Major Fashion Trends and Beauty Rituals from the 19th century and the Victorian Era

Fashion trends from the 19th century

The fashion trends in the 19th century took a variety forms, including from the strangest beauty ritual of wearing extremely tight corset that displaced the wearer’s internal organs to a potion made from crushed beetles for women who wanted to conceive.

It’s important to note that while some of these beauty rituals may seem unusual or even harmful by today’s standards, they were reflective of the beauty standards and practices of the time – a time when clothing was becoming cheaper and faster to produce as a result of Industrial Revolution.

Below, World History Edu presents some very notable beauty practices and rituals that were popular during that time:

Skin care rituals from the 19th century

Women in the 19th century often used natural ingredients for skincare. Cold creams made from beeswax, almond oil, and rosewater were popular for moisturizing the skin. They also used lemon juice and vinegar as toners to brighten the complexion.

Face Powders

It must be noted that long before the 19th century – even as far as the Elizabethan era – pale skin was considered fashionable. As a result, women used face powders containing lead or arsenic to achieve a pale complexion. These powders were often scented and applied generously to the face and neck.

Rouge

To add a touch of color to their cheeks, some 19th-century women used rouge made from crushed flowers, berries, or beets. They would apply it to the apples of their cheeks for a flushed look.

Hair care rituals from the 19th century

Maintaining healthy and elaborate hairstyles was important. Women used pomades and oils made from animal fat to add shine and manageability to their hair. They also used hairpieces, such as false braids and hair rats, to create elaborate updos.

Perfumes in the 19th century

Perfumes were highly valued and used extensively. Women wore scented oils or solid perfumes, often applied behind the ears, on the wrists, or at the base of the throat. Popular scents included rose, lavender, and musk.

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Teeth Whitening was held in high esteem

To achieve a bright smile, women used various methods to whiten their teeth. These methods included brushing with a mixture of ground charcoal and salt or applying acidic substances like lemon juice to the teeth.

Corsets to make the waist of women appear extremely slim

This 1878 illustration showcases a lavish hourglass corset, exuding luxury. It prominently displays a busk fastening in the front, while the back features intricate lacing for adjustment.

Corsets were widely worn to achieve the desired hourglass figure. They were tightly laced to cinch the waist and create a narrow waistline. The corsets were often made of whalebone or steel for support.

Corsets were historically worn by both men and women, although they were predominantly associated with women’s fashion for a significant period of time.

Fashion trends from the 19th century

A woman models a corset in 1898

Crinolines and Bustles

Another very common fashion trend from the 19th century and the Victorian era (1830s to early 1900s) were the crinoline and bustles women used.

Women of that era used crinolines to their skirts. Crinolines were hoop-like structures made of steel or horsehair. These created a bell-shaped silhouette. Even though crinolines was very uncomfortable wearing, women from all social classes jumped on the fashion bandwagon. Basically, the bustle caused a lot of pain to back after prolonged usage. It’s anyone’s guess how women of the era managed to climb stairs or even sit down with such a bulky undergarment.

Later in the era, crinolines were replaced by bustles, which were frameworks worn at the back of the skirt to create a protruding rear end. Like the crinolines, the bustle required the wearer to sacrifice a bit of comfort and mobility just so as to look fashionable. This just goes to show that our generation is not the first to be obsessed with exaggerating the size of the posterior region.

Fashion trends from the Victorian era

Invented in 1857 by American inventor Alexander Douglas, the bustle was very much used by women in the 19th century to exaggerate the size of the posterior region. There were quite a number of downsides to wearing the bustle, especially the back pain women endured as a result. Besides, trying to sit down with such an undergarment required skill. Image: A cage crinoline in the Victorian era

Gloves

Wearing gloves was considered essential for a lady. Gloves were made from a variety of materials, such as kid leather or lace, and were worn to protect the hands and keep them soft and fair. Basically, the use of gloves by women enabled them to hide any tanned part or blemished spot on their hands. Those features were often associated to the working class who labored under the sun often. It even got to a point where it became frowned upon for a woman to show her hands in public.

It must be noted that women weren’t the only ones that wore gloves in the Victorian era. Men wore gloves for almost the same reason enumerated above. However, men were often expected to take off the gloves when shaking hands.

Bathing

Bathing practices were different in the 19th century. Many people did not bathe frequently due to limited access to clean water. Instead, they relied on daily sponge baths and used scented powders and perfumes to mask body odors.

Dandy fashion men in the Victorian era

Fashion trends from the Victorian era

Dandy fashion was a prominent style during the Victorian era, particularly in the mid-19th century. Dandies were fashionable and extravagant gentlemen who emphasized their appearance and sense of style. They carried themselves with poise and elegance, exuding an air of sophistication and refinement. Image: A Victorian dandy pictured in the 1840s

The dandy style for men emerged during the Victorian era. Dandies were fashionable gentlemen who focused on their appearance. They wore tailored suits, accessorized with cravats, pocket squares, and elaborate neckties. They also sported well-groomed facial hair and often carried canes or walking sticks.

Generally speaking, dandies were seen as trendsetters and often gathered in social circles where they discussed fashion, literature, and other intellectual pursuits. The style was a rebellion against the conservative norms of the time, embracing individuality and self-expression through fashion.

