, almost every woman in the empire wanted to wear as well. Victoria preferred restrained and modest styles and was leery of new trends. Her ascension to the throne was likely a big contributing factor to the sudden shift in the aesthetic at the middle of the decade. [1]

Queen Victoria’s coronation portrait, 1837. Photo source.

Undergarments

The base layer was still the linen or cotton chemise. During this decade, it came to the knees and had narrow elbow length sleeves.

The corset was worn over it and extended to the hips. It could be lightly structured with cording or more heavily stiffened with baleen boning. Thanks to the introduction of the metal eyelet, corsets could now be tight-laced. They also had gored cups for the breasts.

Since the fashionable silhouette demanded ever-widening skirts, multiple layers of petticoats were required. [2] Some were starched or corded for extra support and width.

A bum pad known as a bustle was worn tied around the waist. It supported the skirts in the back. [3]

Since sleeves became so outrageously wide during this period, it became necessary for women to wear padded sleeve supports also known as sleeve plumpers tied around their upper arm. Although usually stuffed with feathers they could also be reinforced with wire or buckram. {4]

1835 undergarments consisting of a chemise, corset, sleeve supports, and petticoat. Photo source.

Dresses: 1830-1836

As I mentioned in the introduction, the styles at the beginning of this decade were brash, bold, and wide. The most striking feature was the sleeves known as gigot or leg-of-mutton. They often were wider than the waist and required undergarment supports for them to keep their shape. The volume could extend down the length of the arm or be confined to the upper arm with a fitted forearm or be banded at intervals to create a series of puffs. [5] Sleeves were long for daytime but short and puffed for evening. Sometimes a long sleeve of gauze overlaid the short evening sleeve. [6] A sloping line from the shoulder into the sleeve was fashionable.

Necklines were usually wide. For evening, they were almost off the shoulder although summer dresses sometimes had similar necklines but with long sleeves. Morning dresses usually had high necklines.

The waistline was just above the natural waist and was nipped in and fitted. A lot of emphasis was placed on the waist with all bodice styles incorporating a V shape.

Skirts were wide and ended just above the ankle. [7]

Riding habits were a popular style and were made with the fashionable wide sleeves and skirts.

An 1833 fashion plate. Photo source.
Riding habits with the trendy wide sleeves. Photo source.

Dresses: 1836-1840

Beginning in 1836, the necklines began to rise and the skirts to lengthen. The fullness of the sleeves moved down on the arm and the volume at the top was often pleated to control it. Going into the 1840’s, the sleeves began to narrow.

An American 1837 dress. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo source.

Outerwear

Due to the wide necklines, shawls became popular again.

Ankle-length mantles were fashionable until about 1836 when they were shortened and became known as mantlets or shawl-mantlets. They had points which hung down in the front. There was also a three-quarter length mantle known as a burnous, named after the garment from Arabia. A paletot was a knee-length mantle with slits for the arms instead of sleeves. The pardessus was a half or three-quarter length coat with sleeves. [8]

Hairstyles & Headwear

At the beginning of the decade, hairstyles were flamboyant to match the clothing fashions. “Spaniel curls” over the ears were still popular from the previous decade while the rest of the hair was looped, braided, or curled into a high bun. The Apollo knot and the hairstyle à la Chinoise were two of the styles. [9] Hairstyles for evening were elaborate and heavily decorated. [10]

Throughout the decade, it was customary for married women to wear white day caps indoors and under their headwear. [11] They would continue wearing headwear for evening. Turbans were a popular choice. [12]

The hats and bonnets of the early 1830’s were also large and heavily bedecked with feathers, trim, and flowers. They usually had a high crown and a wide brim.

With the shift in the middle of the decade, hairstyles and headwear changed as well. The “spaniel curls” disappeared and hair was often parted in the center and brushed back into a low bun. The brim of hats and bonnets became narrower, the latter often concealing the face. [13]

A fashion plate of hat and hairstyles from 1831. Photo source.
Fashionable bonnets and hair from 1838. Photo source.

