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Podcast Episode 38 – Fashion Throughout the Decades

Knock, Knock, Who’s there? Under…Under where? Gotcha! Before we dive into the dresses and popular fashions throughout time, we can’t skip over the importance of under garments. Up until the 1890’s, the only under clothing men wore was long shirts that reached to about their knees. Women wore bloomers with no crotch, their purpose? – functionality while using chamber pots/outhouses. Next item of clothing for women was a chemise or slip. Overtop of which a corset and corset cover would sit. Both corsets and slips were worn up until the 1920’s. Depending on if a hoop was worn or not, multiple petticoats would be worn. On top of the many layers of under clothes, a dress or skirt and blouse would be worn.  

Prior to 1850, until about 1856 or 1857, dresses were made fuller by wearing three to seven full petticoats. The number of petticoats varied with the weather, and the work being done. In the 1840’s, full skirts were supported by a vast array of petticoats. These petticoats were made of horsehair or stiffened with cane and padding. The natural waist could be slightly longer than natural, with points in front and behind. Most trimmings were applied in a manner that was wide at the shoulder, narrowing at the waist and then widening again at the hem of the skirt. This would accentuate the tightly laced waistline. 

The bodice shoulder line ended well below the natural shoulder, often pinning the arm of the wearer down. The sleeves were narrow for day dresses. Evening bodices were low off the shoulder, often covered with folds of fabric.  

The overall look of the dresses did not change much during this period. The sleeves started to become wider in the 1850’s. The skirts expanded in size as more petticoats were worn. Added flounces on the skirt would help create a wider look. The style for flounces on the dresses begins to be extremely popular, with more and more added all the time. Dress fabrics were milled especially for the flounces, with colors and patterns designed to be cut into strips. Men wore mostly cotton or wool pants, depending on the weather. Denim was created in the 1840s allowing for a more durable material for farmers. 

    In 1856, the cage crinoline was invented. The skirts which had previously reached maximum width were free to expand even farther. The hoop was round, and the skirts were made of straight widths of fabric pleated into a waistband. The top of the dress was either a loosely worn blouse which fastened in the front with hooks and eyes. This would be made of the same fabric or a different fabric, depending on the choice of the lady. In cooler weather, a jacket bodice was worn, and extended over the hips. A more formal jacket would have pagoda style sleeves with an undersleeve inside. Evening dresses would have a neckline which laid off the shoulder. 

The jacket bodice also becomes exceedingly popular, extending long over the hips. The jacket did not always match the skirt fabric. Evening necklines are off-the-shoulder and have a point at both front and back. Daytime sleeves are full in Pagoda style, gathered at the top to a narrow shoulder cap, full and/or slit at the wrist, with a linen undersleeve inside. By the 1860’s, the bodice for casual attire now ends at the natural waist, straight all around, but the formal bodice often has two long points in front and 1 or 3 long points in the back. A fresh style of casual wear consists of a Spanish jacket, long or cropped, worn over a blouse, aka Garibaldi blouse. In 1860, the front panel of the skirt was slightly gored. Very quickly, the side panels of the skirt become gored also. Skirts will get narrower at the top every season, and the panels ever more gored.  

By 1863, the hoops took on an elliptical shape, with the back fuller than the front. The skirts are often gored in the front and sides, the back are still straight widths of fabric. During the Civil War, hardships caused a decline in the number of fabrics and trimmings used in dresses. The excessive flounces became fewer and finally disappeared.  

In 1864, the 2-piece coat sleeve began to taper at the wrist and widen at the elbow. The bishop sleeve, gathered at both wrist and at shoulder, became popular. The bodice ending at the waist became more popular for formal attire. Mr. Worth designed “Princess” seamed garments. This line was applied to full length dresses as well as outer wear garments. The “postilion bodice”, with long tails down the back are all the rage for a few years.  

