Women’s fashions of the 19th century can be divided into two basic categories – Regency and Victorian. The Regency era ushered in the century and is named after George Prince Regent of Britain who took over his father’s duties after George III fell into mental illness. The Victorian era refers to the time during the reign of Queen Victoria, crowned in 1837. The Victorian period of style lasted for the rest of the 19th century.
Women’s fashion of the Regency era is typified by the Empire style dress; a high waisted dress made of lightweight fabrics based on classical Greek design. By 1825, waistlines lowered toward the natural waist and bodices became stiff, losing the softness of the early part of the century. Women began to wear corsets, a tight fitting undergarment that lasted throughout the 1800’s. Toward the end of the Regency era of fashion, skirts took on an A-line or bell shape with ruffles, puffs, and padding at the hem in a look that is known as Romantic style, or Regency Romantic.
The advent of the tight fitting bodice and the accentuation of a tiny waist ushered in a new shift in skirts. Skirts took on a dome shape created by cartridge pleats so that the skirt stood out from the body. In the mid 1800’s, skirts widened, and were supported by petti-coats. Women took to wearing several layers of petticoats to attain greater volume. Crinoline were a form of petti-coat made of a stiff, heavy fabric. The crinoline cage created even more volume and characterized mid century Victorian fashion with the huge skirts pictured in films like “Gone With the Wind.”
Later in the century, skirts began to slim down. An over-skirt was added and drawn back create a puffed effect and draped down the back. This accentuation of the posterior was highlighted by a bustle. A bustle is a pad at the rear, supported by a waistband The exaggerated fashion trend increased in proportion until skirts took on a large, shelf-like appearance in 1880.
Toward the end of the 19th century, skirts slimmed down. Sleeves increased in size, ballooning at the top and tapering toward the wrists in what is called a leg-of-mutton sleeve. The corset fell out of favor, criticized as being unhealthy and unnatural to be replaced by the S bend corset, or health corset which created a new silhouette and new look for the Edwardian Age.
For more information on Regency fashions, read this article that includes lovely pictures – http://hubpages.com/hub/Fashion-History-Early-19th-Century-Regency-and-Romantic-Styles
For more information on Victorian fashion including pictures and fashion details read – http://hubpages.com/hub/Fashion-History-Victorian-Costume-and-Design-Trends-1837-1900-With-Pictures
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