Fashion History

6 Crazy Facts about Victorian Fashion Etiquette

Women would change their clothes multiple time a day

If you were a middle to an upper-class woman in the Victorian Era you wouldn’t go a day wearing just one outfit. Due to the strict etiquette regarding what outfits were appropriate for different occasions, many women would change their clothes multiple times a day.

Women would start with a morning dress which was a relatively comfortable dress that they could wear to meet with their housekeeper or morning visitors. The dress although comfortable by Victorian standards it could still be incredibly structured and constricting, although it did usually have a simpler design.

If a woman felt like going for a stroll in the park, she would change out of her morning dress and into her walking dress. They had shorter skirts and normally lacked a train which allowed more freedom to move. Walking dresses were usually made of richer fabrics that were intended to be admired by passers-by as they were taking their daily stroll.

When women returned home from their daily walk, they would change into dress number 3, the afternoon dress. Afternoon dresses were worn when they were receiving visitors or visiting others. The skirts had a longer train than the afternoon dress and the neckline was usually lower. The dresses varied in formality as the more formal dresses were saved for those visitors of a higher rank.

Once you return home from visiting or when your guests have left, women would change into their dinner dresses, which were even more formal than the other dresses. Skirts would touch the ground all the way around and the dresses were usually made from silk, satin or velvet.

But the most splendid dress in a Victorian Ladies wardrobe was the evening dress or ballgown. The sleeves were short and the trains were long, sometimes 65 inches in length. Trains could be pinned up for dancing and fabric varied depending on the wearer’s taste and wealth.

Women had to follow strict Mourning Rules

Victorian society became incredibly morbid after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. This prompted Queen Victoria to set a fashionable standard for mourning. The Victorians had strict rules regarding mourning, especially for women and it not only included dress but how they should behave and who they could interact with. If one was to ignore these rules it was seen as incredibly offensive to the deceased.

If a husband died, his widow would mourn for about 2 years, while mourning for parents and children lasted for a year. Relatives such as grandparents and siblings would only get six months mourning.

Queen Victoria had favored black crepe and it became one of the only fabrics that were permissible for mourning. Luxurious silks and satins weren’t permissible and women would often wear merino or cashmere instead. No jewelry or ornamentation was permitted unless it served a functional purpose such as buttons or clasps.

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Victorian Mourning Dress (public domain)

Going without gloves was a massive no-no

Gloves during the Victorian period were incredibly fashionable for upper and middle-class women. But they were more than a fashionable accessory, gloves were an absolute social necessity. The rules of etiquette at the time didn’t allow women to go out in public with uncovered hands, showing your hands was basically the same as showing too much cleavage to the Victorians.

Because of this rule, gloves were made for every conceivable occasion or activity. During the day, ladies generally wore short gloves that varied in fabric, decoration and even embroidery. For evening wear women usually gloves made of black filet, however, white versions existed as well. The evening gloves would usually be decorated with satin ribbons and trimmings of flowers, feathers or cord.

Tight-lacing was popular to get that 16-inch waist

During the Victorian Era, corsets reached the most extreme that they had ever been. As a result, ladies would squeeze themselves into tight corsets, crushing their internal organs, all to gain the exaggerated hourglass appearance that had become fashionable.

Previously corsets had been merely supportive and could be quite comfortable but during the industrial revolution, corset manufacturing had become more sophisticated and they were now finished with metal eyelets. This allowed the practice of tight lacing to flourish and women such as Empress Elisabeth of Austria could reduce their waist circumference to a mere 16 inches!

They would wear a crinoline cage to make their skirts massive

From the 1850s, an extreme hourglass shape became popular among women, and this resulted in an extreme version of the shape that was made possible by the crinoline cage.

The crinoline originally emerged as a petticoat, usually made from horsehair which held out the skirt from the body. As the industrial revolution progressed the wire crinoline cage was invented which provided a solution to the growing wideness of the skirts that had become even more popular in the 1850s.

 

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Wearing Crinoline Cages would make their skirts massive! (public domain)

Forget about makeup

The attitude towards makeup in the Victorian period was incredibly negative, Queen Victoria even once denounced it as impolite.

Makeup was believed at the time to be only used by actresses and prostitutes, two professions that were considered to be unladylike and improper. Although being seen buying or using makeup would be criticized this didn’t mean that women didn’t use any at all, they were just more subtle about it. Instead of using makeup, many women would use DIY skincare in order to achieve that enviable glow.

Bibliography

Matthews, Mimi. A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2015.

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