The years from 1830 to 1870 were the ideal period of the perfect lady.  In the early 19th century women wore light fabric dresses. In the 1830s the dresses tended to have a more dramatic flair displaying puffy sleeves.  In the 1850s women of the upper classes began to wear frames of whalebone or steel wire beneath their dresses and skirts, called crinolines.  The following decade, in the late 1860s, a new fashion trend emerged in which women began to wear a kind of half crinoline where the front of the skirt was flat but it tended to slightly bulge out toward the back –  this new dress was called a bustle dress and it was fashionable for several decades before disappearing in the 1890s.

From the 1840s onwards it was fashionable for women to have very small waists so they wore corsets.

About 1800 women started wearing underwear for the first time. They were called drawers. Originally women wore a pair of drawers i.e. they were actually two garments, one for each leg, tied together at the top. In the late 19th century women’s drawers were called knickerbockers then just knickers.


Around early 1830, the waistline, which was mostly raised to the bosom as fashion had required early in the century, fell back to its natural position. Wikipedia has an extensive review of 19th century fashion history compiled by decades:

In the 1830s, men wore dark coats, light trousers, and dark cravats for daywear. Women’s sleeves reached their ultimate width in the gigot sleeve. Here, the boys (on holiday in the mountains) wear buff-colored belted knee-length tunics with yokes and full sleeves over trousers. The girls wear white dresses with colored aprons. The Family of Dr. Josef August Eltz, Austria, 1835. (Wikipedia)

The prevalent trend of Romanticism from the 1820s through the mid-1840s, with its emphasis on strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience and its recognition of the picturesque, was reflected in fashion as in other arts. Items of historical dress including neck ruffs, ferronieres (jeweled headbands worn across the forehead), and sleeves based on styles of earlier periods were popular.[2]

Innovations in roller printing on textiles introduced new dress fabrics. Rich colors such as the Turkey red of the 1820s were still found,[3] but delicate floral prints on light backgrounds were increasingly popular. More precise printing eliminated the need for dark outlines on printed designs, and new green dyes appeared in patterns of grasses, ferns, and unusual florals. Combinations of florals and stripes were fashionable.[4]

Overall, both men’s and women’s fashion showed width at the shoulder above a hippo tiny waist. Men’s coats were padded in the shoulders and across the chest, while women’s shoulders sloped to huge sleeves.

Dresses continued to grow fuller from that time on, until they reached several yards in circumference.

They were held out by petticoats, and of course corsets were a must. Throughout the Antebellum period, Southern women continued to delight in showing off their shapely bodies. American women decided to be as seductive as possible in order to emphasize their independence. However, women were expected to appear submissive, sweet and resigned at the same time. While proper ladies tolerated no bright colors, perfume was also a major issue among women in the 1840‘s.



Swiss Waist

Bright Red Swiss Waist dress

circa 1860

A fashionable look that accentuates the woman’s waist

A late 1860s bodice of green silk trimmed with blue ribbon and embroidered trim.  This      bodice is an example of the transitional style between the hoop and the bustle.


In Athens, Georgia, during the mid-1800s some women chose to dress a little differently.  It came to the attention of some travelers that some women chose to break the norm and wear men’s clothing. This type of dress was condemned, stating that “it is ok for them to wear them in the privacy of their homes but in public it is an affront to men“.1

The dress of men during the Antebellum period was much more conventional than that favored by the women. The ministers dressed in all black and the majority of other men wore black, gray, and dark colors in general. Their clothes remained the same, with a “high stovepipe hat; a long frock coat, at first full and later fitted; trousers with straps beneath the instep; a puffy cravat skillfully knotted to create an impression of deliberate negligence”.2Around 1860, sideburns also became popular among men. Beards and mustaches had strictly been ruled out before this time however, “primarily city gentlemen of fashion, began to sport mustaches”.3Shaving brushes and lather bowls played a prominent part in men’s lives. It was fashionable for men to have their initials stamped on them in gold.