Footwear

Flat slippers with square toes made of fabric or leather were the standard footwear. During this decade, low boots with an elastic inset were introduced. [14]

Accessories

During the beginning of the decade, wide white pelerines were worn over the shoulders and added to the wide silhouette. Belts were a popular accessory. Long gloves were worn for evening.

Jewelry was abundant with brooches, drop earrings, bracelets (sometimes worn in pairs), and long decorative chains being popular. [15]


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here. https://rebeccashedd.com/contact-me/

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and Its Legacy. Hartford: Connecticut Wadsworth Antheneum Museum of Art, 2016 p. 30
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 46.
[2] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 41-42.
[3] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 332.
[4] Lynn, Eleri. Underwear: Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publishing, 2010 p. 168.
[5] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 39. 
Johnston 76; Tortora 333; Foster 56
[6] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 40.
[7] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 41.
[8] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 286.
[9] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 13, 54. 
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 334.
[10] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 334.
[11] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 77.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 334.
[12] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 45.
[13] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 122.
[14] Payne 1969, p. 507
[15] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 44-45. 
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 340.

The Writer’s Guide to 1820s Men’s Fashion

The Romantic Movement impacted men’s fashion just as it did for women. Describing this decade, fashion historian Jane Ashelford wrote: “The Romantic movement stressed the creative power of the ‘shaping spirit of Imagination’ and was motivated by a desire to escape from the chilly neo-classicalism of the turn of the century and the harsh realities of the Industrial Revolution. It manifested itself in dress by an enthusiasm for extrovert personal display and theatrical fashions which, in the 1820s and early 1830s, led to men wearing their clothes with a swaggering bravado and panache.”

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

Silhouette

The fashionable male silhouette mirrored that of the ladies with wide sleeves and chest, a cinched in waist, volume at the tops of the trousers, and flaring coattails. [1] Collars on coats, waistcoats, and shirts were tall to frame the face. Padding was used to achieve the fashionable silhouette, most commonly in coats and stockings to create a shapely calf. [2] The styles of the decade were roundly mocked in the press and the satirical cartoons of the day. [3]

An 1826 fashion plate showing the stylish silhouette of the decade. Photo source.

Underwear

The base layer was a cotton or linen shirt with a standing collar. Daytime shirts had pleats or tucks on the front while those worn for evening had frills. [4]

Male corsets became increasingly common during this decade and were pretty much required to achieve the severely nipped in waist that was in vogue. [5] However, they were usually referred to as “girdles,” “belts,” or “vests” to distinguish them from female corsets and stays. They were made in several styles ranging from a fully boned corset to waistcoats with baleen boning that laced in the back. Male corsets had been in use since the late 18th century and become common among military officers.

The Suit

The style of suit was determined by the formality of the occasion and the time of day.

There were three main types of coats: the dress coat, the morning coat, and the frock coat. The dress coat was worn for formal occasions, both daytime and evening. It was cut straight across at the waist with tails in the back. The morning coat was a variation of the dress coat with front panels that gently curved to the back. The frock coat from the previous decade was a fashionable informal choice. All coats were usually made in dark colors, often wool, and were commonly single breasted. [6]

Waistcoats were usually a solid color, with white or black being worn for evening. Most had either a standing collar or a rolled shawl collar. [7] It was trendy to wear more than one in keeping with the fashionable large-chested silhouette. [8]

Trousers were becoming the standard daytime fashion, with pantaloons being commonly worn for evening events, paired with a black dress coat. [9] Breeches were only worn for evening, at court, or out hunting and paired with tall boots. [10] Trousers were still narrow but had widened a bit from the previous decade. They reached to the top of the shoe and were often secured with an in-step strap. [11] They closed with a fall front although the fly front appeared during this decade but it did not become widespread until the 1840’s. Voluminous cossacks remained in fashion from the previous decade. Lighter colors were worn for day and darker for evening.

A dress coat and Cossack trousers. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.
An 1827 morning coat. Note the in-step strap. Photo source.
A fashion plate depicting a frock coat. Costume Parisien, 1829. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.

Hairstyles & Headwear

Short curly hair with sideburns was fashionable.

