Dating old photographs from clothes worn in the 1860s
1860s women's dress featured tight bodices with high necks and buttoned fronts. White lace was popular for collars and cuffs, as were low sloping shoulders that flared out into wide sleeves. The skirt continued to be full and bell-shaped until around 1865 when it began to lose its volume at the front and move its emphasis towards the back. Hair was worn with a centre parting tied into low chignons at the nape of the neck, with loops or ringlets covering the ears. Ornaments for evening wear included floral wreaths, ostrich feathers, pomegranate flowers, wheatears and butterflies.
In the 1860s it was fashionable for men's coats and jackets to be single-breasted and semi-fitted, extending to the mid thigh. Waistcoats were often collarless and single-breasted, and trousers were occasionally cut from a narrow check cloth. High, starched collars were worn with cravats and neck-ties. Hair was parted from the centre and moderately waved. A particular hairstyle, known as 'Dundreary whiskers' or 'Piccadilly weepers', were long pendant side-whiskers worn with a full beard and drooping moustache.
Below are a selection of images of fashion from the 1860s.
Fashion plate, day dresses
Gaoubaud (publisher) and Legastelois (printer)
Museum no. E.1275-1959
This type of illustration is known as a 'fashion plate', and featured in magazines to advertise and promote the latest styles. This plate shows day dresses. The dresses have fashionable wide skirts, reflecting the contemporary popularity of crinolines. Introduced in 1856, and generally made of hoops of spring steel suspended on strips of material, these allowed skirts to expand to proportions beyond those possible using only layers of petticoats. The dress on the right is mauve, a new colour at the time.
In 1860 the publisher of this magazine, the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Samuel Beeton (husband of the celebrated cookery writer Mrs [Isabella] Beeton), began including hand-coloured fashion plates like this one. Beeton also included paper patterns, a new phenomenon that, combined with the fashion plates, ensured the magazine appealed particularly to the increasing numbers of those who owned a domestic sewing machine. The sewing machine itself had only become widely available from the late 1850s. This magazine’s wide distribution ensured an awareness of French fashions among a wider section of society.
Silk day dress trimmed with beads and fringe, designer unknown
Day dress (bodice and skirt)
Silk trimmed with bugle beads and silk fringe, lined with cotton and whalebone
Museum no. T.174&A-1965
Given by Miss M. Frobisher
This dress is a typical example of women’s fashionable day wear from the mid-1860s. The contours of the crinoline have altered from a bell shape to a profile that is fairly flat in front, with the bulk of volume at the back. 'The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine' of 1865 reported the change as follows: ‘Dresses incline more and more to the Princess Shape. All the widths are gored, the skirt is scant and short at the front and forms a long sweeping train at the back.’ The subtle stripes of grey, blue and black are left unadorned, except for a bugle bead and silk fringe which decorates the bodice, the edge of the collar and the over-sleeves.
Fashion plate, from the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
Fashion plate from the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
Engraved by Jules David (1808-92), printed by Lamoureux & J. De Beauvais, Paris; published by S.O. Beeton, London
Paris and London
Lithograph, coloured by hand, ink and watercolour on paper
Museum no. E.267-1942
This fashion plate shows examples of ball dresses. France dominated the world of fashion during this period and French fashion plates were an important source of information on the latest styles and colours. The dresses have fashionable wide skirts, reflecting the contemporary popularity of crinolines. Introduced in 1856, and generally made of hoops of spring steel suspended on strips of material, these allowed skirts to expand to enormous proportions not possible with layers of petticoats. Towards the end of the 1860s skirts would start reducing again, and fabric would be draped up into a bustle.
In 1860 the publisher of this magazine, Samuel Beeton (husband of the celebrated cookery writer Mrs Beeton), first began including hand-coloured fashion plates by Jules David. Beeton also included paper patterns, a new phenomenon that, combined with the fashion plates, ensured the magazine a particular appeal among the increasing numbers of owners of the domestic sewing machine. The sewing machine itself had only become widely available since the late 1850s. This magazine's wide distribution ensured an awareness of French fashions among a wider section of society.
Photographic study of Isabella and Clementia Maude, Viscountess Hawarden
Photographic study of Isabella and Clementia Maude
Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Museum no. PH.457:499-1968
Given by Lady Clementia Tottenham
This photographic study imitates the composition of Raphael's famous painting of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, which is now in Dresden. Nonetheless it is useful for dating purposes as it shows fashions typical of the 1860s. Both girls are wearing full skirts and both wear their hair pulled back and worn in a low bun or chignon. Importantly their dresses feature pagoda sleeves, which were particularly fashionable in the 1850s and 1860s. Pagoda sleeves are set low to create a fashionable sloping line from shoulder to arm, and the sleeve itself flares outwards into a wide cuff.
Silk dress with silk braid and beads, designer unknown
Silk trimmed with silk braid and beads, lined with glazed cotton, edged with brush braid, hand-sewn
Given by Miss Edith Westbrook
Museum no. T.222-1969
By the 1860s, skirts had reached their fullest point. They were worn over wire ‘cage crinolines’, which gave maximum volume with minimum weight. This dress illustrates the style of the early 1860s. It has only a slightly pointed waist and a sleeve wide at the elbow, but narrow at the wrist. The puffed epaulettes at the top of the sleeves indicate historical influences, particularly the 16th century. They would have been seen in early English portraits.
