Western fashion history 1870s

1870s fashion in European and European-influenced clothing is characterized by a gradual return to a narrow silhouette after the full-skirted fashions of the 1850s and 1860s.

Women’s fashions

By 1870, fullness in the skirt had moved to the rear, where elaborately draped overskirts were held in place by tapes and supported by a bustle. This fashion required an underskirt, which was heavily trimmed with pleats, flounces, rouching, and frills. This fashion was short-lived (though the bustle would return again in the mid-1880s), and was succeeded by a tight-fitting silhouette with fullness as low as the knees: the cuirass bodice, a form-fitting, long-waisted, boned bodice that reached below the hips, and the princess sheath dress. Sleeves were very tight fitting. Square necklines were common.

Day dresses had high necklines that were either closed, squared, or V-shaped. Sleeves of morning dresses were narrow throughout the period, with a tendency to flare slightly at the wrist early on. Women often draped overskirts to produce an apronlike effect from the front.

Evening gowns had low necklines and very short, off-the-shoulder sleeves, and were worn with short (later mid-length) gloves. Other characteristic fashions included a velvet ribbon tied high around the neck and trailing behind for evening in a similar style to Georgian era fashion (the origin of the modern choker necklace).

The train has gradually risen on the hips to become turn that are adorned with ribbons or lace.
The silhouette is radically transformed over the course of the decade, with the train going up on the hindquarters as the dress adjusts to the body, thus forgetting the crinoline.
The hats become small, they are mostly filled with flowers, ribbons or veils and are bent on the front.
The coats are loose and long unless they match the dress so they are adjusted instead.
The umbrella remains an essential accessory in summer, even if its size is reduced. The women take a fortnight in their suitcases for their holidays in seaside resorts.

Skirts and dresses
The fabric of the skirt is folded more and more on the hips and carried over rolls or cushions, so that around 1870 the queue de Paris or tournure arises. The afternoon gown has half-length sleeves with lace ribs and a square neckline with ruffles.

The trend for broad skirts slowly disappeared during the 1870s, as women started to prefer an even slimmer silhouette. Bodices remained at the natural waistline, necklines varied, while sleeves began under the shoulder line. An overskirt was commonly worn over the bodice, and secured into a large bow behind. Over time though, the overskirt shortened into a detached basque, resulting in an elongation of the bodice over the hips. As the bodices grew longer in 1873, the polonaise was thus introduced into the Victorian dress styles. A polonaise is a garment featuring both an overskirt and bodice together. The tournure was also introduced, and along with the polonaise, it created an illusion of an exaggerated rear end.

By 1874, skirts began to taper in the front and were adorned with trimmings, while sleeves tightened around the wrist area. Towards 1875 to 1876, bodices featured long but even tighter laced waists, and converged at a sharp point in front. Bustles lengthened and slipped even lower, causing the fullness of the skirt to further diminish. Extra fabric was gathered together behind in pleats, thus creating a narrower but longer tiered, draped train too. Due to the longer trains, petticoats had to be worn underneath in order to keep the dress clean.

After 1875 the tour disappears: the space of the fabric is lower and the skirt gets a drag. The hair is loosely raised, sometimes with curls or braids, and a small hat on the forehead.

However, when 1877 approached, dresses moulded to fit the figure, as increasing slimmer silhouettes were favoured. This was allowed by the invention of the cuirass bodice which functions like a corset, but extends downwards to the hips and upper thighs. Although dress styles took on a more natural form, the narrowness of the skirt limited the wearer in regards to walking.

Tea gowns and artistic dress
Under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and other artistic reformers, the “anti-fashion” for Artistic dress with its “medieval” details and uncorseted lines continued through the 1870s. Newly fashionable tea gowns, an informal fashion for entertaining at home, combined Pre-Raphaelite influences with the loose sack-back styles of the 18th century.

Leisure Dress
Leisure dress was becoming an important part of a woman’s wardrobe. Seaside dress in England had its own distinct characteristics but still followed the regular fashions of the day. Seaside dress was seen as more daring, frivolous, eccentric, and brighter. Even though the bustle was extremely cumbersome, it was still a part of seaside fashion.

With the narrower silhouette, emphasis was placed on the bust, waist and hips. A corset was used to help mold the body to the desired shape. This was achieved by making the corsets longer than before, and by constructing them from separate shaped pieces of fabric. To increase rigidity, they were reinforced with many strips of whalebone, cording, or pieces of leather. Steam-molding, patented in 1868, helped create a curvaceous contour.

Skirts were supported by a hybrid of the bustle and crinoline or hooped petticoat sometimes called a “crinolette”. The cage structure was attached around the waist and extended down to the ground, but only extended down the back of the wearer’s legs. The crinolette itself was quickly superseded by the true bustle, which was sufficient for supporting the drapery and train at the back of the skirt.

Hairstyles and headgear
In keeping with the vertical emphasis, hair was pulled back at the sides and worn in a high knot or cluster of ringlets, often with a fringe (bangs) over the forehead. False hair was commonly used. Bonnets were smaller to allow for the elaborately piled hairstyles and resembled hats except for their ribbons tied under the chin. Smallish hats, some with veils, were perched on top of the head, and brimmed straw hats were worn for outdoor wear in summer.

