Fashion in the Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era clothing was custom made by seamstresses, milliners, tailors, hatters, glovers, corsetiers, and many other specialized trades people who produced the clothing in small shops. For those who could not afford to patronize specialist, made their own clothing or bought used clothing.

Towards the end of the era (early 1900’s) factory made clothing was becoming more common. It was sold in large, fixed price stores. Still, custom and home sewing played a major role but gradually this life style declined.

Clothing changed in many ways in response to new machinery and materials.
With the new invention of the lock-stitch sewing machine, clothing production became and faster, easier, process. This new technological advancement was less time consuming, and allowed for a hands-free method to emerge.

British colonies gave rise to new types of clothing and new materials. Rubber and colorful dyes were all introduced creating a “brighter” era.
(typical fashion of a Victorian couple)

In the novel Pride and Prejudice, social class plays a dominant role. Society, during the time, was judgmental on reputation, appearance, and fortune. Appearance was extremely significant during the Victorian Era. One would automatically know whether they wanted to assosciate with a person based on their appearance. It was also easy to aknowledge the social class of a person based on their fashion style. Marriage was a priority rather than a choice. Appearance and fortune would define an eligible bachelor. Events held such as the usual ball, all contributed to the fashion scene. In the novel, we see many cases where a character is judged based his/her clothing.

Women’s fashion

During the Victorian Era, women were a walking icon of elegance and grace. They represented their beauty through lavish gowns filled with frill, flounces, lace, braid, and ribbons. Although uncomfortable and inconvenient, these women were committed to looking as fine as possible. Heavy petticoats, layers of underclothes, metal hoops, tight corsets all contributed to the common wardrobe of women in the mid-nineteenth century. Fans, gloves, hats, and parasols were used as the finishing touch to complete a stylish, sophisticated attire. (this shows the evolution of the changing styles of women)

“Her hair so untidy, so blowzy!...Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.” (Austin 37)
This scene reflects the judgmental mood of the people in the Victorian Era. Elizabeth had walked many miles in order to visit her sick sister. Rather than compliment on her good soul and independence, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley were disgusted by her appearance. Since fashion played such a major role, it is the first thing they noticed when Elizabeth walked in.

Gowns :

  • Fashions of 1853: Flounced skirts, cape-like jackets, and heavily trimmed bonnets.
  • Day Dresses: over the shoulder panels gathered into a point at the waist. It included separate small collars of lace or chrochet work with the occassional ribbon bow.
  • Evening dresses: low-necked, generally fell off the shoulders, and had short sleeves

“Mr Bingley was good looking and gentlemen like; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion.” (Austin 12)
During the Victorian Era, one’s social class determined their sense of style and attire. When women were noticed for their acceptional clothing, people would automatically asssume that they were of high social class. This is how a good reputation was formed.

Women’s fashionable clothing started with a ……..

Straight, Regency silhouette, -dresses were closely-fitted to the torso just under the bust, falling loosely below

Eventally fashion was characterized by a huge increase in the width of women's skirts. This was supported by….

Crinolines- This was originally a stiff fabric which first appeared around the 1830’s. This fabric quickly became the representation of rigid skirt-shaped structure. It supported the skirts of women’s dresses and molded them into the required shape.

Hoopskirt- a women’s undergarment used to hold the skirt into a fashionable shape

Bustle- the framework of a women’s dress. It was used to support the drapery and create a look of fullness. It was worn in the back of the dress and under the skirt just below the waist.

Before Victorian Era Victorian Era

Crinolines Hoopskirt Bustle

“…and his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst’s gown--”
Society paid close attention to their surroundings. When a unique dress that stood out was worn, people often commented on how great it was. Having lace on a gown was a feature that symbolized elegance and grace. To be considered charming is to be considered dressing well.

Charles Frederick Worth was one of the most well known fashion designers during the Victorian Era. His couture dresses were very popular among women of the upper class in both Britain and America.
Today, upper class women admire the work of designers such as Nicole Miller. In comparing the two different fashion eras, we can notice both similarities and differences, length being the major difference.

“At five o’clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half past six, Elizabeth was summoned to dinner.” (Austen 36)
Even just for family dining, women in the Victorian Era had to look their best. They took time preparing for meaningless occasions. In this scene, it took Elizabeth and her sister an hour and a half just to dress for dinner. In present day, spending such time would be considered ridiculous. This shows the importance of appearance and looking best at all times, even if its just for family.

Hairstyles and headgear

During the Victorian Era, a woman wore her hair in a very simple and delicate manner. Women would often wear buns or braids in the back, with hair that was puffed out or curled over the ears. When outdoors, bonnets with ribbon bows were tied under the chin. A cap made of lace and ribbon frill was worn when indoors.


Fashionable women often carried a small purse made of either colorful or steel-cut glass beads.
Colorful or black lace shawls. They were usually cut inorder to fit the fullness of the gown. Some shawls were as wide as 11 feet.
Bonnets were constantly worn in the Victorian Era. They were made in every color with an addition of silk and flowers.

Victorian ladies wore flat heeled shoes or slippers. Side laced shoes were worn in the outdoors.


Ornaments were common among women. Bracelets, necklaces and rings were set with gems and worn as personal adornments to show wealth and a good fashion sense. Similar to present day, necklaces, bracelets, rings, pins and earrings are among the most popular. The diamond ring has long been the epitome of romance. This stone is symbolic of engagement, and the beginning of a long marriage.


Men’s Fashion

Frock Coat- worn on business occasion, over waistcoats or vests. As years progressed, they became longer in length while a new trend emerged. Wearing the bottom button undone was a common style worn by all men.

Sack Coats- reached mid thigh and was loosely fitted. It was used and worn for leisure activities and gradually it replaced the frock coat. As time progressed it became the modern suit coat.
Morning coat- This was strictly worn for formal day occasions.
Evening Coat- a dark tail coat considered the most formal and worn to such occasions.

“The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they have the advantage of a ascertaining, from an upper window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse.” (Austin 13)
This scene portrays women of the Victorian Era being judgmental. They are watching Mr. Bingley and take notice of his blue coat and black horse. Evidently, this sumbolized class and elegance. The ladies were impressed by his fashion sense and were all interested in this man. Making an impression was among the most important thing.


Trousers were worn during the day and were full-length.
Breeches- it covered the mens body from the waist down. It had separate coverings for eahc leg, stopping just below the knee. Sometimes it would reach the ankle.


Top Hats- tall, flat crowned hat worn with formal dress. It grew taller in a stove-pipe shape.
Bowler Hat- a hard felt hat with a rounded crown, usually worn usually by men of working class.

top hat bowler hat


Haug, Joanne. "The Victoriana Era Outline." Victoriana.
28 Oct 2007 <

"1850's Fashion." 28 Oct 2007 <>.

Weston Thomas, Pauline . "The Victorian Era Fashion History." 28 Oct 2007 <>.

"Victorian Fashion." 28 Oct 2007 <>.