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 'M'en's clothing became on the whole a little more comfortable, with a slightly easier fit and lower collars. However, like women, they were bound by the growth of rigid conventions stipulating the 'correct' dress for each and every occasion; in fashionable society a man might be required to change his outfit several times a day. Whereas inprevious centuries a courtier or gentleman would be noted for his lavish and colourful style of dress in contrast to the modestly attired poorer classes, from around the 1850s good cloth in sober colours and immaculate tailoring and grooming became increasingly important. It was left to lively members of the working and lower-middle classes or the nouveau riche to indulge in a flashy tie or figured waistcoat. Both Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli received derogatory comments during the 1840s on their somewhat flamboyant style of dress with brightly coloured and decorated waistcoats; but in later life they became more conventional, and during the 1870s they were included in the curious practice of sticking the heads of well-known people on to fashion plates.

An enormous variety of styles was worn by women during this half-century, many of them remarkably ugly. The invention of the sewing machine seems to have encouraged over-elaborate decoration, and the introduction of aniline dyes produced some garish colours.

The invention of the steel-framed crinoline in 1856 provided some relief from the enormous weight of stiffened petticoats and ever-widening skirts. By the 1860s the shape of the frame became flattened at the front, spreading and widening at the back and evolving into the bustle by the 1870s. This almost vanished during the fashion for the cuirass body during the mid 1870s, but returned in the 1880s in its most exaggerated form, looking, it has been suggested, like a camel with two legs. By the 1890s it had become once again a small pad.


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

Last modified 8 April 2004