The silk top hat was king and came in several colors. [12] During this decade, the style was for the crown to curve outward from the brim.

Fashionable hair and sideburns. Conte Ninni painted by Francesco Hayez, 1825. Photo source.

Footwear

Besides the boots which remained fashionable from the previous decade, men wore low narrow shoes. The introduction of rubber to Europe and America paved the way for the invention of galoshes.

A closeup of the shoes in an 1826 fashion plate. Photo source.

Accessories

By far, the most important accessory for the well-dressed gentleman was his immaculately tied cravat. It was a large square of silk or muslin knotted in a variety of bows and knots. [13] The stock, which was borrowed from military uniforms, was also worn. It was a stiff band covered in velvet or satin that fastened at the back of the neck. Black and white were the standard colors, especially for formal affairs, but patterns were worn for casual events. [14]

Watches on fobs tucked in a specially made watch pocket were still the standard. [15] Gloves were worn for daytime and evening.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here. https://rebeccashedd.com/contact-me/

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 p. 16.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 162.
[2] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 96.
Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 202-203.
[3] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 162.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 p. 191.
[4] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 94.
[5] Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 199-204.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 340.
[6] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 117.
[7] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 342.
[8] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 115.
[9] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 91-97.
[10] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p. 116.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341-342.
[11] B. Payne, "Men's Wear in the Nineteenth Century", History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century (1965).
[12] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 p. 76, 85.
[13] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 p.119.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 341.
[14] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 94.
[15] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 p. 186.
Cumming, Valerie ed., The Dictionary of Fashion History. New York: Berg, 2010 p. 83.

The Writer’s Guide to 1820s Women’s Fashion

With the death of King George III of England in 1820 and the coronation of George IV, the Regency era was over. Bright saturated colors and patterns came into vogue. Rows of trim and tucks, fluttering ribbons and shimmering gauzes and bobbin lace were used with abandon. After years under the rule of an old and mentally unstable king, fashion embraced the youthful exuberance of a new monarch.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion.

So Romantic

This decade was a transitory period between the classical Regency styles and the more structured Victorian styles which started in 1837 with the coronation of Queen Victoria. It was part of the Georgian era, which lasted from 1714 to 1837 and covered the reign of Britain’s King Georges I-IV.

This decade saw the abandonment of the classically inspired fashions of the first two decades of the 19th century. Instead, the Romantic Movement was all the rage. The influence of this movement impacted not only fashion but literature, art, and music. It placed importance on personal emotions and expression. Clothing of this decade draws a large amount of influence from an idealized version of the past, especially the Middle Ages. [1]

An example of an evening dress inspired by the Romantic Movement, 1823. Photo source.

Undergarments

A chemise or shift was still the first layer worn by all classes of women. Increasingly, it was made of cotton even though linen breathed better and didn’t stick to the body. But linen has a long and time-consuming manufacturing process. The processing of cotton had been dramatically shortened by the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and various spinning machines in 1760s and 1770s.

Stays began to fade out of use and the corset began more prominent. The corset originally had only soft cording for structure while stays had more rigid boning. As the waistline began to drop, stays and corsets lengthened from the previous decade. While the main job of the garment during the Regency era was to hoist and separate the girls, the focus during this decade was to slim the waist and emphasis the curves. [2] The metal eyelet, first used on corsets in 1828, allowed them to take the strain of tight lacing. Before this invention, the fabric around thread-enforced eyelets would tear if laced too severely. [3]

A small bustle pad was worn on the rump to fill out the back of the skirt. Over this were several layers of petticoats. [4]

An English corset, circa 1825-1835. The Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo source.

