If you love vintage-inspired dresses but always get confused between Victorian gowns with intricate corsets and voluminous crinolines and hobble-skirted and pigeon-breasted Edwardian dresses, you aren’t alone.
The clash between these two eras can leave the best of us scratching our heads. But there’s no need to worry about that anymore. Let’s explore the differences between Victorian and Edwardian women’s fashion.
What Is the Victorian Era Fashion?
Victorian fashion was all the rage during the rule of Queen Victoria from 1937 to 1900, a time when women were forbidden to show even an ankle.
Full skirts, tightly-laced corsets, shape-giving bustles, top hats, waist-accentuating petticoats, and head-covering bonnets were the highlights of a Victorian woman's dress. As a result, getting ready in the morning was a herculean task.
What Are Those Victorian Dresses Called?
The classic Victorian gowns had a V-shaped bodice that was fairly long and had full skirts with cage hoops to reinforce that fuller look. The bell-shaped skirts were wide and complemented by bonnets.
Plus, Victorian women styled their sleeves with dropped shoulders, and the seams used to be on the upper arm, below the shoulders. The sleeves were usually puffed, billowy, and extended till just above the wrist, ensuring a tighter fit.
Victorian Fashion Across Different Classes
Victorian clothes differed for women across different social classes. For instance, tight skirts and multiple petticoats were only mandatory for women of the upper class. They were often embroidered and made from lace or expensive fabrics like crushed velvet, satin, or silk.
In contrast, middle-class or working women who had to work or move around a lot wore dresses made from simple cotton or wool. But they were still quite heavy due to the multiple layers and came with a corset to boot.
Victorian Fashion Over the Years
Victorian fashion changed over the years, especially when the fashion trends differed across classes. For instance, skirts expanded after the 1850s because crinoline cages were used under the skirts.
However, skirts grew narrower during the 1860s as the heavy petticoats and crinoline cages were replaced with bustles. No longer were hoop skirts in fashion, as trimmed bonnets were all the rage. They remained in fashion until the 1890s.
What Is Edwardian Era Fashion?
Edwardian-era fashion was popular during King Edward's rule, which extended from 1901 to 1910 but actually lasted till 1914. The fashion trends in this era incorporated similar skirts and corsets as the Victorian era but with modern silhouettes.
But where did Edwardian style come from? In fact, what is Edwardian style?
Here’s the thing: Queen Victoria was too involved with the internal matters of the empire to travel. King Edward, in contrast, wandered over the world and was exposed to other cultures and fashions. Continental Europe influenced his taste, and he picked up on their art and style.
King Edward brought continental European art and style to England, beginning a style revolution that slowly slipped from the nobility to the masses.
What Did Edwardian Women Wear?
An Edwardian-era woman wore looser corsets that allowed her to breathe a little better. These corsets didn’t have dozens of metal channels, so they didn't press down on the abdomen. This made them more comfortable.
In fact, these corsets were so much more comfortable that they were known as “health corsets.” Because, unlike Victorian-era corsets, they didn’t cinch the waist or compress the abdomen, pushing it down to give the look of an abnormally small waist.
Instead, Edwardian corsets flowed straight across the bustline instead of cinching the waist. This forced the bosom upwards and the hips backward, ensuring correct posture and reducing back pain caused by a bigger bust.
What did Edwardian Period Skirts Look Like?
Edwardian skirts and corsets were designed to give a woman an S-shape. The hips were forced back, whereas the chest was forced outwards to accentuate that curve in the back. These dresses, also known as tea gowns or tea dresses, were dainty and made from soft fabrics.
Plus, Edwardian skirts flared over the hips to give a fuller look but not as massive as Victorian hoop skirts.
What Type of Sleeves Did Edwardian Women Wear?
During the Edwardian period, sleeves were relaxed and not as fitted or cinched at the wrists. The fabric used for the sleeves was also softer, and a ribbon was used to cinch the otherwise puffy sleeves at the elbow.
Also, the bottom of a sleeve typically had a flare to it (as it was not cinched at the wrist). And hanging pleats were often added to sleeve edges to accentuate dresses. Anything from lace to an embroidered knit could be used to make pleats.
How to Dress Like an Edwardian Woman?
If you’re looking to dress like a period-accurate Edwardian woman, you should probably get a full-length, flowing dress that’s high in the neck. It should also come with a belt at the waist and loose sleeves that fasten at the wrist.
However, you can’t just wear any dress. If you’re staying at home, wearing silk is a no-no. So, go for cotton or wool. But if you’re going to a costume party, you can easily wear silk, satin, crushed velvet, or linen dresses.
Also, don’t forget to wear light-colored gloves, grab a parasol when you’re out and about, and wear broad-heeled black shoes.
Edwardian vs. Victorian Fashion
Victorian fashion was extravagant and unapologetically dramatic with its cinched waistlines, voluminous crinoline-stuffed skirts, layers of lace and ruffles, and intricate embellishments that made a statement like no other.
In contrast, Edwardian fashion bid farewell to restrictive corsets and welcomed a more relaxed look. Hobble skirts dared to narrow the stride, and pigeon-breasted bodices showcased a natural shape. Fabrics were lighter, simpler, and embraced a sense of freedom and movement.
Both eras were special in their own ways, characterized by their own unique features. But when looked at from afar, they shared a love for luxury, extravagant charm, and understated elegance that makes them a treasure trove of inspiration if you love fashion.