Western fashion history 1850s

1850s fashion in Western and Western-influenced clothing is characterized by an increase in the width of women’s skirts supported by crinolines or hoops, and the beginnings of dress reform. Masculine styles began to originate more in London, while female fashions originated almost exclusively in Paris.

General trends:

This round fashion is called “à la Pompadour”. The mode of the 18th century particularly influenced the Second Empire, including baskets. The dress then takes a dome shape, the fabric of the skirt is flush with the ground, hiding the shoes without hindering the movement. In 1854, The Little Courrier des Damesquote a “boned skirt”. A series of whalebones form a lighter petticoat, supporting the voluminous and therefore heavy skirt. Auguste Person presents in 1856 his model of crinoline-cage. Consisting of a structure of steel circles of varying size, ranging from the smallest upwards to the widest at the bottom, it forms a cage. The metal elements are held together by strips of cotton or linen, or inserted into a petticoat. Thus the crinolines could be put flat for storage or transport needs. Several factors lead to this innovation: the increase in the volume of the skirt, the taste for richer and heavier fabrics, the convenience of a lighter structure to move and the release of the legs.

1850 – 1858: the fashion of flying
This mode corresponds to the manufacture of silks, wools and cotton woven or printed available patterns for flying or bowling, which are the success of all factories Lyon, Alsatian and English. The motifs are thus awarded at the Universal Exhibitions of 1851 and 1855. The success of these dresses, sold “kit” is explained by the ease of assembly. In addition, it creates a harmony effect between the steering wheels and the shape of the skirt on which sits the bodice bust. After 1855, the rich fabrics weary, just like the profusion of ruffles. Also, from 1858 the dresses evolve towards a refined cut.

Transformation dress
In 1845 appears the transformation dress. The women’s days are punctuated by visits, exhibitions, lunch, afternoon tea, opera, theater, ball… Every hour of the day is a dress, including a particular bodice. The necessary rapidity of change brought about by the close meetings during the day leads to the split of the dress into two parts. This doubling allows to keep all day the crinoline and the skirt, on which one attaches a bodice closed the day and broadly décolleté for the evening ball. A third one at the smaller neckline can be worn for dinner or theater. But this practice develops especially after 1870. Elements can also come to complete the outfit, such as adding garlands of flowers on the skirt for a ball for example. The use of guimpe, sometimes with sleeves, in the same fabrics, a scarf or a bolero that hide the neckline is also observable. Note that wedding dresses have two corsages: one for the church or the temple, the other for the evening. It is indeed during her marriage that the woman can, for the first time, reveal her bust. A certain strict codification of decorum confers on the bourgeoisie a semblance of aristocracy.

Women’s fashion


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 velvet appeared, the richness of the fabric of the exemption superfluous ornaments and dresses found a certain simplicity.
The bodice is always worn on the shoulders and it is adorned with jabot or lace only to accompany the silk or canvas dresses.
The sleeves are wide at the top and open and very wide at the bottom to drop the lace highlighting the fineness of a gloved hand if possible.
Around 1856 appears the petticoat called crinoline which will gradually replace the petticoat and give an impressive look to the skirts.

Crinoline dress
A crinoline is a stiffened or structured petticoat designed to hold out a woman’s skirt, popular at various times since the mid-19th century. Originally, crinoline described a stiff fabric made of horsehair (“crin”) and cotton or linen which was used to make underskirts and as a dress lining.

By the 1850s the term crinoline was more usually applied to the fashionable silhouette provided by horsehair petticoats, and to the hoop skirts that replaced them in the mid-1850s. In form and function these hoop skirts were similar to the 16th- and 17th-century farthingale and to 18th-century panniers, in that they too enabled skirts to spread even wider and more fully.

The cage crinoline made out of spring steel wire was first introduced in the 1850s, with the earliest British patent for a metal crinoline (described as a ‘skeleton petticoat of steel springs fastened to tape.’) granted in July 1856.Crinolines were worn by women of every social standing and class across the Western world, from royalty to factory workers.

1850s Victorian dress Style
A similar silhouette remained in the 1850s, while certain elements of garments changed.

Necklines of day dresses dropped even lower into a V-shape, causing a need to cover the bust area with a chemisette. In contrast, evening dresses featured a Bertha, which completely exposed the shoulder area instead. Bodices began to extend over the hips, while the sleeves opened further and increased in fullness. The volume and width of the skirt continued to increase, especially during 1853, when rows of flounces were added.

Nevertheless, in 1856, skirts expanded even further; creating a dome shape, due to the invention of the first artificial cage crinoline. The purpose of the crinoline was to create an artificial hourglass silhouette by accentuating the hips, and fashioning an illusion of a small waist; along with the corset. The cage crinoline was constructed by joining thin metal strips together to form a circular structure that could solely support the large width of the skirt. This was made possible by technology which allowed iron to be turned into steel, which could then be drawn into fine wires. Although often ridiculed by journalists and cartoonists of the time as the crinoline swelled in size, this innovation freed women from the heavy weight of petticoats and was a much more hygienic option.

Meanwhile, the invention of synthetic dyes added new colours to garments and women experimented with gaudy and bright colours. Technological innovation of 1860s provided women with freedom and choices.

In the 1850s, the domed skirts of the 1840s continued to expand. Skirts were made fuller by means of flounces (deep ruffles), usually in tiers of three, gathered tightly at the top and stiffened with horsehair braid at the bottom.

Early in the decade, bodices of morning dresses featured panels over the shoulder that were gathered into a blunt point at the slightly dropped waist. These bodices generally fastened in back by means of hooks and eyes, but a new fashion for a [jacket] bodice appeared as well, buttoned in front and worn over a chemisette. Wider bell-shaped or pagoda sleeves were worn over false undersleeves or engageantes of cotton or linen, trimmed in lace, broderie anglaise, or other fancy-work. Separate small collars of lace, tatting, or crochet-work were worn with morning dresses, sometimes with a ribbon bow.