Dresses

While waistlines started high at the beginning of the decade, they began to drop. By 1825, it was almost at the natural waist. [5] The skirts began to widen with the use of gores. By the end of the decade, they had become so voluminous that the excess fabric had to be pleated in at the waistband. The applied trim and decoration of the previous decade continued with lace, ruffles, flounces, puffs, and rouleaux, stuffed tubes of fabric. The weight of these decorations caused the hemlines to be raised above the floor. [6]

However, it was with sleeves that they really went crazy. Sleeves began to widen until “the upper arm appeared to be quite double the size of the waist” [7] These styles were known as gigot or leg-o-mutton since they resembled a leg of lamb. One of the few narrow styles was the “Marie” sleeve, which had a series of puffs going down the arm and evokes a romanticized medieval style. Slashing, puffs, and other elements that conjured the 16th and 17th century were also popular. Sleeves were usually long for daytime but short for evening although long sleeves of sheer netting were stylish. [8]

Necklines could be high for daytime or filled in with a chemisette. Wide collars known as pelerines became popular and covered the chest and shoulders. They often had decorative edges such as “vandyck points,” a reference to the 17th century artist, Anthony van Dyck. [9] For evening, necklines were frequently low and open. Ruffs at the neck were another design element that recalled historical styles.

The pelisse-robe, a type of coat-dress, was often worn for walking in the morning. [10]

Color overtook white in popularity, especially deep saturated tones such as chrome yellow and Turkish red. [11] Patterns such as checks and plaids also became all the rage. The popularity of plaid mirrored the appeal of the romantic writings of Sir Walter Scott. [12]

An 1820 dress with a pelerine with vandyck points. Photo source.
Gigot or leg-o-mutton sleeves from 1829. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.

Outwear

The shawl was still the reigning outer garment although cloaks and coats were worn in cold and/or wet weather.

Hairstyles and Headwear

Hairstyles at the beginning of the decade continued the “spaniel curls” and center parts of the 1810s. By the middle of the decade, the Apollo knot, several large loops of hair at the top of the head, had become the fad. It was usually paired with sausage curls at the temples. Another style was à la Chinoise, which came into fashion at the end of the decade. It was an arrangement of braids and knots with curls at the temples decorated with long pins. [13]

Caps were worn by older and conservative women both indoors and under bonnets. They tied under the chin and were usually heavily adorned with pleats, lace, ribbons, feathers, flowers, and jewels.

The bonnets of the previous decade widened along with everything else with the brims and crowns increasing in width and height. Decoration also exploded, with ribbons, feathers, greenery, and flowers being attached to the outside and the underside of the brim. [14]

Turbans were also worn and were as heavily adorned as other headwear styles. They were considered exotic. [15]

An Apollo knot. Amalie von Krüdener painted by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1828. Photo source.
An older woman wearing a linen cap and ruffled collar. Elizabeth Albree Brooks, painted by James Frothingham, 1823. Photo source.

Footwear

The slipper was still the fashionable shoe. In the late 1820’s, the first high shoe was introduced and was popular with both men and women. It had a three-inch (7.62 cms) cloth upper that laced on the inside and a square toe. [16]

Accessories

Reticules continued to be popular accessories since most of the fashions of the decade did not feature integrated pockets. Fans and parasols were also common.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 328.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 p. 163.
[3] Lynn, Eleri. Underwear: Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publishing, 2010 p. 84.
Bruna, Denis, ed. Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015 p. 160-161.
[2] http://www.frockflicks.com/metal-grommets/#:~:text=When%20metal%20grommets%20were%20first,popular%20in%20the%20Victorian%20era.
[4] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 36.
[5] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 35.
[6] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p 36.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 34.
Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 p. 223.
[7] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 74.
[8] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 p. 35-36.
[9] Bassett, Lynne Z. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and Its Legacy. Hartford: Connecticut Wadsworth Antheneum Museum of Art, 2016 p. 20.
[10] Tarrant, Naomi E. A. The Rise and Fall of the Sleeve: 1825-1840. Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1983 p. 13.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 75.
[11] Tarrant, Naomi E. A. The Rise and Fall of the Sleeve: 1825-1840. Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1983 p. 13.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 75.
[12] Mackrell, Alice. Art and Fashion: The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art. London: B T Batsford, 2005 p. 71.
[13] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 95.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 p. 334.
[14] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 p. 95-96.
[16] Warren, Geoffrey (1987). Fashion Accessories Since 1500. London: Unwin Hyman. p. 93.
[15] Wilcox, Turner R. (1958). The Mode in Costume. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 248.