In women’s fashions, the high-waisted Regency gowns of the early decades of the century gave way to hourglass silhouettes and tight corsets. Paris was the center for women’s fashions. Americaâs urban dressmakers modeled their clothes after Parisian fashion plates published in fashion magazines; while town and country seamstresses, in turn, copied urban creations. For men, London fashions were considered the epitome of good taste. Coats were made in dark colors, while vests (called waistcoats, as in Britain) were often bright or brightly decorated. Trousers were either black or light-colored, were close-fitting and were held up by suspenders. Materials for clothes and undergarments varied according to the climate and season. Materials like wool and cashmere were worn in cold weather, while warm weather brought clothing made from materials like cotton, linen and silk.


Both women and men generally wore shoes or boots, often brown or black, made of sturdy leather, suede or kid. Cloth was sometimes used, especially for womenâs formal slippers in warmer climates. Women wore elaborate hats, made or straw, or silk or satin. Mens beaver hats fell out of favor, which which cheaper hats made or straw or silk became popular. Until the late 1830s, men were usually clean-shaven. By the 1850s, however, few males past puberty could be found without facial hair. Beards, moustaches, and sideburns of many varieties became accepted as stylish signs of manliness.


On ordinary days, the wealthy and upper middle class wore simplified versions of their evening clothes. Working-class people wore much plainer, more durable clothes for daily living, saving their fancy clothes for religious services and for special social occasions. The poor, including African-American slaves, had to wear garments made of coarse, cheap material and designed for endurance rather than attractiveness or comfort.

Description – Dove gray calico frock with collar, cuffs, crushed belt of lavender organdie.

Hair should be worn parted in the center and pulled away from the face, rolled on the sides and pulled into a bun fairly low in the neck. Evening head dresses can be circlets, wreaths, or decorative combs with ribbons, flowers and feathers. Earrings should be dangles, brooches are often worn and short bead necklaces are appropriate, as well as gold bracelets; a matched pair of bracelets is especially fashionable. A small fan or small bouquet also make good accessories.

19th century news article – Hair in full bandeaux, fastened by a pearl comb, a cordon of the point passed across the brow, fastened by a single black rose and foliage. For a dinner dress, nothing could be more simple and elegant. It has a double skirt; the upper one is looped up with large bows of black velvet ribbon. The body is made round at the bottom, and finished with a draping of folds at the top. The sleeve is peculiar; it consists of a broad fold of the tarleton, plaited into the armhole, surmounted by an epaulette in black velvet, not compressed down to the arm, but adapting itself to the spread of the folds of the tarleton. Under all is a short, full sleeve, of sheer, white tarleton, which produces the best effect by the relief which it affords. The same dress is also made in white tarleton, having rows of white satin ribbon and white satin epaulette. This very pretty fabric has a peculiar advantage for evening wear, as it lights up remarkably well.

Evening-dress of White Tulle, trimmed with eleven narrow tulle flounces, edged with blonde and narrow currant-colored velvet. A tunic of spotted tulle is trimmed with a broader velvet, a long wreath of velvet flowers, and a large bow of velvet ribbon. The sleeves and the berthe, which is of a heart shape, are trimmed to correspond with the skirt. Wreath of green leaves and velvet flowers.

Evening-dress of White Crape. -The edge of the lower skirt is ornamented with a blue ribbon quilling. The upper skirt is festooned on one side with a large blue rosette. Blue satin opera cloak, trimmed with heavy cords and tassels, and bands of swan’s-down. Cleopatra wreath. DINNER DRESS OF WHITE EMBROIDERED MUSLIN, WITH THREE FLOUNCES; below each flounce is a plating of green ribbon. The sleeves and cape are trimmed to correspond with the skirt of the dress. Sash of green and white ribbon. Head-dress of green and white ribbon loops.