Dandies paid close attention to the finer details of their outfits. They focused on the fit of their clothes, the quality of the fabric, and the coordination of colors and patterns. The aim was to create a cohesive and stylish ensemble.

The fashion was not just about the clothes; it was also about the attitude and confidence displayed by the wearer.

Queen Victoria

The Victorian era encompassed the reign of Queen Victoria, starting from June 20, 1837, and lasting until her passing on January 22, 1901.

Questions and Answers

Here’s what you need to know:

Were there fashion critics that opposed some of the fashion trends from the era?

Yes. Some fashion critics, especially the Rational Dress Society, saw the bustle and tight corsets as undergarments that deformed women’s natural bodies. Critics also raised the point of how those trends were not just injurious to the body, but also impeded movements of the body.

Did they use any natural remedies?

Women often turned to natural remedies for various beauty concerns. For example, they used cucumber slices or cold tea bags to reduce puffiness under the eyes and chamomile tea rinses for shiny hair.

Why did women wear many layers of clothes?

Victorian women embraced layering in their clothing. Multiple layers of petticoats and underskirts were worn to achieve a voluminous look. Fabrics such as silk, satin, velvet, and lace were commonly used for dresses, reflecting the opulence and refinement of the era.

What was the mourning fashion style used in Victorian Era?

In the Victorian era, mourning attire was an important aspect of social etiquette. Widows were expected to dress in mourning for an extended period after the death of a loved one. Mourning fashion involved wearing black dresses made of heavy fabrics, often with veils and black accessories.

Mourning dress in the Victorian era. Image: Victoria’s five daughters (Alice, Helena, Beatrice, Victoria and Louise), photographed wearing mourning black beneath a bust of their late father, Prince Albert (1862)

What was people’s deal with fans in the Victorian era?

One word: Flirtation. People in that era used fans when they wanted to flirt with someone. Perhaps, it communicated to the other person that they their temperature had reason, hence their use of fans to cool down. Alternatively, the fans enabled women to kind of keep some sort of decency while engaged in a playful flirtatious behavior.

Both the upper and lower classes carried fans as part of the fashion trend of the era. The only difference was that the fans used by upper-class women were made of more expensive materials, say like silk and ostrich feathers.

Interestingly, every gesture or movement of the fan communicated a particular message to the person one was flirting with. Basically, fans were used as a medium to send coded messages to a person that you were interested without the need to be vocal. For example, when a fan is raised to the tip of one’s lips it was seen as an invitation for a kiss.

What were some key elements of dandy fashion in the 19th century?

How men dressed in the Victorian era

Dandies wore a variety of hats to complete their look. The most popular styles included top hats, bowler hats, and boater hats. These hats added sophistication and a touch of elegance to the overall ensemble.

Dandies favored well-tailored suits made of high-quality fabrics such as wool or tweed. The suits were typically single-breasted with a fitted waist and wide lapels. The trousers were slim-fitting and often had a slight flare at the hem.

They wore cravats, which were large, wide neckties made of silk or satin. Cravats were intricately tied and positioned to draw attention to the neck area.

Waistcoats, also known as vests, were an essential part of a dandy’s ensemble. They were typically made of silk or brocade and were worn underneath the suit jacket. Waistcoats were often brightly colored or patterned to add a touch of flamboyance.

Another important point worth mentioning is the great attention dandies paid to their accessories. They wore pocket squares, handkerchiefs, and boutonnieres in the lapel buttonhole. They also carried walking sticks or canes, which were both fashionable and functional.

Well-Groomed Appearance: Dandies took great care in their personal grooming. They maintained well-trimmed facial hair, such as mustaches or beards, and often used grooming products like pomade or hair oil to achieve a polished look. Attention was also given to personal hygiene and cleanliness.

What impact did the Industrial Revolution have on fashion trends from the 19th century?

Fashion trends from the 19th century

Kinds of dresses women wore in the 19th century

The Industrial Revolution was monumental when it came to fashion trends from the 19th century, especially the Victorian era. This was because the innovations made in clothing manufacturing significantly brought the final price down. Compared to the previous century, clothing manufacturers spent less time. As a result of those benefits, many people were able to afford more clothes, which in turn meant that they had more license to experiment. Basically, it marked the beginning of the working-class population’s access to range of clothes that were previously the preserve for the aristocrats and wealthy.

The democratization of fashion in general meant that fashion was no longer categorized into the ones wore by the upper class and the ones wore by the lower class. Instead, the differentiation occurred at the gender level. Before the Victorian era, the upper class – regardless of gender – generally wore very expensive silk clothes. In the 19th century, silk almost became the preserve of women, while men generally wore dark wool.

How did they become obsessed with colorful dresses?

Kind courtesy of the synthetic dye that British chemist Henry Perkin developed in 1853, clothing manufacturers began shifting from the very expensive natural dyes to cheap synthetic dyes. This allowed for the manufacturers to make very colorful dresses. Before that, colorful dresses could only be afforded by the extremely wealthy and upper class. The introduction of those cheap synthetic dyes meant that colors like purple and pink became within the reach of people from the lower class.

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