What did women wear in the 1800s?

Beauty and Fashion

During the 1800s, women’s fashion underwent significant changes influenced by social, cultural, and political factors. This article provides a detailed analysis of the clothing worn by women during this era, exploring various subtopics such as everyday attire, formal wear, accessories, and notable trends. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of 19th-century women’s fashion!

1. Everyday Attire

Women’s everyday clothing in the 1800s consisted of a combination of undergarments, dresses, and outerwear. The typical silhouette of the era featured a high waistline and a full skirt, emphasizing a delicate and feminine figure.

1.1 Undergarments

Underneath their clothing, women wore multiple layers of undergarments to achieve the desired shape. These included:

  • Chemise: A loose-fitting, knee-length garment made of lightweight fabric, worn next to the skin for hygiene and to protect outer garments from sweat.
  • Corset: A tightly laced, boned garment that cinched the waist and lifted the bust, creating an hourglass shape. Corsets were typically made of whalebone or steel.
  • Petticoat: A voluminous underskirt made of cotton or linen, worn over the corset to provide additional fullness to the skirt.

1.2 Dresses

Dresses were the main component of women’s attire during the 1800s. They were typically made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton or silk and came in various styles:

  • Day Dresses: Simple, practical dresses with high necklines and long sleeves, suitable for everyday activities. They often featured small patterns or solid colors.
  • Evening Dresses: More elaborate and ornate dresses reserved for formal events. They had lower necklines, shorter sleeves, and were often made of luxurious fabrics like satin or velvet.
  • Riding Habits: Outfits designed specifically for horseback riding, consisting of a tailored jacket, a long skirt, and a hat.

1.3 Outerwear

Women in the 1800s relied on various types of outerwear to protect themselves from the elements. Some common examples include:

  • Shawls: Large, rectangular pieces of fabric draped over the shoulders and fastened with a brooch. Shawls provided warmth and added a touch of elegance to an ensemble.
  • Cloaks: Ankle-length outer garments with a cape-like design, often made of heavy wool or velvet. Cloaks were worn during colder seasons.
  • Spencers: Short jackets that reached the waist, typically worn over high-waisted dresses. They were made from various materials and offered both warmth and style.

2. Formal Wear

Formal occasions in the 1800s called for more elaborate and refined attire. Women dressed to impress, and their outfits often reflected the societal expectations of the time.

2.1 Ball Gowns

Ball gowns were the epitome of elegance and sophistication during the 1800s. These lavish dresses were designed to stand out and were worn to formal events such as balls and social gatherings.

Ball gowns typically featured:

  • Low Necklines: Revealing the décolletage and often adorned with lace or ruffles.
  • Voluminous Skirts: Made possible by multiple layers of petticoats and crinolines, creating a dramatic silhouette.
  • Rich Fabrics: Silk, satin, and velvet were commonly used, often embellished with embroidery or beading.

2.2 Evening Gloves

Gloves were an essential accessory for formal occasions. Women wore long gloves made of silk or kid leather, reaching up to the elbow. These gloves added elegance and completed the overall look.

2.3 Headwear

Women often adorned their heads with various types of headwear to complement their formal attire. Some popular options included:

  • Bonnets: Wide-brimmed hats tied under the chin, suitable for daytime events.
  • Tiaras and Hair Combs: Delicate and decorative pieces worn to hold up elaborate hairstyles.
  • Feathered Hats: Lavish hats adorned with feathers, flowers, or ribbons, popular for evening wear.

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3. Accessories

Accessories played a crucial role in completing a woman’s outfit during the 1800s. They added personal style and flair to the overall ensemble.

3.1 Parasols

Parasols were an essential accessory for women, providing protection from the sun while adding a touch of elegance. These umbrellas featured decorative handles and often matched the dress or outfit.

3.2 Fans

Fans were both practical and fashionable. Women used them to keep cool during warm weather or to discreetly convey messages in social settings. Fans were often made of delicate materials such as lace, silk, or feathers.

3.3 Jewelry

Jewelry was a symbol of wealth and status. Women in the 1800s adorned themselves with various types of jewelry, including:

  • Necklaces: Made of gold, pearls, or gemstones, necklaces added a touch of luxury to a woman’s neckline.
  • Earrings: Usually matching the necklace or other jewelry pieces, earrings were worn to frame the face.
  • Brooches: Decorative pins worn on dresses, shawls, or hats, often featuring intricate designs or gemstones.

The 1800s witnessed several notable fashion trends that shaped women’s clothing and style during the era. Let’s explore some of these trends:

4.1 Empire Waistline

The empire waistline, popularized by the French Empire period, featured a high waistline located just below the bust. This style emphasized a slim waist and a flowing, loose-fitting skirt, creating a neoclassical silhouette.

4.2 Gigot Sleeves

Gigot sleeves, also known as leg-of-mutton sleeves, were characterized by their voluminous appearance. These sleeves were wide at the shoulder and tapered down to a tight cuff at the wrist, creating a distinctive and dramatic effect.

4.3 Bloomers

The concept of bloomers emerged in the late 1800s as part of the women’s rights movement. Bloomers were loose-fitting trousers worn under shorter skirts, allowing women greater freedom of movement and challenging traditional gender norms.


1. What fabrics were commonly used in women’s clothing during the 1800s?

During the 1800s, women’s clothing was primarily made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton, silk, and muslin. For formal occasions, luxurious fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade were also used.

2. How did women achieve the desired silhouette in their dresses?

Women achieved the desired silhouette by wearing multiple layers of undergarments, including corsets, petticoats, and bustles. These undergarments helped create the fashionable hourglass figure of the time.

3. Were there any clothing restrictions based on social class?

Yes, social class played a significant role in determining the style and quality of clothing. Wealthier women had access to finer fabrics, intricate designs, and more extravagant accessories, while lower-class women often had to make do with simpler and more practical attire.

4. How long did it take for women to get dressed during this era?

Getting dressed in the 1800s was a time-consuming process, especially for women of higher social standing. It could take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to complete the dressing routine, depending on the complexity of the outfit and the assistance available.

5. Did women wear makeup during the 1800s?

Makeup was not widely accepted during the 1800s, and it was often associated with immoral behavior. However, some women discreetly used minimal amounts of cosmetics, such as powder and rouge, to enhance their complexion.

Absolutely! The fashion choices of royalty, such as Queen Victoria and Empress Eugénie, greatly influenced women’s fashion during the 1800s. Their preferences for certain styles, fabrics, and accessories were emulated by women across society.

7. How did fashion change towards the end of the 1800s?

Towards the end of the 1800s, fashion began to move away from the restrictive and exaggerated styles of earlier decades. Women’s clothing gradually became more comfortable and practical, reflecting the changing roles and increased mobility of women in society.


The fashion of 19th-century women was a reflection of the societal norms, cultural influences, and personal preferences of the time. From the everyday attire to the grandeur of formal wear, women’s clothing in the 1800s showcased both elegance and practicality. Understanding the intricacies of this era’s fashion allows us to appreciate the rich history and evolution of women’s style.

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