Western Fashion History 1840s

1840s fashion in European and European-influenced clothing is characterized by a narrow, natural shoulder line following the exaggerated puffed sleeves of the later 1820s and 1830s. The narrower shoulder was accompanied by a lower waistline for both men and women.

The government of the English Queen Victoria (1837-1901) is an era of prudish bourgeoisie. The industrialization creates poverty and unemployment, but also rich citizens who determine the fashion image. Respectable citizens go through life inconspicuously and neatly; until 1860 all color disappears and swoon from fashion. Wealthy women are dressed in modest clothes so that they can do nothing. This is in sharp contrast to the turbulent outside world, in which innovations occur everywhere, such as steam presses with which fashion magazines are printed.

Around 1840 the woman wears a gown with a low tight waist, a triangular body, and a long skirt. The wide sleeves are becoming narrower. From 1845 onwards, the two-piece costume was created, with a skirt and a jacket. The petticoats are replaced by a underskirt reinforced with horsehair: the crinoline. In 1856 the cage comminoline of flexible metal hoops appears. The skirt is becoming wider and decorated with strips and ruffles. The crinoline requires meters of dust. Because of the strong contrast, the extremely constricted waist is also much better. (Sometimes women fall asleep due to this extreme constriction.) The sleeves get a pagoda shape. Because of the large shawl, the silhouette resembles an inverted triangle. The hairstyles are simple, with middle separation, pipe curls or braided up to 1850 on the side of the face, and a flat bun against the back of the head. The awning hats are becoming smaller and smaller, with a border around the head and underneath the chin.

The man’s clothing develops slowly; the color is covered and the fit becomes slightly looser. The costume consists of tight pants, a striking vest, and a jacket or jacket with shorter pieces. The pants are a different color than the jacket. The dressing gown is typical of this period of domesticity. The popular hiking suit consists of a long type of jacket, a matching vest and trousers. The pardess is still worn as a cloak, or a short cape with splits.

Women’s fashion

Under the influence of English fashion, the female silhouette is simplified: The day dress, eliminates accessories too bright to keep only the essential, giving the whole austere appearance. The narrow, clasped bust, a plain, dark dress, huddled in a shawl and cape, hiding her pallid complexion under a vast cloak, the fashionable woman now fades into society under the influence of cant. It is indifferently worn flat headbands or “English”, corkscrew falling on the shoulders. In the evening dress, one wears the big cleavage, ruffles and ribbons of lace with the skirt swollen with horsehair, flowers and jewelry in profusion.

The hat is shaped flared top down to drop the long loops “English” then the hood becomes more and more tight on the cheeks. Flat bands are then fashionable; at home, women wear lingerie hats adorned with lace and ribbons. The dresses are garnished on the side, worn superimposed and often open on the front semi-tail rounded sometimes a little trailing on the evening dresses. The frilly dresses, inspired by Spanish fashion, were worn in the 1860s on the street or at the show like mantillas and large shawls. Laced boots begin to appear. The bodice falls to the shoulders thanks to a very low armhole. The corset flattens the chest, lengthens and thins the waist. In the evening, women generously expose their chest and shoulders. From the general silhouette emerges an impression of fragility and mystery that dramatizes the wearing of dark colors.

Shoulders were narrow and sloping, waists became low and pointed, and sleeve detail migrated from the elbow to the wrists. Where pleated fabric panels had wrapped the bust and shoulders in the previous decade, they now formed a triangle from the shoulder to the waist of day dresses.

Skirts evolved from a conical shape to a bell shape, aided by a new method of attaching the skirts to the bodice using organ or cartridge pleats which cause the skirt to spring out from the waist. Full skirts were achieved mainly through layers of petticoats. The increasing weight and inconvenience of the layers of starched petticoats would lead to the development of the crinoline of the second half of the 1850s.

Sleeves were narrower and fullness dropped from just below the shoulder at the beginning of the decade to the lower arm, leading toward the flared pagoda sleeves of the 1850s and 1860s.

Evening gowns were worn off the shoulder and featured wide flounces that reached to the elbow, often of lace. They were worn with sheer shawls and opera-length gloves.

