Fashion by the Decade

My novels and novellas have spanned several decades of the 19th century. Just as in today's world, the styles back then reflected trends that changed from decade to decade.


Nicole Renard from Full Steam Ahead wore a dress inspired by the model on the right. The color was red instead of green, but I crafted the description to reflect this dress.

During the 1850s, women did not yet wear hoop skirts. Instead they wore stiffened petticoats or crinolines to give the skirts their bell-shape. Notice the deep V shape of the bodice. This was very typical of the late forties - early fifties. The shoulders sloped with no definitive seam. And of particular distinction, note the wide sleeve hems with the white cotton undersleeves.


Now you can think Gone with the Wind. Full hoop skirts have come into fashion. Also notice the short-waisted bodices. This Empire style waistline ended at the bottom of the ribcage instead of extending to the natural waist. The shoulders remained sloping in design and small, lace collars came into fashion.


A drastic change occurred in very little time. In about 2 years, hoop skirts disappeared and were replaced by the bustle. Decorative emphasis moved to the back of the dresses. Skirt fronts hung straight down while the backs were gathered over bustles with flounces that would drape over the underskirt. The sloping shoulders were taken over by more fitted designs. The bustle disappeared by the end of the decade to make way for the very slender silhouette popular in 1880. But watch how the bustle regains popularity and surges to crazy heights.


Note the change from no bustle in 1880, to a small one in 1883, to one of ridiculous proportion in 1887. To Win Her Heart takes place in 1887, but since my heroine, Eden, lived in Texas and not in New York, she favored more practical garb. I just couldn't dress her in such an unflattering style. What woman in her right mind actually wants to make her rear look bigger?


Thankfully, the bustle's popularity finally died a true death. However, all the extra fabric had to go somewhere, so in the 1890's, they decided to move it to the sleeves. Ha!