Our journey to discover the fashion of women in Victorian times continues with the obligatory corset. Like it or not it was a highly part of a ladies wardrobe and was used primarily to attain the optimum figure that was required by Victorian fashion.
What is a Corset?
A corset is a lady’s undergarment that had a main purpose of trimming the size of the middle torso. It was a most uncomfortable item made with strips of whalebone for strength, and firmly laced up at the back. Often the tighter the better, but this made movement very restricted.
Corsets were hated and loved by women, they were extremely uncomfortable to wear, and many medical practitioners of the day claimed they were highly unhealthy for the women to wear. There is no doubt that they were a really unnatural way of making the body look thinner. But notwithstanding all the bad press, corsets were a fashion staple of every Victorian lady, they made the figure look more youthful and a way to achieve the sought after hour-glass look, so fashionable at the time. In the 19th Century women of a certain status were expected to wear corsets, and they were also a sign of respectability.
There was an almost obsession with Victorian women and men for tiny waists, and there was fierce competition among the ladies just how much pain they could withstand for having the tiniest waist.
The Hooped Skirt Fashion
During the middle part of the 19th Century the previously domed-shaped skirts saw a switch to a more tapered skirt, and together with the corset they both exaggerated the hour-glass figure. The common practice of layers of petticoats was now deemed not enough, so crinoline was introduced to make the skirts and dresses look bigger. The problem with crinoline was that it was a very weighty material containing horsehair that was also itchy to the skin. Crinoline was almost impossible to clean, and at the time was very expensive.
Later on in the 1850’s, crinoline was dispensed with in favor of the more lightweight hooped-skirts. These were called cages and were cheaper and lighter than crinoline petticoats. But they were fantastic at producing a voluminous look, made by numerous flexible rings that were suspended from some sort of tape at the waist. The look and price of these new hooped skirts meant that everybody started to wear them and not just high society. Maids, shop assistants and lower class women could now afford to buy these skirts, cheaper varieties had less hoops but were ideal for girls in service.
The demand for hooped skirts in America grew so large that two new giant factories popped up in New York that were producing almost five thousand hooped skirts a day. If nothing else defines Victorian fashion in the mid 1800’s, then it must be the hooped skirt. Victorian women’s fashion was above all about the looks, comfort was not even thought of as part of the equation. The looks were not meant to be overly seductive but should reflect good upbringing and show class at all time.