1880s in fashion

1880s in fashion

Fashion in the 1880s in European and European-influenced countries is characterized by the return of the bustle. The long, lean line of the 1870s was replaced by a full, curvy silhouette with gradually widening shoulders. Fashionable waists were low and tiny below a full, low bust supported by a corset. The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in reaction to the extremes of fashionable corsetry.

Women's fashion


As in the previous decade, emphasis remained on the back of the skirt, with fullness gradually rising from behind the knees to just below the waist. The fullness over the buttocks was balanced by a fuller, lower bosom, achieved by rigid corseting, creating an S-shaped silhouette.

Skirts were looped, draped, or tied up in various ways, and worn over matching or contrasting underskirts. The "polonaise" was a revival style based on a fashion of the 1780s, with a fitted, cutaway overdress caught up and draped over an underskirt. Long, jacket-like fitted bodices called basques were also popular for daywear.

Evening gowns were sleeveless and low-necked (except for matrons), and were worn with long over the elbow or shoulder length gloves of fine kid leather or suede.

Choker necklaces and jewelled collars were fashionable under the influence of Alexandra, Princess of Wales, who wore this fashion to disguise a scar on her neck.


The bustle returned to fashion and reached its greatest proportions ca. 1886-1888, extending almost straight out from the back waist to support a profusion of drapery, frills, swags, and ribbons. The fashionable corset created a low, full bust with little separation of the breasts.

The usual undergarment was a "combination", a camisole with attached knee- or calf-length drawers, worn under the corset, bustle, and petticoat. Woolen combinations were recommended for health, especially when engaging in fashionable sports such as riding or tennis.


Riding habits had become a "uniform" of matching jacket and skirt worn with a high-collared shirt or chemisette, with a top hat and veil. They were worn without bustles, but the cut of the jacket followed the silhouette of the day.

In contrast, hunting costumes were far more fashionably styled, with draped ankle-length skirts worn with boots or gaiters.

Tailored costumes consisting of a long jacket and skirt were worn for travel or walking; these were worn with the bustle and a small hat or bonnet. Travelers wore long coats like dusters to protect their clothes from dirt, rain, and soot.

Aesthetic dress

Artistic or Aesthetic dress remained an undercurrent in Bohemian circles throughout the 1880s. In reaction to the heavy drapery and rigid corseting of mainstream Paris fashion, aesthetic dress focused on beautiful fabrics made up simply, sometimes loosely fitted or with a belt at the waist. Aesthetic ideas influenced the tea gown, a frothy confection increasingly worn in the home, even to receive visitors.

Hairstyles and headgear

Hair was usually pulled back at the sides and worn in a low knot or cluster of ringlets; later hair was swept up to the top of the head. Fringe or bangs remained fashionable throughout the decade, usually curled or frizzled over the forehead.

Bonnets resembled hats except for their ribbons tied under the chin; both had curvy brims.

tyle gallery 1880-1884

# wears a long, fitted jacket with three-quarter-length striped sleeves over a matching striped skirt. A nosegay of flowers is pinned at her waist, c.1880.
# tennis costume.
# wears a princess-line gown trimmed with ruched panels and ruffles, c. 1882
# shows the return of the bustle: the tight overdress is looped up behind.
# Portrait of Lady Meux (1881-1882) shows the fashionable full bosom.
# has fitted bodice with a low point in front. The front of the skirt is cutaway and the back is looped up after the fashion of 1780s. It is shown over a gored skirt with ruffles. Throughout the century, younger teenage girls ("misses" in fashion plates) wore their skirts just above their ankles.
# of 1883 show fashionable rear fullness.
#, 1884. Her habit has the fashionable corseted silhouette, with a simpler skirt suited for riding, tall shirt collar, and top hat.

tyle gallery 1885-1889

# fashion plate shows the "back shelf" bustle. The gown is draped up at both sides and worn over a matching underskirt.
# wears the fashionable neckline of mid-decade, wide at the bust and narrower at the shoulder. Flowers trim her bodice, hair, and draped skirt, 1885.
# which is both strongly influenced by menswear and bustled. Hair is upswept, with bangs. Elbow-length gloves meet the shorter sleeves.
# is swept up into a knot, with the front hair curled and frizzled over the forehead.
# show gowns made of contrasting fabrics worn with "shelf" bustles and opera-length gloves, 1887.
# feature full busts, large "shelf" bustles, and wide shoulders. Gloves reach the elbow or slightly above.
#, 1888.
#, 1889.

Atypical high-fashion

# wearing shorter skirts and a complete lack of a bustle (acceptable for poorer rural frontier women and/or paid public performers).
# showing two young ladies dressed according to the latest Western fashions of time — except that the colors and designs of the fabrics are to Japanese tastes.

Men's fashion

Coats, jackets, and trousers

Three piece suits consisting of a sack coat with matching waistcoat (U.S. "vest") and trousers (called in the UK a "lounge suit") continued as an informal alternative to the contrasting frock coat, waistcoat and trousers.

