19th Century Fashion: Part One

I love historical fashion. I know. Shock. Take a moment to recover, please.

All right, that’s enough. But, lucky for YOU ALL LOVELY READERS, I’ve decided to combine my love of historical fashion and my blogging so that you also can have the benefit of learning more about clothing. No, it has nothing to do with helping cement my own knowledge by having to repeat it here in public, where more expertly experts can tell me I’m wrong. It’s all for you.

And on that note, I thought I’d start with a quick overview of 19th century fashion in general. Because that is, after all, my preferred century. Go much before 1790 and I haven’t any clue, and much after 1915 and I haven’t any interest (unless we are talking the evening gowns from the 40s and 50s! Whatever possessed us to give up wearing those works of art?!). So, on that note, I might talk a little before and after 19th century, but that would make for a very long blog title, so you’ll just have to bear with my slight inaccuracy.

Also, quick overview is a relative term. How on earth am I supposed to narrow down what’s important? No wonder there are so many books on historical fashion. I have so many on my Amazon list that if ever I am fortunate enough to get them, I’ll need a bookcase just for fashion. Ah, the things dreams are made of.

Okay, I really will try to make this brief now. And, yes, of course I’m pulling this information from books and websites, that I will, of course, cite at the bottom of the post. You know what? I’ll even cut it in half to make it shorter. And then you get the joy of TWO POSTS giving an overview of 19th century fashion!

Super Quick Overview (Seriously)

1800 – 1810ish: Classical

  • Attempting to capture ancient Greece or Rome
  • Medium to high-waisted, depending on year
  • Vertical, clean lines with loose, but slim skirts that required only one petticoat; some trains
  • Either short, puffed sleeves or long narrow sleeves
  • Typically low necklines, sometimes used with a tucker or chemisette
  • Muslin was the favored material
  • Shawls, Pelisses, and Spencers
  • Reticules, Bonnets, and Gloves

1810ish – 1820ish: Still Classical

  • All the same as the above except:
  • Skirts became more triangular and any trains disappeared
  • Fuller and wider sleeves
  • Elaborate trimmings began appearing
  • Cottons and silks became more popular than muslin

1820ish – 1830ish: Gothic/Romance

  • Waist dropped to natural
  • Sleeve widened until they reached gigot or Leg-of-mutton sleeves (apparently, some even needed whalebones to support the shape!)
  • Skirts continued to widen until they reached a bell shape, and the hemline slowly went to ankle length
  • Lots of tucks, frills, flounces, laces, ribbons etc.
  • Neckline levels varied
  • bonnets and hats became larger and wider and much beribboned
  • Pelisses and mantles, along with fur muffs

1830ish – 1840ish: Romance

  • Dresses changed drastically from the beginning of the decade to the end.
  • Beginning of the decade was filled with ornamentation and huge sleeves, and the latter began moving to a drooping, demure profile
  • Full sleeves dropped to the lower arm
  • Necklines lowered to off the shoulder lines
  • Bodice slowly increased sloping lines, pointed angles
  • Skirt widened and lengthened, eventually to the ground
  • Belts, brooches, drop earrings
  • Bonnets went from a high crown to close-fitting, concealing the face
  • Mantles, Pelisses, Capes, and Shawls

1840ish – 1850ish: Gothic

  • Styles turned more demure, strict, severe, and “pure”
  • Bodice was long-waisted, had a sharp point that slowly moved to a rounded curve. Also fuller with pleats.
  • Full, dome skirt that increased to sevenish petticoats by the end of the decade and touched the ground
  • Sleeves moved to narrow and tight fitting during the day, often with sleeve caps
  • Evening dresses had short, tight sleeves, often with Bertha lace collars
  • Neckline was commonly V-shaped, at least during the day but eventually moved to high and rounded
  • Pelerines, mantles, coats, shawls
  • Bonnet was close fitting with brim that was so far forward it obscured vision

Until next time!


19th century | Fashion History Timeline. “19th Century | Fashion History Timeline,” n.d.

Peacock, John. Costume 1066 to the Present 3e: A Complete Guide to English Costume Design and History, 2006.

Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations. Dover Fashion and Costumes Ser., 1991.

“Https://Tessa.Lapl.Org/C03,” n.d.

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