The author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this passage from the second edition of her Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000 (2000), published by A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd., which retains copyright. Readers wishing to obtain of the complete book can e-mail the following address: .

decorated initial 'A'belief in the sanctity of science and the inevitability of progress pervades western civilization during this period. Advances in technology and industrial processes in Europe and America were creating competition and great prosperity, and colonial expansion was encouraged by the need for imported raw materials and overseas markets. Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851, designed to demonstrate to an international audience her new technological and artistic achievements, was followed by similar exhibitions in Paris and Vienna. The luxury and splendour of the French court of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie established Paris more firmly as the centre of feminine fashion, and even after the Prussian invasion of 1870 and the fall of the Second Empire she was able to maintain this leadership, which lasted well into the 20th century.

America, having survived the Civil War of 1861-5 and the assassination of President Lincoln, was establishing herself as a powerful and influential nation; gold, silver and oil were discovered, railroads were built and great fortunes were made, although increased immigration from Europe and Asia caused severe overcrowding and poverty in many city slums. Merchants from the old world were quick to appreciate the rapidly expanding market for clothes, textiles and works of art, and British aristocratic families were not backward in marrying their sons to a wealthy American heiress to help buttress the family fortunes.

Many of the material benefits and social advantages taken for granted today originated from this time. The transatlantic cable was laid in 1860; trams (the forerunner of the public motor-bus) appeared on city streets in the 1860s: the Union Pacific, first trans-continental railway, was established in 1869; Edison produced the phonograph in 1877 and exhibited his first electric lamp in 1879. The first patent for a horseless carriage was taken out in America, also in 1879, and Ford's first car appeared in 1893. By the end of the 1880s the telephone, if rare, was an accepted method of communication. The fight for higher education for women and women's suffrage gathered momentum (the State of Wyoming in America was first to give women the vote, in 1890). In the field of dress, the development of the sewing machine in the 1850s, the ever-increasing use of technology in the textile industries, and the spread of the department store all contributed to the wider availability of fashion.

Although there was much over-elaboration and ugliness in architecture, interior design and dress during this period, in England the Pre-Raphaelite painters and, later, the Arts and Crafts movement started by William Morris, and the 'artistic style' worn by their wives and admirers, began gradually to have an influence on dress. Dickens, George Eliot, Hardy, Zola, Balzac, Mark Twain, Checkov and Ibsen were among many writers who sought to affect thought and opinion about social matters, and Oscar Wilde was closely associated with the Aesthetic movement of the 1890s. It was a lively period in the theatre, and actors began to be accepted in respectable society; Irving was the first to be knighted, and Ellen Terry, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse were admired for their style of dress as well as for their histrionic ability. Famous beauties who also graced the stage, such as Lily Langtry, had even more influence on fashion. The importance of stylish dress to an actress at this time is apparent from an American critique in The Spirit of the Times, October 1882, of a touring production of Charles Wyndham's: 'None of the ladies is a professional beauty, all are good looking and will become beautiful, after a few months'stay in America has taught them how to make up and how to dress. There is one thing in the performance, that could be advantageously cut, and that is the stay-laces, English women are too fond of the corset.'

The American style of dress, easier and rather sporty, was typified in the 1890s by the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson and known as the 'Gibson Girl' look; and it was during this period that the American fashion magazines Harper's Bazaar (1867) and Vogue (1893) were launched, both notable for their high standand of presentation, and extending into English and French editions during the next century. This period also saw the opening of fashion stores such as Macey's (1858) and Nieman Marcus (1897) in New York and Liberty's (1875) in London.


Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.

Last modified 17 August 2001