Friday, October 14, 2011

An Overview of Historical Fashion

Lolita is, obviously, a very historically inspired fashion whether it's 19th century Victorian, 18th century Rococo, or even the 1950's. That is not to say that it is usually an accurate portrayal of historical costume, but the key elements are still there. Something one should also keep in mind about fashion is what we remember as the pinnacle of the era comes from the height of it- usually at the end. So, the average idea of fashion from a particular era might be what was actually only worn for a relatively short time (ex: bustles were not worn the entire Victorian era).
Despite this involvement in history, I've found a lot of lolitas don't actually know one time period from another, or suffer from common misconceptions about them. Or, like I used to be, know an era generally but have no idea where exactly to place it in a historical time-line. If that's the case, or you simply need a little refresher, here's my basic introduction to woman's western fashion from the 1700s-1900s.
I would like to add that I went with fashion eras for dates, rather than political dates of the eras. I am by no means a historian, so I apologize for any errors.

476-1450 Medieval
1450-1600 Renaissance
1558-1603 Elizabethian
1603-1714 Baroque
1714-1795 Georgian

Also: Rococo, Colonial
This is the last era that "full dress" (the extremely elaborate, ornamental clothing worn at court) was in use. The Georgian Era, especially the Rococo movement in France, was known for it's extravagance, full skirts, and complicated layering (many dresses required being sewn into, for example). It reached it's peak in the late 1780's, with French Revolution, after which fashion became simpler and more naturalistic (as exemplified by the popular but simple chemise-style dress).
Key elements: a low neckline, a fitted at the natural waist, full ankle-length skirt, an open overskirt with exposed petticoat or underskirt, 3/4 fitted sleeves with a frill or lace ruffle at the elbow.
Movies: Interview with a Vampire (the first half), The Duchess, Marie Antoinette, Dangerous Liaisons, Amadeus, Sleepy Hollow, Casanova, The Bride.

1795-1820 Regency

Also: Directoire, Empire
This was a short, but dramatically different era- a far cry from the brocade and heavy ornamentation of Georgian fashion. Clothing in this period was generally made of light, natural fabrics in more subdued colors, for a neo-classical look. Simple, gauzy, muslin frocks without elaborate bustling or undergarments were common, even among the very rich (despite appearances, corsets were still worn during this time). Most people today are familiar with this period thanks to the works of Jane Austen.
Key elements: Low scoop neckline, empire waistline, floor length skirt, slim and narrow silhouette, bolero jackets, shawls, bonnets, gloves.
Movies: Vanity Fair, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Becoming Jane, Wuthering Heights, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, Count of Monte Cristo, Napoleon and Josephine.

1820-1870 Romantic/Early Victorian

Also: Antebellum, Wild West
Necklines rose quite high (with the exception of evening gowns), skirts flaired out again thanks to cage skirts and crinoline petticoats, waists tucked in, and sleeves inflated. The point of the full skirt, wide shoulders, and full sleeves was to make the waist appear as narrow as possible. Different fabric colors, patterns, and textures began to work their way into everyday dress as the industrial revolution made them more widely available.
Key elements: very full skirts, triangular bodices, covered necks and arms, capelets, pleating and pin-tucks, small fitted bonnets.
Movies: Little Women, Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, The Young Victoria, Cold Mountain, Great Expectations, Cranford.

1865-1895 Late Victorian

Also: Belle Epoque, Pre-Raphaelite
Finally, the voluminous skirt began to descend again and move towards the back. The bustle replaced excessive crinolines. Necklines remain high, but more shoulders and sleeves more fitted and sleek. New fabrics and dyes continued to make their way into the market, resulting in clothing that despite popular belief, was quite colorful. Military-inspired jackets and riding habits became popular. After Prince Albert's death in 1861, Queen Victoria took the fashion of mourning costume to new heights (see my post here for more).
Key elements: bustle skirts, long and fitted bodices, high collars, leg o' mutton sleeves, bonnets, military jackets, cravats/jabots.
Movies: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Interview with a Vampire (the second half), Moulin Rouge, Anne of Green Gables, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dorian Gray, Age of Innocence.

More late Victorian, because I say so: <3


  1. very intressting post. Thank you for posting this. I also love it that you give examples of lolita coord inspired by the period and named some films in wich the style is showed.

  2. I think Pre-Raphaelite brotherhoos was born in the Early Victorian period. If you check some daguerrotipes from the models (the were ususally photgraphied as studio exercises) you´ll see the are all dressed on the fashion canon for that age.
    If you are interested on artistic movement, I can recommend you the BBC series Desperate Romantics.
    I am sure you´ll enjoy it!

  3. Great post! It can be difficult to keep these eras straight, so this was extremely interesting and informative. I especially love the examples you included of how historical elements from each era are translated into modern styles.

  4. I totally have had a crush on Regency since I own Sense & Sensibility. It's interesting how things got ornate again after that period. I had things slightly out of order.

  5. Hy(:

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    If you accept it, write a post about it, select 3 Goth bloggers for the Award(inform them in komment later), and upload the award's picture(found it on the link).

  6. Very interesting, I like historical paintings you've used as examples. Historical fashions are so inspiring - modern mainstream fashion is so plain by comparison, having sacrificed too much for practicality.

    One thing I would like to say is about the Pre Raphaelite fashion. Violette B mentioned the fact that the original models were earlier and generally wore the usual clothes of the early Victorian period when not modelling, but later, as the style became more popular, artsy bohemian women started wearing medieval-inspired dresses as inspired by the paintings. This was certainly not fashionable, and actually scandalous behaviour, but later went on to inspire fashionable garments as Art Nouveau gained popular acceptance and the floaty elegance of that sort of dress was seen as compatible to that aesthetic, if not taken the whole way, especially as there was a definite Arts and Crafts and historical influence to Art Nouveau anyway. William Morris is considered an Arts and Crafts figure, but he was socially linked to the PRB and went on to build his English-vernacular-meets-Gothic-revival Red House and be quite counter-cultural for his time.

  7. This is a great run down. I'm a fan of most of these eras!


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