The cutaway morning coat was still worn for formal day occasions in Europe and major cities elsewhere, with a dress shirt and an ascot tie. The most formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat and trousers with a dark waistcoat. Evening wear was worn with a white bow tie and a shirt with a winged collar.

In mid-decade, a more relaxed formal coat appeared: the dinner jacket or tuxedo, which featured a shawl collar with silk or satin facings, and one or two buttons. Dinner jackets were appropriate when "dressing for dinner" at home or at a men's club.

The Norfolk jacket was popular for shooting and rugged outdoor pursuits. It was made of sturdy tweed or similar fabric and featured paired box pleats over the chest and back, with a fabric belt.

Full-length trousers were worn for most occasions; tweed or woollen breeches were worn for hunting and other outdoor pursuits.

Knee-length topcoats, often with contrasting velvet or fur collars, and calf-length overcoats were worn in winter.

By the 1880s the majority of the working class, even shepherds adopted jackets and waistcoats in fustian and corduroy with corduroy trousers, giving up their smock frocks.

hirts and neckties

Shirt collars were turned over or pressed into "wings". Dress shirts had stiff fronts, sometimes decorated with shirt studs, and buttoned up the back.

The usual necktie was the four-in-hand and or the newly fashionable Ascot tie, made up as a neckband with wide wings attached and worn with a stickpin.

Narrow ribbon ties were tied in a bow, and white bowtie was correct with formal evening wear.


As in the 1870s, top hats remained a requirement for upper class formal wear; bowlers and soft felt hats in a variety of shapes were worn for more casual occasions, and flat straw boaters were worn for yachting and other nautical pastimes.

Shoes of the 1880s had higher heels and a narrow toe.

tyle gallery

# wears a grey frock coat and matching trousers with a grey top hat, 1880. The coat has two covered buttons at the back waist.
#. His shirt collar has softly curled wings, c. 1880.
# wears a dark coat, waistcoat, and trousers with a stiff-fronted and stiff-collared shirt, German, 1881.
# wears a narrow necktie tied in a bow with his dark suit, German, 1881.
# portrays him in walking clothes. His coat with a waist seam and skirts cutaway in a smooth curve is worn with matching trousers and collared waistcoat, 1882.
# wears a dark frock coat, a decorative double-breasted waistcoat and, and a narrow bow tie. Montreal, after 1882.

Children's fashion

Young girls wore dresses with round collars and sashes. Fashionable dresses had dropped waists. Pinafores were worn for work and play. When going out, especially in the winter, girls wore lots of layers to keep warm. A warm coat was worn with kid leather gloves. A muff hand warmer was worn over the gloves, so when the girl removed her hands her gloves would keep them warm. Just like ladies, all upper-class Victorian girls wore gloves when going out. A hat or bonnet was worn as well, along with long, knee-length button-up boots or shorter boots with gaitors to give the appearance of wearing long boots.

Older boys wore knee-length breeches and jackets with round-collared shirts.

ee also

*Victorian fashion
*Victorian dress reform
*Artistic Dress movement


*Arnold, Janet: "Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C.1860-1940", Wace 1966, Macmillan 1972. Revised metric edition, Drama Books 1977. ISBN 0-89676-027-8

*Ashelford, Jane: "The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500-1914", Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5

*Black, J. Anderson and Madge Garland: "A History of Fashion", Morrow, 1975. ISBN 0-688-02893-4

*Nunn, Joan: "Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000," 2nd edition, A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000. (Excerpts online at [http://www.victorianweb.org The Victorian Web] )
*Payne, Blanche: "History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century", Harper & Row, 1965. No ISBN for this edition; ASIN B0006BMNFS

External links

* [http://100megspop3.com/adira/victoria/1880s.htm 1880s Fashion]
* [http://homepage.mac.com/festive_attyre/victorian/p83/index.html Plates from "Peterson's Magazine" - 1883]
*From [http://costume.osu.edu/Reforming_Fashion/reformdress.htm Reforming Fashion, 1850-1914: Politics, Health, and Art, Ohio State University] :
** [http://costume.osu.edu/Reforming_Fashion/image_exhibition/tea56.htm Olive wool tea gown, 1882]
** [http://costume.osu.edu/Reforming_Fashion/image_exhibition/bustle84.htm Bustle, corset and combination, 1884-1890]
** [http://costume.osu.edu/Reforming_Fashion/image_exhibition/peach66.htm Navy wool tea gown c. 1889]
* [http://www.victorianweb.org/art/costume/costumeov.html What Victorians Wore: An Overview of Victorian Costume]
* cite web |publisher= Victoria and Albert Museum
url= http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion/features/round/19th_century_women/index.html
title= 19th Century Women's Fashion
work=Fashion, Jewellery & Accessories
accessdate= 2007-12-09

* [http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/collections/online/results.cfm?ParentID=380560 Children's fashion of the 1880s]

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