EVENING DRESS OF WHITE SILK. – The bottom of the skirt is finished with a puffing of white tulle. A white tulle dress is worn over the silk, and has two black lace flounces, each headed with a quilling of pink ribbon. The lower flounce is put on in festoons, in each of which is a medallion, composed of pink ribbon quillings and black lace, pink ribbon, and tulle. head-dress of black velvet loops and ends, pink roses and black lace. Dress of clear muslin, worn over a slip of clear silk, having the corsage low, and en cœur in front, demi-low at the back, and short sleeves. The corsage of the dress has the right side crossed over the left, and it has revers in the shawl form, lined with green silk and trimmed with narrow lace. The corsage is rather short-wasted, not pointed. Ceinture of green ribbon, with flowing ends, fastened in a bow on one side. The sleeves consist of four puffs of muslin, separated by rows of green ribbon. The lowest puff is finished by a band of green ribbon, beneath whish is a frill of white lace. In the inner part of the arm, a row of green ribbon passes up the whole length of the sleeve. The skirt is full and gathered in at the waist. A full and deep flounce, surmounted and edged by a bouillonné and a narrow flounce, trims the lower pert of the skirt at the back and sides. The two ends of this flounce, gradually diminishing in depth and fullness, pass up each side of the front as far as the waist. between them is a space, forming a tablier front, trimmed at the lower part with six narrow flounces, edged with green ribbon, and disposed in the form of a festoon.

1850s-1860s Chantilly lace came into fashion in the late 1850s and early 1860s and continued in popularity through the early 1900s. Made for summer wear, this pelerine or capelet of Chantilly lace features an attached hood for evening wear. It is elegant and light as a feather closing at the neckline with a wide bow of silk satin ribbon. The opera hood is made with a silk ribbon drawstring that draws up to the crown where it can be bowed, the excess lace forming a face framing ruffle. The hood is lined with a light weight silk chiffon.

One spectacular day dress dating to the mid Victorian period of the 1860s, during or just after the Civil War, is made of a sheer black fabric that appears to be a blend of silk and cotton with a woven stripe of purple satin and floral sprigs in yellow, red and green. The basque style bodice is trimmed at the yoke with a band of bias cut silk faille and a fringe of crimped silk braid. The same silk is found at the neckline and forms bows at the closure as well as on the cuffs and at the sides of the skirt where they anchor the horizontal pleats across the front. Vertical bands are also used across the pleated cuffs.

The bodice closes with Dorset buttons and is fully lined in medium brown cotton twill. Boning is found in the front of the bodice only. The set in sleeves are trimmed with narrow silk covered piping.

The skirt remains unlined and features a train in the back. Closure at the left side of the waist band is with hooks and eyes. Hemline is bound with woven wool tape.

The low, pointed waistline emphasized a thinner waist while organ pleats on the skirt lent a soft, even fullness. Worn over several stiff petticoats a dome like shape would have been achieved.

This dress most likely dates between 1846 and 1850. The sleeves appear to be the predecessor to the full pagoda sleeves that would become popular in the following decade. The bodice front and sleeve edge are trimmed with a moss green silk fringe and the sleeves, which are split at the wrist are also trimmed with narrow decorative cord attached to form a lattice in the open space.

The bodice is fully lined in natural cotton with boning at the center front. Closure is in the back with hooks and eyes. Piping has been used at the armscyes as well as the waistline where you will also find organ pleating. The skirt is unlined.

The fabric of this dress is an open-weave wool with a lattice pattern worked into the weaving. A pattern of floral vines is printed over the woven pattern. Floral prints began to find favor in the 1830s and by the 1840s were most popular for dressmaking. These prints were much less expensive than their woven counterparts and the patterns disguised spots and stains.

Shirts and cravats

Marcotte d’Argenteuil wears a high-collared shirt with a dark cravat, a buff waistcoat, a double-breasted brown coat with covered buttons, and a dark gray overcoat with contrasting collar (perhaps sealskin). 1810. His bicorne hat lies on the table. (1810) Wikipedia

A satire on French fashions of 1810 depicting three men in dress common for the times; lighter browns, tans and light colored greens were the colors of the day, long tight breeches or pantaloons, short coats with tails, and massive cravats. (based on Wikepedia)

Daniel la Motte, a Baltimore, Maryland merchant and landowner, strikes a romantic pose that displays details of his white waistcoat, frilled shirt, and fall-front breeches with covered buttons at the knee, 1812–13.

