On corsets, crinolines, and cinching

If the thought of wearing a corset everyday makes you cringe just a little, living during the Victorian era (1837-1901) would have been quite the challenge for you! Women’s fashion during the time of Queen Victoria’s reign was quite distinct, marked by full skirts, cinched waists, and many layers. Today, we’ll take a look at three periods within the Victorian era to show the changing silhouettes in women’s fashion, from undergarments to parasols and reticules.

We’ll start in the early 1860s, when the crinoline became the preferred method of giving volume to skirts. Rather than using layers upon layers of petticoats, a crinoline gave structure to large skirts without the weighty layers of fabric.

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Now, let’s move on to everyday wear during the third bustle era of the late 1880s, which followed the first bustle era (flatter in the front, more fabric in the back); the second bustle era (known for its waterfall bustle and the fishtail look); and the elliptical (with its very structured “cage”).

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Lastly, here’s a look at the very beginning of the twentieth century, which gave way to the Edwardian period of dress. Note the “S” shape of the silhouette, as well as where the volume has gone—to the head, and we mean that literally!

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A very special thanks goes out to Natalie Meyer, costumer extraordinaire. She not only made the pieces pictured in this post (by hand!), but has also made numerous costumes for the Homestead’s living history characters and presents at many of our festivals. Natalie spends anywhere from 6-7 hours on “simpler” Victorian dresses to 40-50 hours on costumes from the intricate Edwardian period, her personal favorite. Her work re-creating a dress based on Jacques-Joseph Tissot’s Seaside required 40-50 hours on the pleats alone!

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