We’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

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.crinoline 3

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.Bustle

I’ve listed some of the garments the well-dressed Victorian woman wore.

  1. Stockings held by garters
  2. 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.
  3. A chemise, which was like a long cotton t-shirt.
  4. 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.crinoline
  5. 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.
  6. A camisole or corset cover.
  7. The gown, which during the day was usually high-necked and lower during the evening.
  8. 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.



  1. Interesting. Thanks. Things were easier for Jane Austen who lived in the very early 1800s. Lighter gowns in the regency period. http://austenonly.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/rice856-correction.jpg

    • Hi Elizabeth, Lovely picture. Most definitely the Empire waist gowns were less bulky. I just can’t image wearing all the petticoats some of the fuller gowns required before the cage crinoline. Sweating just thinking about it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • *Sigh* I ADORE Jane Austen. Awesome link, Elizabeth 🙂

  2. Yikes! That video is so disturbing, Renee! I want to scrub my eyes with soap or something. Lol. It’s unfortunate that women throughout history have struggled with accepting the beauty of their natural forms. And while I admire many of those fancy dresses, if you asked me to wear one on a daily basis, my answer would be, Hell no! I’m a creature of comfort, especially when it comes to fashion! 🙂

    • Rachael you had me lol with your scrubbing the eyes comment. Doesn’t that corset look painful? Yikes! I had my hubby watch it, and he cringed. The things women throughout history have donned to look fashionable is sometimes mind-boggling.

  3. All I can say is wow. The woman in the video looks like she is gonna beak in half. I am secure enough to admit I find an hourglass figure on a woman beautiful, but that was just weird looking. I suspect I would have been safe from that sort of activity, seeing as I am working class through and through. Probably would have been a worker bee. I think I would rather scrub floors on my hands and knees than wear that anyhow. I will never curse the underwire in my super-duper DD bra with nipple concealing petals and 20 hook closures again.

    • Aw, Renee, too funny. Sadly I don’t have the bra problem. Yes, she did look like she could snap in half. I should have posted the picture that shows what wearing one of those corsets does to the internal organs. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion!

      • I showed the hubby, he said “that’s just wrong” and “she wont be having kids anytime soon”. The vid said she and her husband decided together that she would do this. Hummm…. if I tried to do something so unhealthy to my body my husband would put his size 13 foot down because he loves me. I know your post was not about this video, it kinda got hijacked. But it is truly disturbing to see that on a modern woman. But then again we do a lot of unhealthy things this day and age as well. I’m not judging, at least trying not to judge. Failing miserably at it, but trying none the less.

        • Renee, you got a good guy. My hubby was a bit startled as well. As I told someone else I actually went to You Tube looking for a video on crinolines, but when I saw this video I just had to post it because women did wear these, though perhaps not so tightly laced.

  4. They say that the stock market goes up when hemlines go up. Shorter skirts equal prosperity ie the roaring twenties and the swinging sixties. So what does the mullet dress have to say about our current state of affairs.

    • Dory, Should I admit I had to look up what a mullet dress was? But I felt a bit redeemed when I saw the picture, since I have one of those dresses and several tops that are styled like that as well. As far as the stock market, I stopped trying to figure it out years ago. I’m hoping that it doesn’t mean that all those gains are about to go down. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Dory, I have two maxi dresses hanging in my closet right now…..hummmmm…..

  5. Oh, dear..;She can have that world record…I won’t be trying to oust her!!! I’m am thankful I live in a time where I can wear shorts and it not bother anyone!!!

    • Hi Tessy, I actually went to You Tube looking for a video that showed how to wear a crinoline cage, but when I found this one with the corset, I just had to post it. Can you imagine what her internal organs look like? Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. That video is sick. I can’t believe anyone would think that’s attractive. Ah, well, “different strokes…”

    I’m definitely glad we’re not in that poofy skirt mode anymore. But men in flowing shirts with tight pants and Hessians….mmmmm. 🙂

    Fun post, Renee!

    • Misty, I knew you’d like those tight pants. Yeah, men had it easier, though some did wear a corset. Not that they were looking for a hourglass figure, but to reduce their tummies. And men also wore padding. No, Misty, not wear you’re thinking. I believe they wore it on their shoulders.

  7. Ouch! I would settle for Scarlett O’Hara’s 19-inch waist and be done with it. 😉

    • Hi Jo, You and me both. I did come across several photos from this time period that did show women with itsy-bitsy waist. I would have been considered a tart. I hate wearing undergarments. Perhaps that was to much info.

  8. I could never live with a corset. But, I do like the stockings held by garters (in place of pantyhose — so “not” sexy).

    • Hi Angela, Especially a corset like the one in that video. I’m not a fan of pantyhose either. I like thigh highs, much sexier! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. ana morgan says:

    The things we do for fashion. Yikes! I’d rather hide out on a mountain top and wear jeans, boots and flannel shirts.

  10. Yikes! When I was young, I always though long dresses were so elegant and romantic, but these outfits would have been nightmares!!! Great post, Renee.

    • Hi Barb, They do look beautiful. When I was writing this post I kept thinking of the scene from Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O’Hara has no material for a gown and uses the green velvet drapery fabric. And boy did those curtains make a lovely gown! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  11. Oh Renee! You know…half of me loves the idea of romantic, feminine fashions of the past, but lets face it…those gals pretty much just sat around looking pretty for a living. I do feel much better about myself when I ‘pretty’ myself up but I have to admit…Im a creature of comfort…yoga pants and a big ole sweatshirt. Pantyhose? No freakin’ way. Haven’t worn a pair since I got caught walking down the main corrider of IBM with my big flowey skirt tucked in the back of them…needless to say the panties that were smushed by those control-top babies certainly weren’t a pretty little lacy pair!!!! I caused quite a stir…
    Now as for corsets? That chicks internal organs are probably screaming for a nice big fiber bar right about now!!!!
    Love You! J

  12. LOL, I’m thinking of the first chapter of your story and the pantyhose scene with Joley. Ha! Now I know were that idea came from. Go for the lace-topped thigh highs. They’re sexy and a hell of a lot safer. Hugs, Renee

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