German physician Johann Abraham Albers wears a striped waiscoat under a black double-breasted coat, 1813.

Nicolas-Pierre Tiolier wears a rich blue tailcoat and brown fall-front trousers over w hite waistcoat, shirt, and cravat. His tall hat sits on a rock, 1817.

The man pictured wears a double-breasted tail coat with turned-back cuffs and a matching high collar of velvet (or possibly fur). Note that, while the man’s obvious wasp-like torso is not overly-emphasized in a caricature-like fashion, as was often the case in male fashion plates of the day, there is a definite and deliberate nipping of the waist. It is highly likely that the sitter in this portrait wore some sort of tight-laced corset or similar undergarment. The coat-sleeves are puffed at the shoulder. He wears a white waistcoat, shirt, and cravat, and light-colored pantaloons, 1819.

1860s Shirts of linen or cotton featured lower standing collars, occasionally turned down, and were worn with wide cravats or neck ties tied in several different ways:

  1. Around the neck, knotted in front and puffed up to hide the shirt collar and create a pigeon like neck
  2. Similar to the first version but tucked down into the waistcoat
  3. Around the neck and knotted into a bow tie
  4. The “Osbaldiston”, a barrel shape knot under the chin
  5. Knotted in a wide pointy bow. Dark cravats were popular for day wear and patterned ones were worn in the country.[1]

At this time, the dickey was introduced, a false shirt front usually made of satin. It was worn as an “intentionally messy” look. [4]

[edit] Coats and waistcoats

Frock coats (in French redingotes) were worn for informal day wear, were calf length, and might be double-breasted. Shoulders were narrower and slightly sloped. Waistcoats or vests were single- or double-breasted, with shawl or notched collars, and might be finished in double points at the lowered waist.

A cutaway morning coat was worn with light trousers for any formal daytime occasion; evening dress called for a dark tail coat and trousers.

A frockcoat was a tight fitting coat with the front cut up to the waistline, this was for casual wear. A vest replaces the waistcoat at this time, they were still very decorative with no collar. A pardessus for men was a large, black formal cape with a yoke across the shoulder line. A chesterfield was a calf-length, fur-lined coat, with a fur collar, cuffs and lapels. There was also no waistline seam.

[edit] Trousers

Full-length trousers had fly fronts. Breeches remained a requirement for formal functions at the British court (as they would be throughout the century). Breeches continued to be worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.

[edit] Hats and hairstyles

The crowns of tall hats were straighter than in the previous period, and grew taller on the way to the stovepipe shape of the 1850s. They were essential for formal occasions and in cities.

Wide-brimmed hats were worn outdoors in sunny climates. Curled hair and sideburns remained fashionable, along with moustaches.

Great related links – – A wonderful, comprehensive site with tons of information and visual examples of 19th Century fashion and more.  Here’s an overview from the site: At we analyse two centuries of women’s costume history and fashion history silhouettes in detail.  Regency, Romantic, Victorian, Edwardian, Flapper,1940’s Utility Rationing, Dior’s New Look, 1960’s Mini dress, 1970’s Disco, 1980’s New Romantics, Power Dressing, Haute Couture, Royal Robes, Fashion Semiotics, and Body Adornment, each retro fashion era, and future fashion trends are all defined.  We’ve also outlined the history of Jewellery, Perfumes, Cosmetics, Corsetry and Underwear manipulation of the body silhouette. Fashion history is a rich area to explore. The effects of past and present technology, changes in work, leisure, media and homelife that affect lifestyle trends, attitudes, fashion trends and shopping trendsetters are all covered in the various eras.

Newer sections such as hats, hair, cloaks and capes, ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman fashion history continue to explore and make this a great web fashion history and costume history resource.