The Victorian era began in 1837, during the rule of Queen Victoria in the United Kingdom. Fashion and styles were modest — as well as hot, heavy and uncomfortable. Although Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, was king from 1901 to his death in 1910, many historians consider the Edwardian period to extend until 1914. Unlike Queen Victoria, King Edward loved to travel, and his tastes were influenced by the art and style of Continental Europe. As a result, fashion during the Edwardian era was more lavish than Victorian dress.
The Victorian Woman
Victorian women’s fashion was not about comfort. Hourglass-shaped corsets compressed the abdomen, forcing it downward. They were typically V-shaped at the bustline. Skirts were wide and bell-shaped, made from stiff linen. It wasn’t unusual for a woman to wear six petticoats that, in total, weighed as much as 14 pounds. By the mid-1850s, however, crinoline and cage hoops had replaced heavy petticoats, and by the middle of the Victorian era, around 1870, bustles replaced hoop skirts. Victorian women also wore lavishly trimmed bonnets until around 1890.
The Edwardian Woman
A new corset shape emerged during the last 10 years of the Victorian era, and was popular throughout the Edwardian period. Known as the “health” corset, it allowed women to breathe a little more freely and was designed to support and raise the abdomen. Unlike the corsets of the Victorian era, corsets worn during the Edwardian period moved straight across the bustline and were designed to force the chest forward and hips back, giving a women’s profile has an S-shaped curve. Skirts in the early Edwardian era followed a trumpet bell shape, flaring over the hips and widening at the hemline. By the end of the Edwardian era, however, skirts were straighter, and high empire waistlines created a new silhouette. Edwardian “Merry Widow” hats featured wide brims, and were adorned with large feathers.
Women’s Sleeve Styles
Gowns and blouses featured many different types of sleeve styles during both periods. Early Victorian gowns had dropped shoulders, with sleeve seams on the upper arm, a few inches below the shoulder. The sleeves began with a tight fit, then puffed into a round, billowy shape. The sleeve became tighter-fitting again just below the elbow before ending above the wrist. The typical Edwardian sleeve was more relaxed. Made from soft fabric, the sleeves puffed only slightly from the shoulder to the elbow, where they were cinched tightly with a ribbon. The bottom of the sleeve flared out from the elbow to the wrist, in delicate hanging pleats usually made from lace or an embroidered knit.
Menswear of the Periods
Menswear changed only slightly from the Victorian to the Edwardian eras. Calf-length coats, single-breasted tweed jackets, and three-piece suits worn open to reveal a waistcoat were popular styles throughout both periods. Top hats and ascots were popular accessories. During the earlier part of the Victorian era, men’s coats were long, ending mid-calf. Dramatic cloaks or capes were also worn. Most coat styles, such as the “sack coat,” and shirts were loose-fitting. At the start of the Edwardian era in the early 1900s, jacket and suit styles were updated with the incorporation of elements still seen in modern menswear, including straighter cuts, especially for jackets and coats. Men’s clothing was also designed to fit closer to the body.
References and ResourcesVictorian and Edwardian Fashion: Alison Gernsheim
Gentleman's Emporium: A Victorian Gentleman's Personal Guide
Victorian-Era.org: Late Victorian Fashion
Fashion in the Edwardian Era: The Last Age of Elegance
Fashion-Era.com: Victorian Fashion
ResourcesThe Victorian Web: Victorian Men's Fashions
The Fashion Encyclopedia: Coats