The prim and proper veneer of the Victorian era is shattered with a close look at the exaggerated, almost ostentatious fashionable looks of the day. Outfits emphasized the feminine with tight corsets, cumbersome hoop skirts and ornate accessories. Our fashions today seem almost boring in comparison! As with today, clothing in the Victorian era was a status symbol. The expense of outfits restricted most women to only a few, meaning they worked hard to make each outfit count. The feminine beauty in Victorian fashion is undeniable and inspiring for fashion-conscious women today. Here is a closer look at five main style trends from the era.
1. Corsets: More than any other clothes item, corsets are synonymous with the Victorian era. An undergarment that created the illusion of a shapely waist, corsets were made from strips whalebone and were a fashion staple throughout the nineteenth century. Corsets have been criticized throughout history for creating health problems, including fainting, miscarriages and damage to internal organs. Some women went so far to achieve this standard of beauty that they would regularly faint at the slightest exertion. One thinks of Scarlett O'Hara bracing herself as Mammie tightened her whalebone corset to an impossible 17 inch waist. In reality, this obsession with tiny waists is greatly overstated in popular culture. Though most women did wear them throughout the Victorian era they were rarely cinched so punishingly tight. Today, some women take corset wearing to a new level and undergo surgery to have ribs removed in the pursuit of an ever smaller waist. 2. Underwear: Victorian women wore an extraordinary amount of underwear including a chemise, drawers, corset and several petticoats. A lack of modern appliances made clothing (not to mention bodies!) difficult to wash frequently, so undergarments served the duel purpose of preserving modesty and protecting delicate dress fabrics from body odor and sweat. The sheer amount of undergarments that went into each outfit made it so that women wore three to four layers of fabric over her body. 3. Dress: Dresses in the Victorian era were opulent and attention getting. Fashion reflected an obsession with the hourglass figure that emphasized the shapeliness of the bosom and bottom. High society women were expected to look demure with tight-waisted dresses and exposed shoulders, accented with plenty of jewelry. Dress styles changed considerably through the decades of the Victorian era but silk and intricate beadwork were fashion staples throughout. 4. Accessories: Hats and other hair accessories were an essential wardrobe staple for a well dressed Victorian woman. Understated bonnets and overstated sun hats like this were worn by the well to do and commoner alike. False hair pieces and extensions were popular with the upper fold, but most women stayed away from make up, which was considered 'vulgar'. The more adventurous made do with a bit of rouge on their cheeks. Elbow length gloves were essential for the upper crust and wealthy women liberally adorned themselves with jewelry. 5. Shoes: Lace up boots and delicate slippers were two popular types of Victorian footwear. Because long skirts usually covered shoes, most women owned only a few pairs and shoes were rarely a statement piece in an outfit. The trend towards shorter skirts in the 1920s changed this mentality dramatically and fashionable footwear started to become a more essential aspect of every outfit. The Victorian era is a fascinating time for women fashion. At a time when women were restricted in their role in society, they used their outfits to express their individuality and personal tastes in ways that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to. A celebration of Victorian fashion is in many ways a celebration of the female spirit, no matter the social circumstances. Read the 1 Part of the article here.