Women's Fashion Throughout History

By: Juliette Jones

The Corset and Hoop Skirt (Victorian Age-1960)

During the Victorian Age, including the Civil War, a tightly laced corset was widely associated with a woman’s virtue. Virtually every woman wore a corset of some type under their clothing, from working class women to domestic servants to genteel ladies of society. The ideal was a waist of 15 inches. Although these cages were cut very tight, the action of loosening a corset was seen as sexual immorality. Terms that were used to describe a woman's physical appearance were used to describe her reputation as well, "loose," "restrained," "upright," etc.

The women’s fashion feature most associated with the Civil War era is the hoop skirt, named for the structural support of wire hoops or whalebones called "crinolines," worn under the skirt to hold its shape. In a typical dress, the width of the skirt at its widest point and was about 50 to 70 percent of the woman’s height. People would hide valuables under the skirt. The large width and cage-like structure made it easy to conceal money or bags. Despite the popularity, Civil War nurses did not wear hoops under their dresses due to safety, convenience, and hospital or Sanitary Commission regulations.

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Mourning Dresses (Victorian Age)

The complexities of wearing mourning dress took hold as the Victorian era progressed following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Queen Victoria wore her widow's weeds for the remainder of her long life until 1901, when the Edwardian era began. There were different stages of mourning for a widow. During these stages, she would wear a certain look with the appropriate accessories. When the Edwardian era began, mourning dresses drastically reduced because almost everyone was in mourning and even more so after WWI.

Comfort (Edwardian Era-1900)

In 1897, the silhouette slimmed and elongated by a considerable amount. Blouses and dresses were full in front and puffed into a "pigeon breast" shape of the early 20th century that looked over the narrow waist, which sloped from back to front and was often accented with a sash or belt. Necklines were supported by very high boned collars. With the new and improved silhouette, comfort has improved, but corsets were mildly still in use. As well, huge, broadbrimmed hats were worn, trimmed with masses of feathers and occasionally complete stuffed birds, or decorated with ribbons and artificial flowers.
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A New Woman (1920s)

Corsets have passed, allowing designers a greater freedom. Flappers, as the trendy young women were called in the U.S., wore short dresses with a straight loose silhouette. By 1927 seams had risen to just below the knee, so that part of the knee could be seen when dancing the Charleston. Shoes and stockings assumed a greater prominence now that they were more visible. Silk stockings in all the colors of the rainbow, often with patterns, were designed to match the coordinated outfits of stylish women. The Roaring Twenties redefined womanhood; it became more acceptable to smoke and drink in public, closer body contact in dancing, shorter hair, make-up, different styles of dress, and greater participation in the workforce - all contributed to the new woman.


  • Stamper, Anita A. and Jill Condra. Clothing through American history: the Civil War through the Gilded Age, 1861-1899. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2010. Page 109.
  • Laver, James: The Concise History of Costume and Fashion, Abrams, 1979.
  • Nunn, Joan: Fashion in Costume, 1200–2000, 2nd edition, A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
  • Janet Arnold: Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C.1860–1940, Wace 1966, Macmillan 1972. Revised metric edition, Drama Books 1977.
  • Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500–1914, Abrams, 1996.
  • "Fashion in the 1900s." Fashion in the 1900s. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
  • "Fashion in the 1920s." Fashion in the 1920s. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
  • "1920s Womens Fashions." 1920's Womens Fashions. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

WCO, 21st Century Skill, 4C

WCO: I learned how to use a new program and was flexible with what it was offering me and made the best of it.

21st Century Skill~ Problem Solving: When my first program crashed I had to find a new website to create this project on.

4C~ Communication: I asked my peers for their opinion and asked questions while creating this project.