The Writer’s Guide to 1810s Men’s Fashion

While women’s Victorian fashions changed wildly between the decades, men’s styles had a more measured and lengthy progression. Each decade saw some changes from the previous one. It is easy to look at men’s fashions from this decade and see the influence they had on the modern suit.

A splendid example of this clothing in action is Zack Pinsent. I recommend looking him up on YouTube.

For an overview of fashion for the entire 19th century, please read my Writer’s Guide to 19th Century Fashion. Over the next couple of weeks I will look  into each decade with greater depth.

Influences

Beau Brummel still had an outsized influence on men’s fashions during this period, but his social standing had taken a big hit with his falling out with the Prince Regent in 1811. Despite the loss of his patron and the attending royal favor, he remained in society and stayed relevant, an unusual achievement. [1] He ended up racking up enormous debts trying to keep up with his aristocratic friends. In 1816, he fled to France, leaving behind a debt of thousands of pounds. He was committed to a debtor’s prison in 1835 and died broke and insane from syphilis in 1840 in Caen.

Underwear

A white shirt with a ruffled or pleated front and a standing collar was still the norm. [2] Some men discretely wore male corsets to achieve the svelte fashionable figure.

The Suit

The suit continued to be the staple of menswear. The silhouette changing slightly after 1811 with the waist dropping and padding added to the shoulders. [3] Impeccable fit was still of utmost importance. Color and embellishment continued to retreat. The primary form of adornment was that inspired by the military fashions of the day. [4] The ditto suit or a three-piece suit with all elements made of the same fabric was unusual. [5]

The dress coat and the riding coat continued to be the two dominate styles. Toward the end of the decade, darts were added to the riding coat to achieve a smoother fit and eliminate the unsightly crease at the waist. [6] Around 1815, the frock coat was introduced and was worn for informal daytime affairs. It had knee-length tails and a fitted waist, which eventually incorporated a waist seam. The frock coat likely evolved from the greatcoat or military uniforms and became the staple of the respectable Victorian gentleman’s wardrobe. [7]

Waistcoats continued to be cut straight across at the waist and were single or double breasted.

The 1810s was an overlap period, during which both breeches and pantaloons were worn. Breeches were almost unchanged from the 18th century. They were snug with a fall-front and closed below the knee with buttons and buckles, and were worn for evening events. Pantaloons were longer, usually extending to the calf or ankle. [8] They were cut on the fabric’s bias, providing some stretch that helped to achieve a figure-hugging fit. Trousers also existed and were growing in popularity. They differed from pantaloons in their fit since they were looser around the calf. Starting shorter, by 1817, trousers reached the shoe. The instep strap, used to keep a tight line, is attributed to Beau Brummell. [9] During the middle of the decade, a style of trousers known as “Cossacks” saw a brief popularity. They were inspired by the visit to London of the Russian Czar and his troops in 1814. “Cossacks” were voluminous and pleated into the waistband. [10]

An 1812 portrait of Daniel la Motte, a Baltimore, Maryland, merchant, and landowner. He is wearing a frilled shirt, white waistcoat, and fall-front breeches. Photo source.
A man wearing a double-breasted dress coat and a white waistcoat, shirt, and cravat. Portrait of an Artist by Michel Martin Drolling, 1819. Photo source.
Cossack trousers. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo source.

Hairstyles and Headwear

The hairstyles of the previous decade continued to be popular as well as the top hat, which was usually made of beaver felt. [10] The two-sided chapeau-bras was a stylish choice for evening. [11]

Accessories

The cravat continued to be a gentleman’s most important accessory. [12] This obsession was satirized in the publications of the day.

Watches on a fob continued to be stylish.

A cartoon satirizing tight pantaloons, short coats, and huge cravats. Les Modernes Incroyables, French, 1810. Photo source.

Shoes

Several styles of boots were immensely popular and show the influence that military uniforms had on civilian fashion. Hessian boots with tassels and heart-shaped tops were a favorite style, with the pantaloons tucked into them. They also showed off a man’s shapely calves. [13]

However, low shoes were a requirement for evening.

