The Victoria and Albert Museum writes of 1840s women’s dress:
“1840s fashion is characterised by low and sloping shoulders, a low pointed waist, and bell-shaped skirts that grew increasingly voluminous throughout the decade. Evening dresses were often off the shoulder. Hair was parted in the centre with ringlets at the side of the head, or styled with loops around the ears and pulled into a bun at the back of the head. Paisley or crochet shawls were fashionable accessories, as were linen caps with lace frills for indoor wear, and large bonnets for outdoors. Capes with large collars were fashionable.”
“Shoulders were narrow and sloping, waists became low and pointed, and sleeve detail migrated from the elbow to the wrists. Where pleated fabric panels had wrapped the bust and shoulders in the previous decade, they now formed a triangle from the shoulder to the waist of day dresses.
Skirts evolved from a conical shape to a bell shape, aided by a new method of attaching the skirts to the bodice using organ or cartridge pleats which cause the skirt to spring out from the waist. Full skirts were achieved mainly through layers of petticoats. The increasing weight and inconvenience of the layers of starched petticoats would lead to the development of the crinoline of the second half of the 1850s.
Sleeves were narrower and fullness dropped from just below the shoulder at the beginning of the decade to the lower arm, leading toward the flared pagoda sleeves of the 1850s and 1860s. Evening gowns were worn off the shoulder and featured wide flounces that reached to the elbow, often of lace. They were worn with sheer shawls and opera-length gloves.
Another accessory was a small bag. At home, bags were often white satin and embroidered or painted. Outdoor bags were often green or white and tasseled. There were also crocheted linen bags.
Shoes were made from the same materials as handbags. There were slippers of crocheted linen and bright colored brocade satin slippers that tied around the ankle with silk ribbon.”
“Very fashionable men sported low, tightly cinched waists, with rounded chests and flared frock-coats that gave them a rather hour-glass figure inspired by Prince Albert. They also wore tight trousers and waistcoats, with high upstanding collars and neckties tied around them. Hair was worn quite long, but swept to the sides. Moustaches and side-burns were popular.”
“In this period, men’s fashion plates show the lowered waistline taking on a decided point at the front waist, which was accompanied by a full rounded chest. Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) had a high influence on male fashion, primarily because of his young age at the time of his wife’s coronation, and his great attention to his appearance. Therefore, the clothing, particularly of upper class gentleman, continued to follow the trend of earlier decades with full shoulders and chest, and a tightly-cinched waist.”
- “1840s in Western Fashion.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 16, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1840s_in_Western_fashion
- “History of Fashion 1840 – 1900.” Victoria & Albert Museum. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/history-of-fashion-1840-1900/
- England: Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
- Spain: Queen Isabella II (1833-1868)
- United States:
Fashion Plate Collections (digitized)
NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
- Wikipedia: 1840s in Western Fashion
- Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A)
- Vintage Fashion Guild
- Berg Fashion Library
- The Met: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History