The Victorian Era And Women’s Corsets

The Victorian Era And Women’s Corsets

Corsets Victorian reached the height of their popularity and became an essential part of a woman's wardrobe In the Victorian era. The corset was worn by women of all ages and social classes, from working-class women to royalty. 


The corsets Victorian was designed to create an hourglass shape with a small waist, full bust, and hips.


Victorian Era And Women’s Corsets


The popularity of the Victorian corset fashion was due in part to the rise of industrialization, which made it possible to produce corsets on a large scale. This made the corset more affordable and accessible to women of all social classes. However, the corset also became a symbol of restrictive beauty standards and the oppression of women's bodies.


What is the Victorian Era?


The Victorian era in the history of the United Kingdom and the British Empire spanned from 20 June 1837 to 22 January 1901, during Queen Victoria's reign. It followed the Georgian era and preceded the Edwardian era, overlapping with the early part of the Belle Époque era in Continental Europe.


The Victorian era remains a captivating chapter in history, characterized by remarkable economic growth, cultural richness, and fashion evolution. The Industrial Revolution brought unprecedented progress, positioning Great Britain as an influential nation on the global stage.


While domestic policies ensured stability, international policies often stirred tensions through colonial expansion. The cultural advancements and flourishing middle class shaped the era, leaving a lasting legacy in the annals of history.


Fashion during the Victorian era


 underwent significant changes, evolving dramatically every decade. From the wide, bell-shaped skirts over crinolines to the figure-hugging styles in the 1870s, the fashion of the time was diverse and dynamic.


The introduction of the sewing machine and mechanical weaving during the Industrial Revolution revolutionized clothing production, making ready-made garments accessible to a broader audience and transforming society's dressing culture.


Let’s take a look at decades to decades of Victorian era Fashion and corsets



Victorian Era And Women’s Corsets


The 1820s and 30's between the Regency and Victorian fashion.


 1820s and 30's  fashion.


The 1820s and 30s marked a transition period between the Regency and Victorian fashion. During this time, the high empire waist of the Regency era gradually lowered by about an inch each year. To adapt to the new fashion, existing gowns were altered with wide waistbands.


In the mid-twenties, the waist returned to its natural position, and slim figures became fashionable again, leading to the resurgence of corsets. 


Dresses featured ankle-length skirts, sometimes padded with animal hair for shape, and were paired with "leg-o-mutton" sleeves, which required padding or boning for support.


The preferred silhouette was broad shoulders, a slim waist, and a full skirt, while evening and ball gowns remained low-cut and short-sleeved. Colorful and decorated clothes replaced the previous trend of pure white and pastel shades, with chintz becoming popular in the 1830s.


This era coincided with the peak of the Romantic Movement, leading women to be inspired by the heroines of romantic fiction and historical novels.


 Consequently, they sought to emulate the fashion of past centuries, such as wearing Elizabethan ruffs. In Germany, this time was referred to as Biedermeier.

During the Victorian era, it was customary for individuals to change their attire several times a day, including morning and dinner outfits. Different dresses were designed for various activities and parts of the day, but this wide variety was mainly accessible to women of a certain income level.


The available options included the dressing gown, morning dress, day dress, visiting dress, afternoon dress, walking costume, carriage dress for open carriage drives, riding habits, dinner and evening attire, ball gowns, and the Full-Dress toilette for formal occasions at court.


1837 – 1849: The Era of Corsets and crinolines Fashion


By the 1840s, the oversized leg-o-mutton sleeves were replaced by tight-fitting ones. Women wore long corsets that rounded the bust, cinched the waist and stomach, shaped the hips, and concealed other undergarments like chemises. These corsets were crafted from hardwearing cotton and hand-sewn, often incorporating busks made of materials like wood or metal for a smooth line.


Corset, 1840

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Techniques like boning and cording provided additional support, and boning was made from flexible yet supportive baleen, also known as whalebone. The corsets were laced from the back through metal eyelets, allowing for a tighter fit. They featured discreet shoulder straps to remain hidden under sweeping necklines, and down-filled pads supported puffed sleeves.


As fashion evolved, skirts became even wider, supported by crinolines – bell-shaped hoop-skirts initially stiffened with horsehair, later made of steel rings and fastened around the waist with bands.


This created an optical illusion of a smaller waist due to the contrast between the wide skirt and padded bodice with big sleeves and a wide neckline. The appearance of an extra slim waist was not solely achieved by tightly lacing the corset.


1850s and 1860s: From cage crinolines to steam-molded corsets.

Source: The Clark Sisters, ca. 1850


The 1850s and 1860s ushered in transformative changes in women's fashion, fueled by technological innovations such as the invention of aniline purple dye and the widespread use of sewing machines. The introduction of aniline purple, later known as mauve, revolutionized the color palette available to eager clients seeking dresses in vibrant and novel shades.


The adoption of sewing machines led to a surge in clothing mass production, not sparing the undergarment industry. Manufacturers seized this opportunity to diversify their offerings, crafting a myriad of corsets covered in strikingly colorful silks, catering to a wider range of customers, including those with more modest means.


Yet, the most revolutionary innovation of the 1850s was the advent of the cage crinoline. Its flexible, lightweight design eliminated the need for cumbersome petticoats, providing robust support to the burgeoning, wider skirts. Sewing machines played a crucial role in mass-producing cage crinolines at a significantly lower cost, rendering them more affordable to a broader audience.



This, in turn, led to a widespread fascination with ever-larger skirts, giving rise to the 'Crinoline mania,' a craze immortalized by Punch magazine.