Formal evening dress. Fashion Plate: “Full dress of a Gentleman” for “The Repository of Arts”, 1810. Photo source.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox, every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Campbell, Kathleen (1948). Beau Brummell. London: Hammond.
[2] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 page 319.
le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 112.
[3] le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 112.
[4] le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 112, 117.
[5] Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 page 319.
[6] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 page 113.
[14] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 page 114-115.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 92-93.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 28.
[7] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 93.
Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 page 14.
[8] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 page 186.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 93-94.
[9] Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 232.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 page 116.
[10] Ginsburg, Madeliene. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. London: Studio Editions, 1990 page 85.
le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 112-113.
[11] Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 200, 226.
[12] Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015 page 119.
[13] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 page 186.
Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 page 14.

The Writer’s Guide to 1810’s Women’s Fashion

The 1810’s spanned the Empire era, which ended with the fall of Napoleon’s First French Empire in 1815, and the beginning of the Regency era, which started in 1811 with the regency of Britain’s Prince George. While the high-waisted classically inspired styles of the previous decade continued, a shift in focus to the Romantic Movement occurred and it became popular in incorporate influences from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This decade also saw elements from India, Egypt, China, and other parts of the world impacting European fashion and Western styles spreading around the globe.

This period is popular among writers and producers of TV shows and movies. The new hit Netflix series, “Bridgerton,” is set in 1813. There have also been many, many adaptions of Jane Austen’s novels that were published in this period such as Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). Of course, each of these productions have varying levels of accuracy in their costuming.

Influences

The woman at the leading edge of fashion was Marie-Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, better known as Empress Joséphine Bonaparte. She married Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796 and was crowned empress of France in 1804. She adored fine muslins and Kashmiri shawls, two staples of the decade’s look. Josephine supported the rebuilding of the French fashion industry after it was devasted by the Revolution. [1] Although her husband limited the importation of British muslin and Indian cashmere, she still found ways to acquire them. [2] She also had a voracious hunger for clothes. An 1809 inventory of her wardrobe included 49 court dresses, 666 winter dresses, 230 summer dresses, 60 cashmere shawls, and 1,132 pairs of gloves. [3]

This is what biographer Andrea Stuart had to say of her: “She was the wife of the world’s most powerful man, and the most visible female figure of her era. Her every action and nuance of appearance were followed eagerly by newspapers and journals in France and abroad. She was the high priestess of style, and fashion-conscious women the world over idolized her. They pored over fashion journals like le Journal des Dames et de la Mode…in order to see what Josephine was wearing, and attempted to copy her style. Joséphine reinforced Paris’s position as fashion capital of the world, which in turn boosted French industry.”

A 1812 portrait of Empress Joséphine Bonaparte. Painted by Firmin Massot. Photo source.

Undergarments

A linen or cotton shift or chemise continued to be worn.

Over that, was a pair of stays or a corset to support the bust. The term stays referred to the heavily boned support garment that originated in the 18th century while a corset had lighter or minimal boning. Over time, the terms became interchangeable, stays faded from use, and corsets became more heavily structured and boned. [4] Both short and long stays existed during this period. The short ones were used to support and shape the breasts, while the long did that as well as slimming the figure. [5]

Petticoats were worn under the skirts for support, modesty, and warmth.

Women would also wear a bustle pad, a crescent-shaped roll tied around the torso. Since the waistlines were so high, it rested just below the shoulder blades, creating a round-backed look known as a “Grecian bend.” [6]

Dresses

Gowns continued the high-waisted columnar look that began in the previous decade. However, the skirts became more angular with the use of gores, with the fullness gathered at the back. [7] The fall-front bodice disappeared in favor of back closures. A smoother fit was achieved by cutting the fabric on the bias and using darts. [8] The sleeves could be either short or long and were set further forward. Sleeves became fuller and were sometimes fashioned into puffs. Necklines could be square or V-shaped. [9] Cleavage was hidden during the day by a chemisette but was on full display for evening. [10] Some evening bodices were as short as two and a half inches (6.35 cm)!