Evening ball gowns were very low-necked, off-the-shoulder, and had short sleeves.

The introduction of the steel cage crinoline in 1856 provided a means for expanding the skirt still further, and flounces gradually disappeared in favor of a skirt lying more smoothly over the petticoat and hoops. Pantalettes were essential under this new fashion for modesty’s sake.

Cape-like jackets were worn over the very wide skirts. Another fashionable outer garment was an Indian shawl or one woven in Paisley, Renfrewshire in a paisley pattern in imitation of Indian styles. Hooded cloaks were also worn.

Riding habits had fitted jackets with tight sleeves, worn over a collared shirt or (more often) chemisette. They were worn with long skirts and mannish top hats.

Hairstyles and headgear
Hair was dressed simply, middle parted and in a bun or wound braid at the back, with the sides puffed out over the ears or with clusters of curls to either side in imitation of early 17th century fashions.

The indoor cap became little more than a lace and ribbon frill worn on the back of the head.

Beginnings of dress reform
1851 marked the birth of the Victorian dress reform movement, when New England temperance activist Libby Miller adopted what she considered a more rational costume: loose trousers gathered at the ankles, topped by a short dress or skirt hemmed just below the knees. The style was promoted by editor Amelia Bloomer and was immediately christened a Bloomer suit by the press. Despite its practicality, the Bloomer suit was the subject of much ridicule in the press and had little impact on mainstream fashion.

Style gallery

Necklines plunged further, needing a chemisette to be worn underneath. Sleeves widened at the elbow, while bodices ended at the natural waistline. Skirts widened and were further emphasised by the addition of flounces.


1st patented cage crinoline.Fullness of the skirt is even further emphasised.



1.The Princesse de Brogliewears a blue silk evening gown with delicate lace and ribbon trim. Her hair is covered with a sheer frill trimmed with matching blue ribbon knots. She wears a necklace, tasseled earrings, and bracelets on each wrist.
2.1850s Dress.
3.Fashions of 1853: Flounced skirts, cape-like jackets, and heavily trimmed bonnets.
4.Inflatable crinoline. 1857 caricature by John Leech for Punch’s Pocket Book
5.1856 Cage Crinoline.

Men’s fashion


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.

The black coat is law: the jacket has a wide cut and is worn with a white tie hiding to the collar of the shirt. The vest is straight and discreetly adorned with buttons. The slightly wide trousers fall straight on a varnished boot. All worn under a small coat with wide sleeves or a short frock coat. The hats are worn with flared edges raised right on the sides.

Shirts of linen or cotton featured high upstanding or turnover collars The trend of detachable shirt collars and cuffs (although first appearing in men’s fashion in the 1820s) became highly popularized during this time period. The newly fashionable four-in-hand neckties were square or rectangular, folded into a narrow strip and tied in a bow, or folded on the diagonal and tied in a knot with the pointed ends sticking out to form “wings”. Heavy padded and fitted frock coats (in French redingotes), now usually single-breasted, were worn for business occasions, over waistcoats or vests with lapels and notched collars. Waistcoats were still cut straight across at the waist in front in 1850, but gradually became longer; the fashion for wearing the bottom button undone for ease when sitting lead to the pointed-hemmed waistcoat later in the century.

A new style, the sack coat, loosely fitted and reaching to mid-thigh, was fashionable for leisure activities; it would gradually replace the frock coat over the next forty years and become the modern suit coat.

The slightly cutaway morning coat was worn for formal day occasions. The most formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers, with a white cravat; this costume was well on its way to crystallizing into the modern “white tie and tails”.

Full-length trousers were worn for day. 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.

Costumes consisting of a coat, waistcoat and trousers of the same fabric were a novelty of this period.

Starting in the 1850s and surviving until about the early 1900s (decade), facial hair became extremely popular, featuring a vast array of styles. This is well documented in famous photography of the era.

Tall top hats were worn with formal dress and grew taller on the way to the true stovepipe shape, but a variety of other hat shapes were popular. Soft-crowned hats, some with wide brims, were worn for country pursuits. The bowler hat was invented in 1850 but remained a working-class accessory.

Style gallery


2 – 1856

3 – 1857


5 – 1859

1.John Ruskin wears a dark frock coat over lighter trousers and low-heeled shoes. He carries a soft-crowned brown hat. Detail of a portrait by John Everett Millais, 1853–54.
2.Fashions of 1856 show an idealized rounded chest over a low waist. The cutaway morning coat (left) is worn with trousers trimmed with braid down the outer seam. Shirts have short straight collars and are worn with narrow neckties tied in wide bows. Half-boots have short heels. Coat sleeves are cut long, showing very little shirt cuff.
3.1857 fashion plate shows formal evening wear, informal day wear, top coats, and a dressing gown.
4.1859 fashion plate of both men’s and women’s daywear, with seabathing in background. He wears the new leisure fashion, the sack coat.
5.Artist Henri Fantin-Latour wears a shirt with a turnover collar and a black necktie.

Children’s fashion

1 – 1851

2 – 1855

3 – 1858–59

4– 1855

1.This young boy wears a belted tunic over pantalettes. His governess wears the modest, dark dress appropriate to her occupation.
2.Hans Haubold, Graf von Einsiedel wears a three-piece suit with rounded collar and lapel peaks, and the round, frilled open collar favored for children, 1855.
3.Young girl wears a knee-length skirt with crinoline petticoat, 1858–59.
4.A girl in a dress and pantalettes, 1855

Source from Wikipedia