Okay for those of you who homed in on the word come and thought I’d be talking about orgasms—nope. Perhaps I should have titled this stripping down the Victorian woman, since this post is about the multitude of layers a fashionable Victorian woman wore.
As a writer of historical fiction, I’ve researched what was stylish during this period. And let me tell you it might look pretty when you’re watching some epic movie like Gone With the Wind, but clothing from that era is where they must have coined the term a prisoner to fashion.
Women’s clothing during most of the 19th century were meant to preserve a woman’s modesty, especially as this century progressed. A well brought up lady of good social standing never exposed her ankles. Legs were more closely guarded than the Crown Jewels and more enticing than the swell of a woman’s bosom.
These women wore an abundance of layers. So many layers that I’ve read articles that mentioned the total weight could exceed twenty-five pounds. Yikes! That’s close to carrying the weight of an unmixed bag of concrete. Talk about a workout.
Some of the gowns that came into fashion during this period required a plethora of petticoats to give the gowns a full look—that was until someone invented the crinoline cage. If wearing a dress that looked more like a tent wasn’t dire enough, in the latter part of the century women strapped fanny packs on their butts or wore a crinoline bustles to make their back ends look enormous. My derriere’s already big enough without accentuating it. I think I might have revolted.
I’ve listed some of the garments the well-dressed Victorian woman wore.
- Stockings held by garters
- Cotton drawers. These were longer than what we wear today. They also had a slit in the crotch to make relieving oneself a bit easier. Really by the time a woman lifted up all those layers she was doomed to have a mishap. Or perhaps it was because by the time a randy husband or lover reached that layer he’d be too exhausted to lower her drawers.
- A chemise, which was like a long cotton t-shirt.
- A corset—now I know you might be thinking Victoria Secret, but these were fashioned from metal or whalebone and tightly tied to give a slender waistline. They sound more like torture contraptions than sexual enticements. I’ve added a video below.
- Petticoats–Depending on the decade, a woman might have worn up to six petticoats. Thankfully someone invented the cage crinoline which reduced the need for all those layers.
- A camisole or corset cover.
- The gown, which during the day was usually high-necked and lower during the evening.
- Last but not least, the accouterments or accessories. A gently bred woman did not leave the house without a hat and gloves, many times they even wore their gloves indoors.
And if putting on all these layers seems monumental enough, wealthier women changed several times during the day. They wore morning gowns, walking dresses, evening wear. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
I’m always wondering if that generation could have seen into the future what they would have thought about are short skirts or a Girls Gone Wild video. The words shocking, hussy, and tart come to my mind, and smelling salts would have been needed to revive them.
So what do you think of Victorian couture? Would you have embraced this romantic looking clothing, or revolted and joined the dress reform movement? And what do you think the Victorians would have thought of our current fashions, or our barely there tops and skirts?
Here’s a video of a woman who wears a corset so she can dress in Victorian costume.