In 1865 skirt widths began to diminish at the hips, all the panels gored to almost fit the waist, leaving a conical shaped skirt. 1867 saw a reduction in skirt size altogether. The skirts were often looped up for walking, showing a pretty petticoat, leading to the introduction of the overskirt. In 1868, skirt backs were once again cut in straight breadths, and by 1869, the hoop is replaced with the bustle. 

Petticoats – Early Victorian (pre-1860) petticoats were almost always white. But during the war years, women began to spend more time outside the home. The white petticoats were set aside for indoor and formal/evening wear only. Outdoor petticoats were of colored fabric, either solid or stripes and plaids. Red was a particular favorite color.  

By 1862 the white petticoat is usually flounced with frilling and often rows of insertion added. For ball dresses, the flounces would reach as high as the waist. The next year striped and plaid petticoats appear.” For ball dresses and light summer dresses, the crinoline itself would have flounces sewn to each wire. When the hoop skirt lost popularity, it was replaced by a framework known as the bustle. The overall shape was full in front and even more fabric to the back. Most dresses were trained, but “walking dresses” were just floor length.  

The look was one of horizontal lines to the trims and necklines. Overskirts (tunics) became necessary, and if one were not worn, one could be simulated with trimmings. Trimmings galore were added to all but the plainest dresses.  

In 1870-1871, most bodices ended at the natural waist. The overskirt (tunic) would then be fitted over the bodice, showing a belt and often a large bow behind. A detached Basque (a noticeably short overskirt) became very fashionable. This Basque soon became attached to the bodice, and the bodices began to extend past the waist and over the hips. Evening bodices were off-the-shoulder with trimming framing the neckline. Evening sleeves were small and decorated with ruffles, puffing’s, and bows.  

By 1873, bodices became longer and longer, and so the polonaise was born. A polonaise is like a bodice and overskirt in one garment, in many shapes or styles. Skirts began to narrow in the front. The underskirts were often separated into sections, with the front, sides and backs trimmed separately to remarkable effect. More trimmings are added than ever before and often completely cover the entire foundation skirt. 

Sleeves became narrower to the wrist, though still not tight. The two-piece coat sleeve was found on every garment. Full length sleeves were weighted with heavy complicated cuffs that could extend as high as the elbow. Often, the sleeves are cut of a contrasting fabric from the main bodice. 

In 1875, the bustle began to dwindle in size, but the excess fabric remained. A more vertical line started to appear in trimmings. For day wear, the neckline could be high (with or without a collar), square or heart shaped (in a “V”). Often an open neckline would be filled with a chemisette and full sleeves filled with a linen undersleeve/cuff. 

Many petticoats were worn to help keep the dress from trailing through the dirt. Often dust ruffles were added to the inside of the train to help as well. Light weight fabrics were popular, especially for evening wear. The shoulder line of the bodice still extended slightly past the natural shoulder. Another interesting style trend in 1875 is the skirt pocket. These pockets were often too low and too far back to be of any practical use but were very much a stylish decoration. Short lived, the pocket trend only lasted about a year, after being ridiculed as a “boon to pick pockets”. 

•By 1877, the bustle had diminished from the wire frames of earlier, to a small pad or nothing at all. The poufs in the skirts dropped to behind the knees. The bodices became long and smooth fitting over the hips, in a style known as the Cuirass. Also, fashionable is the Princess Dress, where the bodice and skirt are all in one without a waist seam. Giving long lines from shoulder to ankle. The horizontal look of earlier was giving way to ever more vertical lines. A tall, slim figure was considered fashionable. Skirts that clung to the legs (scandalous) known as tie-back skirts were all the rage. These skirts had tie strings inside to hold the front close to the legs, leaving the back free to flow into a train. 

Colors and textures were mixed into complicated creations of skirts, swags, and drapes. The focus is on the skirts, with simpler trims on the bodice. Almost every dress is trained, sometimes even walking dresses. Asymmetrical skirts are all the rage, and trims and swags are put on high on one side and low on the other.  

