What People Wore in the 1850s

Beauty and Fashion


The 1850s marked a significant period in fashion history, as it witnessed the transition from the elaborate styles of the Victorian era to the more streamlined and practical designs of the later 19th century. This article explores the various garments and accessories worn by men and women during this decade, providing an in-depth understanding of the fashion trends and social influences that shaped their clothing choices.

Women’s Fashion

1. Silhouette and Dress Styles

During the 1850s, women’s fashion focused on creating a distinct silhouette characterized by a narrow waist and a full skirt. The hourglass figure was achieved through the use of corsets, which cinched the waist tightly. Dresses were typically made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton or silk and featured low necklines and short sleeves. Popular dress styles included the ballgown, day dress, and evening gown.

1.1 Ballgowns

Ballgowns were worn for formal occasions and were characterized by their extravagant designs. They featured wide skirts with layers of petticoats underneath to create volume. The bodices were often adorned with lace, ribbons, and intricate embroidery.

1.2 Day Dresses

Day dresses were more practical and suitable for everyday activities. They usually had high necklines and long sleeves, and were often made of printed fabrics. These dresses were less ornate compared to ballgowns, but still had a fitted bodice and a full skirt.

1.3 Evening Gowns

Evening gowns were similar to ballgowns but were slightly less formal. They were commonly made of silk and featured more understated embellishments. These gowns often had deeper necklines and shorter sleeves, allowing for more freedom of movement.

2. Accessories

Accessories played a crucial role in completing a woman’s outfit in the 1850s. Some of the popular accessories included:

2.1 Bonnets

Bonnets were essential accessories and were worn by women of all social classes. They were made of straw or silk and featured wide brims, decorative ribbons, and flowers. Bonnets provided both protection from the sun and added a fashionable touch to the overall ensemble.

2.2 Gloves

Gloves were considered a symbol of etiquette and were worn on various occasions. Women wore gloves made of silk or kid leather, and they were available in different lengths and colors to match the outfit. Gloves were primarily worn outdoors, and it was considered proper for a woman to always wear them when in public.

2.3 Parasols

Parasols were used as a practical accessory to shield women from the sun. They were made of silk or cotton and often featured decorative handles. Parasols were available in a wide range of colors and patterns, allowing women to coordinate them with their outfits.

2.4 Jewelry

Jewelry played a significant role in enhancing a woman’s attire during this era. Necklaces, earrings, brooches, and bracelets were popular choices. These pieces were often made of gold, silver, or precious gemstones and were intricately designed to complement the overall look.

Men’s Fashion

1. Suit Styles

Men’s fashion in the 1850s revolved around tailored suits that emphasized a trim and elongated silhouette. Suits consisted of several components:

1.1 Coats

Coats were an essential part of men’s attire and came in different styles. The frock coat was a formal option with a knee-length hem and a fitted waist. The sack coat, on the other hand, was a looser and more casual style, often worn for everyday activities.

1.2 Trousers

Trousers were typically made of wool and had a high-waisted design. They were tailored to fit snugly around the waist and hips, gradually tapering down towards the ankles. Trousers were often worn with suspenders to keep them in place.

1.3 Waistcoats

Waistcoats, also known as vests, were worn underneath the coat and added an extra layer of formality to the outfit. They were typically made of silk or wool and featured buttons and pockets. Waistcoats were often patterned or made in a contrasting color to create visual interest.

2. Shirts and Accessories

Men’s shirts and accessories played a significant role in completing their outfits. Some key elements included:

2.1 Shirts

Shirts were usually made of cotton or linen and had high, stiff collars. They were often plain or featured subtle patterns. Shirts were typically worn with detachable collars and cuffs, allowing for easy laundering and replacement of worn-out parts.

2.2 Neckties

Neckties, known as cravats during this era, were an essential accessory for men. They were made of silk and tied in elaborate knots. Neckties added a touch of elegance to the outfit and were available in various colors and patterns.

2.3 Hats

Hats were an indispensable accessory for men and were worn on a daily basis. The top hat was a popular choice for formal occasions, while the bowler hat was more commonly worn for everyday activities. Hats were typically made of felt and featured a brim and a tall crown.

2.4 Pocket Watches

Pocket watches were not only practical timepieces but also served as a fashion statement. They were carried in the vest pocket using a chain and added a sophisticated touch to a man’s attire. Pocket watches were often made of gold or silver and intricately crafted.


The 1850s witnessed significant changes in fashion, with women’s clothing becoming more streamlined and practical, while men’s fashion maintained a tailored and refined aesthetic. The garments and accessories worn during this period reflected the social norms and aspirations of the time. By understanding the fashion trends of the 1850s, we gain insight into the culture and mindset of people living during this era.

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