Another accessory was a small bag. At home, bags were often white satin and embroidered or painted. Outdoor bags were often green or white and tasseled. There were also crocheted linen bags.

Shoes were made from the same materials as handbags. There were slippers of crocheted linen and bright colored brocade satin slippers that tied around the ankle with silk ribbon.

Hairstyles and headgear
The wide hairstyles of the previous decade gave way to fashions which kept the hair closer to the head, and the high bun or knot on the crown descended to the back of the head. Hair was still generally parted in the center. Isolated long curls dangling down towards the front (sometimes called “spaniel curls”) were worn, often without much relationship to the way that the rest of the hair was styled. Alternately the side hair could be smoothed back over the ears or looped and braided, with the ends tucked into the bun at the back.

Linen caps with frills, lace, and ribbons were worn by married women indoors, especially for daywear. These could also be worn in the garden with a parasol.

Bonnets for street wear were smaller than in the previous decade, and were less heavily decorated. The decorations that did adorn bonnets included flowers on the inside brim or a veil that could be draped over the face. Married women wore their caps under their bonnets. The crown and brim of the bonnet created a horizontal line and when tied under the chin, the brim created a nice frame around the face. This style was also often called the “coal-scuttle” bonnet because of its resemblance to the metals scoops used to shovel coal into furnaces.

For evening, feathers, pearls, lace, or ribbons were worn in the hair. There was also a small brimless bonnet worn with the ribbon untied at the nape of the neck.

Women’s undergarments were essentially unchanged from the previous period; a knee-length chemise was worn beneath a boned corset and masses of starched petticoats. The corset could be laced tightly to narrow the waist, but this was not the fashion necessity it became later in the century.

With the narrow, sloping shoulder line of the 1840s, the shawl returned to fashion, where it would remain through the 1860s. It was now generally square and worn folded on the diagonal.

Riding habits consisted of a high-necked, tight-waisted jacket with long snug sleeves, worn over a tall-collared shirt or chemisette, with a long matching petticoat or skirt. Contrasting waistcoats or vests cut like those worn by men were briefly popular. Tall hats or broad-brimmed hats like those worn by men were worn.

With the new narrower sleeves, coats and jackets returned to fashion. These were generally knee-length with a cape-like collar. Ankle-length cloaks with cape-collars to cover slits for the arms were worn in cold or wet weather. Ermine muffs with attached handkerchiefs were worn to keep hands warm and be fashionable.

The pelerine was a popular name for wide, capelike collars that extended over the shoulders and covered the upper chest. Sometimes they had layers of tiered fabric, long front panels hanging down from center front, or were also belted at the natural waistline.

The mantlet was a general name for any small cape worn as outerwear.

Style gallery





5 – 1847

1.Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort at home, 1841. Her dress shows the fashionable silhouette, with its pointed waist, sloping shoulder, and bell-shaped skirt.
2.Princess di Sant’ Antimo’s evening gown of watered silk shows the short sleeves, lace flounce collar, and long pointed waist of the early 1840s. The tiny pleats that gather her skirt can be seen at the waistline. 1840–44.
3.Hairstyle of 1840
4.1848 fashion plate shows bonnets and winter-wear.
5.Underwear of 1847: This woman is unlacing her corset, having stepped out of her petticoats. Her chemise is knee-length, with sleeves ending just above the elbow.

Men’s fashion

In this period, men’s fashion plates show the lowered waistline taking on a decided point at the front waist, which was accompanied by a full rounded chest. Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) had a high influence on male fashion, primarily because of his young age at the time of his wife’s coronation, and his great attention to his appearance. Therefore, the clothing, particularly of upper class gentleman, continued to follow the trend of earlier decades with full shoulders and chest, and a tightly-cinched waist.

In men, the clothing evolves during the decade: The top hat gradually loses height and breadth. Clothes change from a fashion to a floating fashion, presented as negligence in the press. The jackets are large basques and large lapels, the vest is elegant and embroidered, the tie is wide scarf. The pants are loose and covering 3/4 of the foot. The shoes are worn indifferently with or without gaiters. Many accessories are present: eyeglass, binocle, cane, fob watch, worked buttons.