White was still a stylish color, but brighter shades and patterns were increasingly popular. [11] Stiffer silks and cottons began replacing the gauzy muslins. Light transparent netting became incredibly trendy and more affordable after the invention of the bobbin-net machine by John Heathcoat in 1808. [12] It was used heavily in evening dresses where it was embroidered or otherwise decorated and worn over a silk slip. Pintucks and flounces on skirts also became incredibly popular as well as puffs and rouleaux, or stuffed rolls of fabric.

Overall, the neo-classical look was supplanted by Romanticism, which drew influence from the idealized past, especially the Middle Ages. Fashions from the decade have an ethereal quality about them or evoked elements from the past such as panes and puffs that recall the slashing of the Renaissance. [13]

English and French fashions from 1815. Photo source.
An 1818 dress showcasing the ethereal and medieval elements of Romanticism. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo source.
An 1810 evening dress with embroidered machine-made silk netting. Photo source.

Outerwear

The most common outer garments included the long redingote and the short spencer jacket. [14] The pelisse-robe, a type of coat dress, was developed by 1817. [15] These garments were heavily influenced by the military uniform styles of the day and made great use of braid, tassels, frogs, cords, and Brandenburg buttons. [16]

Shawls were an essential part of the look with the most sought after being Kashmiri shawls from India. Since they were so expensive, many imitations sprang up. One of the most noteworthy was from Paisley, Scotland, which gave its name to the pattern. [17]

Hairstyles and Headwear

“Spaniel curls,” which hung over both ears remained popular with the rest of the hair done up in curls in the back. [18] The cropped hairstyles of the previous decade were still seen at the beginning of the 1810’s. [19]

A wide variety of hats, bonnets, caps, and other headwear were worn. Foreign styles such as the turban reflected the influence of Napoleon’s overseas campaigns. [20] Poke bonnets shielded the face from the sun. Tall hats inspired by the shakos worn by Hussars were also popular. [21] Older women would often wear day caps indoors. [22]

Comtesse Vilain and her daughter with their hair done in the fashionable style. Jacques-Louis David, 1816. Photo source.
An 1814 fashion plate of bonnets and other headwear. Photo source.

Footwear

The low slipper and white stockings of the previous decade were still the standard for footwear.

Accessories

Accessories included fur muffs and reticules. Fans also were a popular item.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list here.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2021 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Fukai, Akiko, ed. The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: Fashion, A History from the 18th Century to the 20th Century. Kyoto: Taschen, 2013 page 125.
[2] Jensen, Heather Belnap. “Parures, Pashminas, and Portraiture, or, How Joséphine Bonaparte Fashioned the Napoleonic Empire.” in Fashion in European Art: Dress and Identity, Politics and the Body, 1775– 1925. Edited by Justine De Young, 36-59. London/New York: I.B.Tauris, 2017. Bloomsbury Fashion Central via The New York Public Library.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 272.
[3] Jensen, Heather Belnap. “Parures, Pashminas, and Portraiture, or, How Joséphine Bonaparte Fashioned the Napoleonic Empire.” in Fashion in European Art: Dress and Identity, Politics and the Body, 1775– 1925.
Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 page 311.
[4] Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 64.
[5] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 page 31.
[6] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 page 32-33.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 26, 66. Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume, 5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010 page 315.
[7] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 page 26.
Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 page 74, 46.
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 30, 35.
[8] Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 26.
[9] le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 94, 233.
[10] Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 page 180.
[11] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 36.
Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 page 36.
[12] Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 page 146. le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 100.
[13] Johnston, Lucy, Marion Kite, Helen Persson, Richard Davis, and Leonie Davis. Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publications, 2005 page 46.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 37-38.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 page 29.
le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 100.
[14] Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1990 page 35-38. le Bourhis, Katell, ed. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989 page 98.
[15] Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 27.
[16] Fukai, Akiko, ed. The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute: Fashion, A History from the 18th Century to the 20th Century. Kyoto: Taschen, 2013 page 148-151. 
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: Batsford, 1992 page 30.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 233.
[17] Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2012 page 155.
Davidson, Hilary. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019 page 273.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: National Trust, 1996 page 179.
[18] Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume: The Nineteenth Century. London: BT Batsford, 1984 page 32.
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