Changing Culture And Technology
There were two major events that shaped the fashion of the century: the rise of the middle class and the Industrial Revolution.
The ending of the French Revolution in 1799 kicked off the 1800s with one hell of a bang! The French aristocracy fell after one of the most brutal peasant/farmer uprisings in history. This rejection of nobility and extravagance caused a ripple effect in fashion throughout the entire world. The utter indulgence of 18th century fashion didn’t completely disappear, but it was toned down considerably.
Around the same time, the British would pioneer the mass production of goods, kicking off the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing and prices improved, and the middle class could now afford clothes that used to belong exclusively to the rich; like wedding dresses, children’s clothing, and bathing suits.
So what were the hallmarks of fashion from this century? Here are a few.
Hoop Skirt Dresses
For much of the early 1800s, women’s dresses flared up from the waist downwards to give themselves a more voluptuous profile. They put large wire or wooden hoops beneath their dresses, which fluffed up the skirts. However, this made them a nightmare to sit in – so women switched to trailing dresses by the end of the century.
Owning a coat wasn’t just a sign of comfort, but wealth. They were made of expensive fur and lining that conveyed a man’s social status. Military garb heavily inspired most of the designs, making long coats and greatcoats (like you see the Russians wear) very popular.
A light fabric worn by men and women in the mid to late 1800s, this was the direct ancestor to women’s blouses today. It was simple compared to the frilly dresses and coats that most women wore; which made it fashionable for those trying to buck the trend. After the revolutions that spread across Europe, it became a widely accepted mode of dress for the working woman and for the active school girl.
Some forward-thinking ladies of the time shied away from the hoop dresses and bustles, opting for a more relaxed, flowy look with loose dresses. Made of sheer muslin fibre, the togas and robes worn by the Greeks and Romans heavily inspired these dresses. Women would usually have two kinds of these dresses – one reserved for entertaining guests, and another for an evening or morning engagement.
While this was more of a hit during the 20th and 21st century, the first time choker necklaces actually appeared was during the 1870s! Queen Alexandra of Wales popularised this accessory, as she wore jewelled collars to hide a scar on her neck. Less well-off citizens substituted a plain velvet collar tied high around the neck a simple brooch or jewel would offset.
Before 1800, men used to wear breeches: tight pants that hug the legs. For obvious reasons, this was uncomfortable for men to wear for long periods of time – so the looser, easier to wear trousers became vogue. Since mass production of trousers became easier later in the century it became the preferred method of dress for most men.
Between Then And Now
1800s fashion spanned a wide period of different movements and trends influenced by the rapidly changing social landscape. It was a strange mix of old and new, and some pieces have really stood the test of time! If you’re feeling brave, why not incorporate a bit of 1800’s style into your wardrobe today?