Wraps and Overcoats
The main kind of wrap that dominated in the 1870s were capes and jackets that had a back vent in order to make room for the bustle. Some examples are the pelisse and the paletot coat.

Style gallery


2- 1870s




1.Bustles and elaborate drapery characterize evening dresses of the early 1870s. The gentleman wears evening dress. Detail of “Too Early” by Tissot, 1873
2.Dress of the later 1870s
3.Day dress, 1875 James Tissot painting.
4.Renoir’s portrait of Jeanne Samary in an evening gown, 1878
5.Countess Brownlow in artistic dress, 1879.

Men’s fashion
Innovations in men’s fashion of the 1870s included the acceptance of patterned or figured fabrics for shirts and the general replacement of neckties tied in bow knots with the four-in-hand and later the ascot tie.

From 1870 onwards, the men’s costume consists of a high-closing jacket, straight cardigan and trousers, mostly of the same material. The jacket is straight of model, or slightly longer and fitted with rounded-off pajamas. The legs are wider. The white shirt, symbol of the man who does not work with his hands, has an upright collar and buckled points. The shoes are flat and up to the ankles, with laces. The hair is short, and the man often has a mustache, point or ring beard, and sideburns. In addition to the top hat, the bowler hat (Homburg) and the straw hat are becoming more popular.

The outfit remains sober but gains in size.
The coats are long and wide.
The tie gives way to the bowtie.
The top hat is always de rigueur.

Coats and trousers
Frock coats remained fashionable, but new shorter versions arose, distinguished from the sack coat by a waist seam.[clarification needed] Waistcoats (U.S. vests) were generally cut straight across the front and had collars and lapels, but collarless waistcoats were also worn.

Three-piece suits consisting of a high-buttoned sack coat with matching waistcoat and trousers, called ditto suits or (UK) lounge suits, grew in popularity; the sack coat might be cutaway so that only the top button could be fastened.

The cutaway morning coat was still worn for informal day occasions in Europe and major cities elsewhere. Frock coats were required for more formal daytime dress. Formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers. The coat now fastened lower on the chest and had wider lapels. A new fashion was a dark rather than white waistcoat. Evening wear was worn with a white bow tie and a shirt with the new winged collar.

Topcoats had wide lapels and deep cuffs, and often featured contrasting velvet collars. Furlined full-length overcoats were luxury items in the coldest climates.

Full-length trousers were worn for most occasions; tweed or woollen breeches were worn for hunting and hiking.

In 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis began to sell the original copper-riveted blue jeans in San Francisco. These became popular with the local multitude of gold seekers, who wanted strong clothing with durable pockets.

Shirts and neckties
The points of high upstanding shirt collars were increasingly pressed into “wings”.

Necktie fashions included the four-in-hand and, toward the end of the decade, the ascot tie, a tie with wide wings and a narrow neckband, fastened with a jewel or stickpin. Ties knotted in a bow remained a conservative fashion, and a white bowtie was required with formal evening wear.

A narrow ribbon tie was an alternative for tropical climates, and was increasingly worn elsewhere, especially in the Americas.

Top hats remained a requirement for upper class formal wear; bowlers and soft felt hats in a variety of shapes were worn for more casual occasions, and flat straw boaters were worn for yachting and other nautical pastimes.

Style gallery




4 – 1872

5 – 1879

1.Paris fashion of 1878 features a coat with a contrasting collar, a waistcoat decorated with a watch chain, wide ascot tie, square-toed shoes, and a top hat.
2.Canadian legislator John Charles Rykert wears a narrow ribbon necktie and a collarless waistcoat. His coat has wide lapels. 1873.
3.Portrait of Claude Monet, 1875, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
4.Gentleman in a railway carriage wears a dust-colored coat, trousers, and collar-less waistcoat with a dark red necktie. He wears a fur-lined overcoat and tan gloves. Britain, 1872.
5.British statesman William Gladstone wears conservative clothing; his tall collar is still upstanding, and he wears his tie in a bow knot. 1879.

Children’s fashion
Infants continued to be dressed in flowing gowns, a style that continued into the early 20th century. Gender dress changes often did not occur until a child was five or six; however, in the later decades gender dress came much sooner. Girls’ ages could be depicted often based on the length of their skirt. As the girls got older, they wore longer skirts. A four-year-old would wear her skirt slightly above knee length; ten to twelve at mid-knee; twelve to fifteen varied from below the knee to mid-calf; and by sixteen or seventeen, a girl’s dress would be just above ankle length. The age of a boy could often be decided based on the length and type of trouser or how similar the attire was to that of a man’s. Boys often dressed similar to adult males, as they too wore blazers and Norfolk jackets.

Much influence on the styles of children’s dress came from artist Kate Greenaway, an illustrator of children’s books. She strongly influenced styles of young girls’ dress, as she often showed girls dressed in empire styles in her books. The idea of children’s dress being taken from books is also found is styles such as the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit which was worn by the hero of a children’s book published in 1885-86.






1.1870 fashion plate
2.Summer dress with sash, 1872–73
3.Two-year-old William Lyon Mackenzie King, 1876
4.The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower (1878), Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway College
5.Cherry Ripe 1879

Source from Wikipedia