As you flip through the pages of Dickens’ Great Expectations or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, you simply cannot miss out on beholding and adoring the elegant, gorgeous gowns that the women of the contemporary age wore. Victorian women, with their staunch personalities and unconventional disposition and demeanor, had emerged as independent, mature souls, doing away much with the flippancy and impudence of the women of Restoration era.
The grand attires were true reflections of such predilections that these free minds nurtured and formed an integral part of their lives at social gatherings, balls, weddings and in the various walks of life. Get a peek into the gaudy world of fashion that raved the men and women towards the culmination of the 19th century.
A Brief Insight into Fashion Prior to the 1890s
As a natural outcome of the advent of the sewing machine, haute couture, soft polonaise bustles and ball gowns emphasizing the bust line and the beautiful silhouettes of the shapely figurines of Victorian women became a craze throughout the whole of Europe. The excessive frills, apron skirts and braided upholstery turned out to be hot favorites among women.
During the 1880s these elaborate styles gave way to the Princess sheath and Cuirasse Bodice that clung to the slim silhouettes and enhanced the beauty and bounty of the stunning ladies. The Hard Bustle was a queer, yet luxurious addition to the already gaudy embellishments with a sudden protuberance at the back, bringing forth the exuberant hind portions to prominence. Towards the late Victorian age, fashion had taken a subtler shape, endowing the garments with more precision and perspicuity.
1895- The Great Leap
Interestingly, the change in the styles of apparels in women towards the end of the Victorian Age is suggestive of the redemption and opening up of the ethereal minds. While the magnanimous and lavish embellishments still adorned their trim bodies, there was a shift in the preference towards more comfortable, free and invigorating accouterments. The year 1895 and after saw an inimitable innovation in the genre of women’s wear in the form of the white, brisk blouse, a jacket of bolero-length to compliment and augment the upper portion and the toe-length skirt. The Hard Bustle of the 1880s was superseded by pleats, a definitely more comfy make-over to the previous bounteous gowns.
Wondering what made way for such drastic transformations from opulence to finesse and comfort? This was an obvious consequence of the newly gained emancipation of women who, no longer remained in the confinements of the four walls and came out in the open to breathe life afresh and enjoy its motley of activities like cycling and traveling around the lush countryside. Talking about sports in the 1890s, women began sporting the bloomers which were meant for bicycling and playing tennis, a close replica of the Turkish trousers. These shorter length skirts along with the shirtwaist became the garbs for the daytime when they indulged in such activities, while the long trailed skirt and square décolletage were donned for the evening gatherings.
The Magnificent Mutton Sleeves
A unique innovation in the ensembles of women during the 1895 was the mutton sleeves which were lauded greatly by the independent women. Called so because of their queer shapes like the chops of mutton bones, puffed up considerably at the upper portions of the sleeves and narrowing down to a tightened grip at the elbows, these mutton sleeves became favored raiment of Victorian women’s wardrobes.
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With time, these sleeves were incorporated in the blouses as well, thus doing away with the need for donning jackets atop them. The concept of Power Dressing among women was also seen in a refined manner in those times as a way of showcasing their abilities as being at par with the men of the era.
The Victorian Men
If women got the opportunities to flaunt their shapely silhouettes with the ample apparel options, men of the Victorian Age were not left far behind either. The strong, svelte, athletic physiques were bedecked with shirts accompanied by shirt collars, jackets and blazers, while the trousers were apt apparels for both formal and informal wears. During 1895, the former dark colored frock coats were replaced by more sober, stylish, light-hued suits in brown and gray. The sack coat was a preferred garment with men of this time. The blazer was donned during participating in sports or simply as a casual wear. The Norfolk Jacket along with breeches were just befitting attires for men who were aficionados of adventure and went about golfing, shooting or cycling amidst the rugged terrains.
Evening gatherings were formal meetings and thus witnessed men in their formal costumes, namely, the dark colored tail coat, a waistcoat and white shirt augmented with a winged tie. The casual striped trousers were frequented by men at picnics or casual occasions and were customized according to the increasing activities that both the sexes indulged in at these times. The cold winter seasons embraced the top-coats which reached the knee and over-coats going till the calves. The Ascot Tie as well as the former bow tie were fitting accompaniments in the day dresses.
Trendy and aristocratic as they were both Victorian men and women hardly remained gratified by accentuating their figures. The headgears and other accessories found equal importance in their fashionable world. At weddings, social gatherings or casual trifling, hats formed an integral part of their décor. The opulent hair of women was tied up in a bun, while the locks enhanced the beauty.
Floral hats as well as colossal hats adorned with colorful bows and ribbons complimented the grand attires, while men remained satisfied with the smart top hats as formal head dresses. Straw hats were likewise put on when they went on casual errands or for adventurous outings. White gloves enveloped the hands of men and women alike at formal gatherings.
As the Victorian Age moved towards its end, so too did Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s domination over all aspects including the dress designs, ultimately culminating into the Edwardian Corsetry of the La Belle Époque.