The Victorian Era began with the reign of Queen Victoria in 1837 and ended with her death in January of 1901 when Edward became King of England, which began the Edwardian Period.
* * * * *
* * * *
Early Victorian ~ 1837 through 1839 1840's ~ 1840-1849
1850's ~ 1850-1859
Civil War ~ 1860-1865 Early Bustle ~ 1866-1875
Natural Form Bustle ~ 1876-1883
Late Bustle ~ 1884-1889 Gay 90's ~ 1890-1900 Edwardian~ 1901-1919
* * * * *
On this page we will concentrate on the Civil War Era through the Edwardian Era.
Civil War Era
Gay 90's Era
To learn about the features of fashion by era it is necessary to identify the details of the styles that were available in that time period.
The average middle to upper class woman typically followed the etiquette of the day that required a multitude of undergarments and highly decorative clothing and hats that were in style for that period or season.
Each time period has specific details to the style that would have been strictly followed...meaning a proper lady in the Bustle or Edwardian periods would never have worn a Civil War era hoop skirt, nor would a Civil War lady ever have worn a straight skirt.
Typically this applies to dresses and suits as similar hat styles seem to have extended beyond specific time periods. (also see Hats and Hair Styles)
As you study you will learn to be able to identity these details that will assist you in dating a garment or creating an appropriate and authentic reenactment ensemble.
To determine the era of an antique or reproduction garment it is necessary examine the piece and deconstruct it visually. Look for these particular details of the piece which will, in most cases, give you clues to the era:
#1 ~ Shape of the skirt #2 ~ Position of the shoulder seam #3 ~ Style of the sleeve #4 ~ Style of the bodice
If you are attempting to identify the date of an antique or reproduction dress it will be necessary to lay out the piece(s) to get a proper view of the style by mounting the garment on a mannequin, hang on a clothes hanger and stuff with tissue paper, or lay the piece out so the entire garment is spread to its fullest.
Start with the shape of the skirt. If possible, place hoops, bustles, slips or even stuff with tissue paper until the hemline is fully extended and is parallel with the floor, except if the gown has a train. Do not allow any part of the hem to be uneven with the floor.
If the skirt does have a train, position the front hem of the skirt even with the floor and follow the hem line around each side until you find an obvious area where the hem begins the train. Fill the skirt so the front section hem is level and even with the floor.
#1 ~ Examine the shape of the skirt
~ Typically these three skirt shapes will be your first clue to identify a piece from the Victorian eras (Civil War, Bustle, 90's):
The Civil War Era Hoop Skirt
The Bustle Era Bustle Skirt Bustles changed in shape & size ~ See "Bustle Era" below for all bustle shapes
The Gay 90's A-Line Skirt
#2 ~ Examine the position of the shoulder seam
If the shoulder seam has a dropped shoulder then the garment can typically be identified as early Victorian through the early bustle period of the 1870's.
If the shoulder seam is at the shoulder then the piece is mid-1870's and later.
Dropped Shoulder Seam
Shoulder Seam At The Shoulder
#3 ~ Examine the sleeve style
Sleeve styles were different in nearly every era. Some of the most noteable styles are shown below.
The Pagoda Sleeve
With undersleeve ~ this sleeve style was in vogue during the Civil War and early Bustle periods
Loose Fitting Bell Shape
With undersleeve ~ This sleeve was in style during the Civil War period and lasted through the early Bustle period
This ultra tight fitting sleeve was in fashion during the mid 1870's through the early 1890's
Bishop Style Sleeve
Versions of this style of sleeve can be seen in both the Civil War and 1890's eras
This gigantic puffed sleeve was popular in the mid 1890's
#4 ~ Examine the style of the bodice
Bodice styles stayed about the same through the Civil War period with some variations using short jackets and/or corselets as seen in the photo to the right.
The Bustle era had several different style bodices appear throughout the period.
Bustle Cuirasse Bodice
The Pigeon Chest bodice was very popular in the early 1900's through the Edwardian period.
Bustle Polonaise Bodice
Continue on to discover the details of fashions found in each era.
~ Choose an era below for details of the styles in each era ~
When researching information, whether it be in hard copy or on the internet, I always like to know the realm of experience behind the person who supplied or created the material. Visit this page if you would like to know more about my experience that has contributed to my attempt to define the Victorian and Edwardian fashions timeline on this website.