Shirts and cravats
Shirts of linen or cotton featured lower standing collars, occasionally turned down, and were worn with wide cravats or neck ties tied in several different ways:

Around the neck, knotted in front and puffed up to hide the shirt collar and create a pigeon like neck
Similar to the first version but tucked down into the waistcoat
Around the neck and knotted into a bow tie
The “Osbaldiston”, a barrel shape knot under the chin
Knotted in a wide pointy bow. Dark cravats were popular for day wear and patterned ones were worn in the country.
At this time, the dickey was introduced, a false shirt front usually made of satin. It was worn as an “intentionally messy” look.

Coats and waistcoats
Frock coats (in French redingotes) were worn for informal day wear, were calf length, and might be double-breasted. Shoulders were narrower and slightly sloped. Waistcoats or vests were single- or double-breasted, with shawl or notched collars, and might be finished in double points at the lowered waist.

A cutaway morning coat was worn with light trousers for any formal daytime occasion; evening dress called for a dark tail coat and trousers.

A frockcoat was a tight fitting coat with the front cut up to the waistline, this was for casual wear. A vest replaces the waistcoat at this time, they were still very decorative with no collar. A pardessus for men was a large, black formal cape with a yoke across the shoulder line. A chesterfield coat was a calf-length, fur-lined coat, with a fur collar, cuffs and lapels. There was also no waistline seam.

Full-length trousers had fly fronts. Breeches remained a requirement for formal functions at the British court (as they would be throughout the century). Breeches continued to be worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.

Hats and hairstyles
The crowns of tall hats were straighter than in the previous period, and grew taller on the way to the stovepipe shape of the 1850s. They were essential for formal occasions and in cities.

Wide-brimmed hats were worn outdoors in sunny climates. Curled hair and sideburns remained fashionable, along with mustaches.

Style gallery


2 – 1841

3 – 1841

4 – 1843

5 – 1845

1.Landscape painter Oswald Achenbach wears a broad-brimmed hat for a painting tour of Italy. He wears a striped ascot and his waistcoat has the rounded chest and lowered waistline of the late 1840s. The waistcoat is finished with two points at the lowered waist and contrasts with both his striped trousers and brown coat. Similar styles were worn in the American West at this time.
2.Alessandro Manzoni wears tan fly-front trousers with a dark coat and waistcoat. Italy, 1841.
3.Viennese fashion plate of 1841 shows at-home wear (a patterned dressing gown) and visiting wear. The top hat is becoming taller.
4.Portrait shows Alexander von Humboldt in formal dress, 1843.
5.The Duke of Beaufort wears a dark coat and breeches with a deep red waistcoat. His black cravat is fastened with a stick pin, and he wears heeled boots in 1845.

Children’s Fashion
In this period, children’s wear followed trends found in adult fashion. Wool and cashmere were popular textiles for baby cloaks while cotton was still widely accepted for toddler dresses, drawers and play wear. A popular silhouette for toddlers was a cotton bodice, pleated skirt and long sleeves. Small boys (ages 3 through 6) commonly wore a Tunic suit.. The jackets were fitted to the waist and then flared out to a full skirt ending at knee length. This was worn over trousers, or for very small boys with drawers. A round-collared shirt was usually worn underneath the jacket. Elementary to older age boys wore an Eton suit, which was a short, waist-level jacket, trousers, round-collared shirts, vest and sometimes neckties. In 1840 flat caps were popularly worn for boys. Small girls wore cotton drawers, cotton chemise, petticoats and stockings. As girls got older in age they followed the trend of their mothers and began to wear stays or tight corsets. “Barley” or “sugar” curls became a popular hairstyle for both girls and boys: they were long, droopy curls that framed the face.





1.Young boy in tunic, shirt, and trousers, 1840
2.French boy, 1843–44
3.Prince Albert Edward, The future King Edward VII in a sailor suit, 1846
4.Fashion plate of young girl’s costume, 1849

Source from Wikipedia