The detached overskirt loses favor as most of the complicated drapes are sewn directly to the foundation skirt. Flowers and bows can help decorate and hide where the skirts are tacked together. Evening bodices are more on-the-shoulder than off, with small, puffed sleeves, ruffled lace, or no sleeves at all. Every year the skirts become narrower and the bodices longer. By 1879, the fan skirt was the mode. The back of the skirt is confined to about knee height, and then allowed to flow out in a full, fan-shaped train. Petticoats, and even hoops, were required to hold the “fan” in a decent shape. The bodice shoulder line moves up to natural shoulder line and the sleeves are fitted closely to the arm  

Necklines for day wear become more conservative, either high with a collar, or open in a small “V”. Most often an open neckline would be filled with a linen collar on a small chemisette. The bodices see more vertical trimmings, they no longer just go around the neckline, but can extend down the center front to the waist or lower. By 1880, the skirts are very slim, and the train begins to disappear except for formal occasions.  

•In 1883, the bustle came back with a vengeance. The skirts remained slim in front and sides, but the back ballooned out over a bustle framework. The lines start as a blend of horizontal and vertical, and over the next couple of years become ever more vertical. The bodice shortened back up to above the hip at the sides. The sleeve head is now high on the shoulder. Beadwork and braid forming motifs begin to cover the flat portions of garments 

Evening dresses are all high on the shoulder, and often without any sleeve. Asymmetrical lines are still extremely popular. The daytime neckline becomes remarkably high, with a collar. In 1890, the bustle disappeared again, this time for good. By 1896, the skirts had reached their widest limit, as did the sleeves. Many skirts were wider at the hem than hoop skirts, up to 6 yards around.  

1901 starts out the era with the Trumpet Skirt; a shaped skirt that is fitting over the hips and thighs, then flaring out below the knee for a wide hem, typically in either 5 or 7 gores. Very quickly, the slim skirts begin to get fuller at the hem, with the addition of vertical pleats and tucks around the skirt, though the skirt remains lean and controlled through the thigh. In the early years of the decade, the sleeves are slim at the shoulder, and full at the wrist. By 1904, the fullness had moved up to the elbow, with tall, fitted cuffs to the wrist. By 1906, the fullness is at the shoulder. Necklines are typically extremely high, with decorated, detachable stock collars. 

•Beginning in 1909, the full skirts from earlier in the decade rapidly narrow down to a slim silhouette. While not as narrow as the modern pencil skirt, it was at the time, the slimmest that any skirts had been in ages, which earned them the name of “Hobble Skirt.” Kick pleats hidden in seams allowed for a longer stride without adding fullness. Very quickly, these pleats became more decorative, and the multitude of variations added individuality to the otherwise universal silhouette.  
While daytime styles were slim, straight lines, and decorated with pleats, lapped seams, and buttons, formal wear and evening styles were often elaborately draped and flowing with puffs and swags. By 1913, the draped styles were creeping into the daytime styles as well, especially by French designers. 

The end of the 19th century began a major change in clothing for ladies. Gone was the bustles, frames, and heavy fabrics and new lighter fabrics to allow for a new and more active lifestyle. With the common use of the sewing machine, and the more industrial production of fabric, pre-made, over the counter dresses became available.  Women also were entering the workforce in offices and found the new lighter clothing moving around the office easier. In 1914, the world was thrown into the “war to end all wars” and life was never the same. As men were sent to the front, many women stepped up to do their part in the war effort and work in the factories and on the farms. This change in the role of women required a change in the clothing styles prior to the beginning of the war. 

     Prior to the war years, trousers were not worn by “proper” ladies. When men left for war, women took their place in the factories. Even with skirts being raised three to four inches, there were many reports of accidents when skirts were caught in machinery and women were injured or killed. Women began to wear trousers in the munition factories, protecting them from machinery, as well as being more functional overall. For non- working clothing, tunics worn over skirts were a popular wartime fashion, as were simple, utilitarian clothing.  

Thank you for listening to episode 38 on fashion throughout the decades! Are you a fashion enthusiast? 

Show us your favourite outfit by tagging us @backuspagehouse on social media! See you in 2 weeks for episode 39!