Talk about the Victorian era and you find yourself thinking of a parallel world; a world that brings a fascination for the old. But old with a certain grace and manner, with literature and Romanticism, elaborate dresses, and beautiful countryside. This period that lasted from June 1837 to January 1901 under the reign of Queen Victoria, contributed immensely to the history of fashion.
What Victorian Era Gave to Fashion
Coco Chanel was once quoted saying, "Fashion changes, but style endures." The Victorian style has endured and how! It taught women around the world to dress with elegance. The industrial revolution during this period brought with it a major revolution to the way clothes were made. They resembled what is today known as haute couture and became a symbol of the wearer's social status.
The Magic of Corsets
Fashion was influenced by what a woman wore underneath. The garments gave form to fashion. The hourglass figure was enhanced. A tiny waist, fuller skirt and dresses that projected out from behind were some of the important characteristics. We, as women, are familiar to corsets and the magic they can work. In spite of the criticism that they received during the Victorian era, corsetry was a popular practice.
Rigid corsets helped a woman to achieve the desired shape and form and also concealed the layers of garments worn below. In order to give the bodice a smooth line, a strip of wood or steel was inserted through the center of the corset, in front. To add more structure, sometimes, strips of whalebone were also used.
The Victorian era is proof that women found themselves enslaved by fashion. Fainting, damage to internal organs and complications during pregnancy were just a few of the negative effects on the fairer sex. The Victorian lady created an illusion of her clothing being comfortable while wearing numerous layers of petticoats, underclothes, toght corset made of whalebone and steel, etc. Shakespeare's words, "clothes make the man", found their literal influence in this era.
A woman's outfit was symbolic to her character. An underlying purpose was served by the layers of garments worn inside - it made the process of undressing a tedious one!
Keep It Stylish
Style itself went through changes during this period. The initially popular puffy "mutton sleeves" were eventually replaced by fitted ones followed by the bell sleeves. Skirts, too, evolved as the years progressed. In the beginning, skirts were worn with layers of petticoats beneath. Crinolines made of silk and horsehair fabric were among one of the layers.
Then came the hoop skirts, which were later replaced by bustled ones. Bustled skirts added fullness, particularly at the back. Bustles were worn at the back just below the waist. A hump-like shape was achieved behind, similar to the curve of the bust in front. In addition to these came the bell and dome-shaped skirts.
Fashion does not stop at clothes. Accessories play an equally important role in getting the perfect look. Women during the Victorian era were well aware of this fact. Hand fans, gloves and parasols were among a woman's favorite accessories. Gloves added a graceful touch to an outfit. Hats and bonnets were widely used to complete the look. Feathers, flowers, embellishments and pins were used in the decoration.
A respectable woman never stepped out of the house bareheaded. Along with elaborate hats, hairstyling, too, was given equal attention. Queen Victoria often adorned her hairdo with flowers. French hairstyles and curls were a favorite with women back then. Chignons were largely used and it was common to use fake hairpieces to up the glamor quotient. Makeup was considered as sinful during those days. However, with time, shades of pink and other colors close to natural skin tone came into use. Satin and silk footwear with small heels, lace tie-up boots and pumps were used to set the best foot forward.
Why Should Women Have All the Fun
Victorian fashion was not limited to the fairer sex. Men, too, had a characteristic style of dressing. The male dressing style, however, did not see radical but only subtle changes. Men started wearing shirts as opposed to frock coats and vests. Three-piece suits gained popularity as also the tuxedo came to be worn in formal settings. Men's clothing was casual and relaxed. A pair of well-tailored pants, fitted shirt, a tie/scarf, an overcoat, a hat and polished shoes defined a gentleman's look.
It may seem absurd to dress the Victorian way on a regular basis today. However, several characteristics of this era can be used along with a modern touch to get the contemporary look. Raid your mother and grandmother's closets for accessories to achieve the Victorian fashion style. Go Victorian and bring out the elegant lady within!