Nonetheless, the popularity of cage crinolines was not without its challenges. Women had to adapt to walking and sitting gracefully without inadvertently revealing their ankles or underclothes.


Moreover, the voluminous skirts, often crafted from highly flammable fabrics, posed safety hazards around open fires, further demanding heightened caution from wearers. However, the allure of the springy structure proved irresistible to most, outweighing the inconveniences of layers of petticoats.


As the 1860s progressed, corsets, too, evolved in tandem with the rise of cage crinolines. The emphasis shifted to accentuating the hips while the waistline rose, following the natural contours of the smallest part of the torso.


The adoption of front and back fastening, loop, and stud front fastenings, and back lacing facilitated ease of dressing, making corsetry more accessible to women who could not afford domestic help.



In the late 1860s, the fashion industry witnessed another revolutionary development: steam molding, introduced by Edwin Izod. This innovative technique produced stiffer, more rounded corsets, sculpting the desired hourglass shape. Starched corsets were left to dry on steam-heated copper torso forms, perfectly mimicking the fashionable silhouette of the time.



The 1870s and 1880s The Bustle spotlight

 


By the 1870s and 1880s, the spotlight was on the bustle, a distinct undergarment supporting skirts that no longer relied on crinolines. Bustles, ingeniously sculpted with pleats and ruffles, projected below the waist, creating striking cascading trains. A plethora of bustle styles catered to different activities and times of the day, ensuring versatility and elegance in women's fashion choices.


Back in the late 1860s, the crinoline was all the rage, but eventually, it gave way to the bustle.


The 1880s and 1890s Second Bustle Era

 


The fashion shifted from a bell-shaped silhouette to a straight and projecting one at the back. This bustle style dominated until the 1770s, and then it took a break, only to return with a bang during the Second Bustle Era around 1882.


In those times, you'd see women wearing either a cage bustle, as shown in the picture, or bustle pads, which were padded pillows tied around their waists, creating volume and drama in the back of their skirts. And oh boy, the dresses were a sight to behold!


Consisting of two pieces - the skirt and the jacket-style bodice, they were adorned with lavish embellishments down to the tiniest detail. It was pure elegance!

Fast forward to 1874, and the bustle vanished in favor of a slim and figure-hugging silhouette known as the 'natural form'. Hoopskirts and padding were thrown out the window, and skirts became narrow, making a bold statement.


The bodice was lengthened, draping over the hips to achieve that smooth look. These skirts were not short of extravagance, adorned with ruffles, ruches, lace, tassels, and silk flowers. Some even trailed into a train, while others gracefully touched the floor, making walking a breeze.


Now, imagine the shoulders being narrow, the sleeves fitting like a glove, and the hairstyles reaching for the sky to support this slim and pillar-like silhouette. It was all about sophistication!


But, as fashion often does, the style took another turn in 1882, and the bustle re-emerged, making skirts wide at the back once more. Change is inevitable, right?

Fashion has a way of surprising us, bringing back the classics, and innovating with new trends. From crinolines to bustles and everything in between, the world of fashion has seen it all. So, let's embrace each era with open arms, as we gracefully sway through the pages of history, forever in style!




The 1890s and 1901s: Bustles go, corsets stay 

 


During this era, the Victorian moralistic sensibilities and the extravagant materialism of the Gilded Age for the upper class gradually waned. At the same time, the Second Industrial Revolution and the emerging era of women's increased freedom gained momentum, influencing wardrobe choices across societal classes with the empowerment of technology and progressive attitudes.


In the beginning, women's clothing concealed them entirely, from neck to fingertip to toe, resembling the birdcage crinoline frocks of the Civil War era. However, the introduction of the bustle in the 1880s gradually replaced the petticoat-supporting hoop frames, giving women a prominent bustle that fluffed up the back of their dresses, creating an ostrich-like silhouette. Although the bustle persisted into the early 1890s, it eventually diminished and vanished by the end of the decade.


Another fashion element making a comeback from 60 years earlier was the gigot sleeve, originally seen in Georgian women's fashion. The gigot sleeve, voluminous at the top and fitting progressively down the arm to the wrist, evolved during the 1890s into a full-fledged, meaty leg-of-mutton shape by 1895.


This trend was inspired by the rise of the electric light bulb, and the fashion industry used the advent of electricity, which amplified the potential of the power loom and the electric sewing machine, to dictate new dress codes. Different ensembles were prescribed for each time of the day, reflecting the extended hours for evening activities made possible by electric light.


Fashion magazines like Harper's Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal, and Vogue, along with local newspapers, became commonplace during the 1890s. They featured fashion illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, depicting aspirational images of ideal femininity embodied by the renowned Gibson girls.


These women embraced the latest fashion trends, exuded confidence, and actively participated in social and sportive activities alongside men.

As the decade drew to a close, twice as many women entered the workforce, leading to the soaring popularity of shirtwaist ensembles and less restrictive women's suits. However, the corset remained a staple, with the S-bend corset gaining popularity for creating the illusion of a bustle.


Reformed corset options included 'ribbon' corsets, constructed using strips of fabric, as well as stays crafted predominantly from Aertex, a loosely woven cotton textile available in various qualities. Both styles offered increased flexibility and ventilation. Additionally, corsets tailored for maternity became more accessible, featuring features like openings at the bust.


This trend mirrored certain developments in women's underwear, which continued to shape fashionable body ideals while becoming less structurally constraining in the 20th century.


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