We love historical dramas, both on TV and on the big screen, and the producers know it. Over the last few years production companies and streaming services flouded the market with new series that follow the lives of famous historical characters or created fictional stories that take place in older days. But, except for the general interest in history, it seems like the upper-class British lives specifically capture our interest. From Downton Abbey to The Crown and Victoria, we are fascinated by their royalty livestyle combined with the events of the era. One of the things that stands out in these shows visually is the unique fashion, that exudes class and elegance, that is quite frankly almost completely lacking today. So let us take you back in time to when corsets and top hats ruled.
The Victorian Fashion developed in the British Empire throughout the Victorian era, which stretches roughly from 1830s through the 1910s. Under Queen Victoria's rule, England enjoyed a positive economical shift, which manifested itself partly in mass production of sewing machines and other technological advancements. Those allowed clothes to be produced faster and for less money. Many new trends emerged for both men and women, especially for the high-class, which distinguished them even further from the lower classes in society.
The dress styles were also a reflection of the social gender gap that became wider during this era. In earlier centuries, with a less stable economy, women worked alongside man and so their clothes were alot less about elegance and more about comfort. However, with the improvement in the economic status of the empire, women became much more active in the homes, and hence their clothes were there mostly to reflect on their lifestyle and social status, as opposed to be fit for work. A few elements that were prevalent in that time were:
- Bertha Neck-line: a low shoulder neck-line that exposed women's shoulders and typically was trimmed over with lace flounce or draped with fabric pleats. If this style sounds a bit revealing to you, you are right. The people in the Victorian Era thought so too, but only when it came to working class women. Hence, this neck-line became a status symbol for the upper and middle class ladies.
- Corsets: as opposed to eras where fuller body types meant wealth, the Victorian Era idolized the smaller waists and hence was extensively known for the use of boning corsets that create a slim silhouette.
- Sleeves: sleeves went through quite a bit of transformation along the era. In the beginning, to fit with the corset's style of slimness, the sleeves where also slim and tight to create an over-all smaller figure. However, in time, due in part to lack of comfort and in part to the crinolines that started to develop in fashion and gave the skirts a more structured shape, women started wearing large bell-like sleeves.
- Skirts: the shapes and structures of skirts changed quite a bit throughout the era. In the beginning, the skirts were supported by light fabrics, creating a fairly light and slim look to the outfit. Later, the crinolines came in and along with them the more puffed up skirts, which were very heavy and included many layers of petticoats to create a beehive shape. Once it was realized that the weight was too much for the women to carry around their waists, they came up with the cage crinoline, which maintained the beehive shape, but without the heavy weight. Eventually, the trend moved towards tournures and bustles that were used to emphasize the back of a women's dress.
For men, the Victorian era was not as depleted with fashion trends' changes as it was for women. This is probably in part due to the fact that their role in society pretty much stayed the same. They wear very basic lines and dark colors throughout the era. The importance of a slim waist line was also applicable to men and they too wore corsets. Later those were replaced with loose jackets. For men it was also about the accessories that helped to distinguish the high-class from the lower class. While the lower class wore bowler hats, the higher class normally went for the top-hats. The frock coats were also popular, as well as bows. Around the 1870s the three-piece suits became the new hot thing and by the end of 1880s, men started to sport balzers for outdoor activities.
As you can tell, we moved quite a bit from the Victorian era in terms of fashion and style, especially the women. But the fascination with it is far from gone. Therefore, it is no wonder that many fashion designers today draw inspiration from that time in history and try to incorporate elements of it in their present designs. This is just an intorduction into this marvellous fashion style and there is of course much more you can explore. For now, keep enjoying those movies and TV series that give you the opportunity to feel as if you are part of this era, even if only for the duration of the 60min long episode.