Women's Fashion and Etiquette

During the Victorian Era


The fashion during the Victorian Era was rather extravagant for women. During this time women were expected to wear floor length dresses at all times. For girls over the age of sixteen showing their ankles was considered improper. This was one of the many etiquette rules they were expected to abide by, as well.


Dresses worn by women during the Victorian Era were often large and extravagant. Each dress was made specifically for the buyer. Women of the lower classes often bought their dresses from second-hand shops then altered them.
The dresses of the upper classes were very colorful and lavish. Women of lower classes wore dresses that were plain in terms of looks but the structure of the dress was usually the same.

The waistlines of these dresses were often higher than the natural waistline and were achieved through the use of corsets. Young women would often try to have a waist what corresponded with their age. An eighteen-year-old would try for a waist of eighteen or seventeen inches.

The skirts were supported by several layers of petticoats and steel hoops. The style of skirt changed often during this period. During the early parts of the era the skirts were fuller and bell shaped. As time progressed the skirts began to become slimmer and include a bustle.

Day Dress

Dresses worn during the day were slightly different than those worn for evening activities. These dresses had longer sleeves than those that were worn to a ball or to the theater. Often times the dresses would be tamer in terms of accessories and colors.

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Evening Dress

Dresses worn to balls or to the theater were much more lavish than those worn during the day. Short, puffy, sleeves and long gloves were staples of a typical evening dress. Sleeves often rested below the shoulders and the necklines were deeper than that of a day dress. Skirts were larger and corsets were pulled slightly tighter.

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Mourning Dress

In addition to the traditional day and evening dress there was also a unique set of expectations for mourning attire. Full mourning attire, dress worn immediately following a death, was all black and made of a non-reflective fabric. Following the full mourning period was a time of partial mourning in which dark colors besides black were worn. Colors such as deep purples, greens, and blues were common. Depending on a woman's relation to the dead would determine the time periods of full and partial mourning. A widow was expected to wear full mourning attire for a year and a day and partial mourning attire for another nine months.
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Hair and Accessories

A woman's hair was almost always kept in a bun or chignon. With the exception of young girls, a woman's hair was to never be loose unless around that of family or her spouse. Hats were almost always worn when in public and bonnets were worn indoors.

When walking in the streets or in a public space a woman's hands were to be covered with a pair of gloves. When wearing a short sleeve dress the gloves often went up past the elbow.

Proper Etiquette

Women were expected to be proper and respectful. Wealthy girls were often sent to finishing schools where they learned to be proper ladies and take care of their households.

Women were taught to always curtsy when introduced to someone and to never turn their backs during conversation. They often hid their emotions during conversation and would always be polite, even if annoyed. They were taught to converse well and be socially adept. Women were never to be alone with a man unless the two were married.

Grooming was of the utmost importance. A woman never came to breakfast in pajamas and always kept her hair out of her face. Women were expected to never wear too much make up or perfume; little to none was preferred.

The main reason for such strict etiquette was to increase a woman's marriageability. A woman with exceptional manners and poise were considered to be the most desired in society.


Nunn, Joan. "Victorian Women's Fashion, 1850-1900: Dress Bodies, Jackets, and Blouses." The Victorian Web. Storyspace. 13 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 Mar. 2015

Price, Praxton. "Victorian Dress an Victorian Style Clothing." Victorian Children. Wordpress. 8 Jun. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2015

S, Angel. "Victorian Era Grief." All Thing Victorian. Network Solutions. N.D. Web. 13 Mar. 2015

"Victorian Etiquette." Elegant Woman. Site Build It. 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015