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As you know from last week’s post, I collect historical gowns. If you’ve ever seen one up close, you’ll know why I can’t resist these beautiful works of art; fashion was just so complex and elegant during the turn of the century! I can’t help comparing current women’s fashion to the styles my heroines wore back in the day.

One of the few similarities I can find is that throughout history women’s fashion has NEVER been practical, right? The thing from today that comes to mind is a thong. I mean, who cares if panty lines show? Seriously. Is it really worth wearing one of those things?? I’m absolutely convinced a man invented them. All I ask is that you leave me and my boxing gloves alone in a room with him for, oh, about five minutes and … well, ’nough said.

Still, the beautiful clothing and undergarments worn by yesterday’s women fascinates me. What do you say we take a peek at a few of the must-have pieces from back then?

Corsets

 Newspaper ad for women's corsets 

Newspaper ad for women's corsets 

 You really can tell how uncomfortable these things are! 

You really can tell how uncomfortable these things are! 

To get the tiny waistline that was oh-so-popular during the end of the 19th century, women used corsets to pull the waist in and to shove the “extra” up top and down below. Having worn a corset on several occasions, I can tell you, that if you lace yourself too tight in order to fit into that dress from last year, well, it can be really, really uncomfortable. (It’s even worse than laying on your bed in order to pull on a pair of really tight jeans.) And though corsets have, thankfully, evolved into more practical options like Spanx, I still would rather forgo all that stuff. I hate anything restricting. 

Petticoats

 Satin and lace petticoat 

Satin and lace petticoat 

 Dotted silk petticoat. Look at all that embroidery! 

Dotted silk petticoat. Look at all that embroidery! 

 There were a lot of layers involved in this outfit! 

There were a lot of layers involved in this outfit! 

The shape of women’s skirts changed dramatically between the American Civil War era and the end of the 19th century. First, the girls would wear up to five petticoats to poof out their dresses. Then, the crinoline came along and they’d only have to wear one petticoat over that (which kept the ridges from showing through to their skirts). From their, came the bustle—which in some cases was simply a pillow attached to the gal’s back end. Finally, at the turn of the century, they were back to a trumpet shaped skirt with only one or two petticoats.

 Now you might think the petticoats were just plain white fabric with no extra bells or whistles—and some were. But more often than not, many added ruffles and some embroidery to pretty them up. Not much different than we do when we shop at Victoria’s Secret for pretty underwear that, depending on our circumstance, no one may ever see.

Shirtwaist

 Look at all that bling! 

Look at all that bling! 

Now this is a huge closet essential for our New Women! While they were breaking down barriers in the workplace, they were also doing the same in the fashion world with garments as unsuspecting as the shirtwaist. A shirtwaist was a simple cotton blouse worn by many working women. They needed something less restrictive, so this garment was constructed much like a man’s shirt-- with fitted sleeves, front buttons and a high collar.

I love this photograph. It’s not only a great example of a shirtwaist, but she’s got the Gibson Girl hairstyle, the corseted waist, the A-line skirt, and the Victorian bling. Wish we could see the rest of her purse (or reticule, as they called it back then)!

 

Skirt

 Practical a-line skirts to pair with the practical shirtwaist blouse

Practical a-line skirts to pair with the practical shirtwaist blouse

To go with their practical shirtwaist blouse, a New Woman would need to have a skirt. As I mentioned before, skirts were a lot less bulky during this time period than they had been in the previous decades. A simple trumpet shaped skirt that was tight around the middle and flared out slightly at the bottom was fashionable enough to show off a lady’s hourglass figure, while still allowing enough mobility for her to work.

What do you think about women’s fashion during the turn of the century? Could you imagine wearing all those layers, especially in the hot summer weather?