Fashion History: The Victorian Era DressNovember 26, 2020
Have you seen ‘Enola Holmes’? Remember when she went to London to look for her mother, and she tried on a proper lady’s dress for the first time? A good number of a lady’s outfits in the Victorian Era were featured in it.
Let’s gist about some of it, shall we? A whole lot of clothing pieces make up the complete Undergarment, you see, starting from the drawers, stocking, Chemise, Corset, down to the Petticoat. Let’s take them out piece by piece.
First, the drawers, which were essentially underwear with much more structure and width to them. They were typically very stiff and even ruffled at the seams.
Next comes stockings, made of silk for richer women or cotton for common folk. These would be layered depending on the weather — in winter, woolen stockings would be put on top of, or, instead of silk stockings.
The chemise would follow afterward. This would ensure a layer between the corset and bare skin, which would no doubt be incredibly uncomfortable.
Then, of course, the corset (my favorite, lol). Corsets were typically made of whalebone, although they were originally made with sheets of very stiff linen. These were laced from the back, and would have many levels of laces to ensure it would tighten completely around a woman’s waist and stomach. This would push up the breasts and slim the figure gradually down to the waist. It also caused many problems for Victorian women that tightened it completely, because women’s ribs would eventually restructure themselves due to the corset’s pressure (the trials of being a woman!).
Later, the bustle was added. This was a padded square of fabric that had a band attached to it. The band could be slipped on or tied so that the padded square would sit at the back of the woman’s waist. The dress would fall over the bustle in a way that would essentially give a good five or six inches to a woman’s behind (ahn ahn!).
Petticoats is the last item in the undergarment. Sixteenth-century women would layer petticoats and structure them so that they would puff the dress outwards, emphasizing the hips. Some dresses had very few layers of petticoats, while others had many more. They also used structured crinoline as petticoats. As for the Victorian era, up to six petticoats could be used to provide maximum width for women’s skirts (whao). They would often be heavily starched to be as structured as possible. Depending on the volume women were going for, a single petticoat could have many rims and layers to it. Wide crinoline petticoats were also used, but they were so heavily starched that women had difficulty moving in them at all!
Now comes the dress! For medieval women, a long, flowing gown with bell-shaped or puffed sleeves was worn. They were gathered in a high waist, and most typically had a square neckline that is so commonly seen in medieval costumes and re-enactments. Dresses would often be multi-layered so that the smock underneath would show its sleeves, although this all depended on class and style.