Photographic study of her daughters, Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Photographic study of Isabella Grace, Clementia and Elphinstone Agnes Maude on terrace
Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
Museum no. PH.302-1947
Given by Lady Clementia Tottenham
This study of Lady Hawarden's three daughters shows them dressed in typical 1860s crinoline skirts. The eldest daughter, seated, reveals part of her underskirt, though underneath this would have been several layers more of crinoline petticoats or a steel cage crinoline to give the skirt its distinctively 1860s bell shape. The shoulders of her dress are sloping, and low-set. Her hair is typical of the decade - parted in the middle and scraped back into loops or buns at the nape of the neck. The little girl on the right is also wearing a bell shaped skirt, though much shorter, as was customary for children.
Lady Hawarden achieved a very short exposure with her large camera, managing to photograph her daughters and a puppy without any discernible movement. To do this she selected a wide aperture, which produced both a short exposure and a shallow depth of field. Thus, the other side of the London Square onto which the balcony looked are out of focus. this concentrates our attention on the little comedy enacted on the balcony. The eldest of the girls formally greets the puppy, while the youngest child looks gravely at the camera clutching an owl, the emblem of wisdom.
Wedding dress of silk satin and lace, designer unknown
Silk-satin, trimmed with Honiton appliqué lace, machine net and bobbin lace, hand-sewn
Museum no. T.43&A-1947
Bequeathed by Miss H. G. Bright
The bride's dress was a focal point just as it is today. By 1800 it had become usual for her to wear white or cream. This was a popular colour as it implied purity, cleanliness and social refinement. The wide skirt of dress would have been supported underneath by a cage crinoline. In 1865 cage crinolines protruded out more from behind and were flatter in front in contrast to the bell-shaped crinolines of the 1850s.
Queen Victoria helped popularise the fashion for white when she got married in 1840. She set a royal precedent by choosing a simple ivory satin dress which was very much in the fashions of the day. Earlier royal brides had worn white but their dresses were often woven or heavily embroidered with gold or silver.
Weddings were one of the most festive social occasions. They gave families the chance to show off their wealth and even less well-off couples would make an effort to dress appropriately. Not everyone, however, wore white. Widows, older brides and the less well-off often preferred more practical coloured gowns. These could then be worn for Sunday best long after the marriage. They would not have looked out of place as wedding dresses in the 19th century were designed in line with the current fashions.
This dress, veil and a pair of boots also in the museum's collection (T.43B, C-1947) were worn by Eliza Penelope Bright, nee Clay (the mother of the donor) for her marriage to Joseph Bright at St James's, Piccadilly on 16th February 1865. Wedding dresses are one of the rare types of garment for which the name of the wearer and the date of her marriage are often recorded.
Silk and wool day dress trimmed with fringe, designer unknown
Day dress (bodice, skirt and overskirt)
Silk and wool faced with silk, trimmed with silk fringe; lined with glazed cotton and whalebone
Museum no. T.6&A-C-1937
Given by Miss E. Beard
The crinoline went out of fashion quite dramatically about 1868. The lengths of skirt that used to fall over the crinoline were gathered up at the back over a bustle. This ensemble characterises the new style of fashionable women’s dress. It has an over-skirt and the bodice now extends below the waist. The inside of the skirt has a series of tapes, which enable it to be tied up for walking outdoors.
Photograph of Kate Dore, Julia Cameron and Oscar Rejlander
Photograph Kate Dore with frame of plants
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) and Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1813-87)
Albumen print; the ferns added by the photogram technique
Museum no. PH.258-1982
This print is a photogram, a technique of making a picture without a camera or lens. Photograms are made by placing objects on top of a piece of photographic paper and then exposing the composition to light. In this example, ferns were placed in contact with the glass negative prior to printing-out in sunlight. It was customary for grown women to wear their hair up, but young girls generally wore their hair down. It was only in the 1920s that women started to cut their hair short and so up until that point most girls and women had very long hair, which was often given fashionable waves or ringlets and parted in the middle. The Victorians were fond of collecting and cultivating ferns, which were used as a decorative motif from the 1850s to the end of the century.
Photographic study, by Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Lady Clementia Hawarden
Museum no. PH.457:423-1968
Given by Lady Clementia Tottenham
The woman in this photograph sports a hairstyle that was very fashionable in the 1850s. Her hair is parted in the middle, swept down and looped loosely around the ears. However, she wears a distinctly 1860s crinoline skirt. Until about 1868 the fashion was for extremely full skirts, held up by cage crinoline petticoats made of cane, metal or whalebone hoops.
For men, most collars were still upstanding for formal or business wear, but here Donald Cameron wears his collars turned down, a style increasingly fashionable in the 1860s.
The woman in this photograph is either Lady Hawarden herself or her sister Anne. She is holding a photograph of bare trees. The Hawarden family album indicates that the man is Donald Cameron of Lochiel.
Photograph of Clementia Maude, by Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Photograph of Clementia Maude
Viscountess Clementia Hawarden
Museum no. PH.296-1947
Given by Lady Clementia Tottenham
This dress is typical of a very fashionable early 1860s shape. The skirt is held out by a large cage crinoline petticoat giving the skirt a full bell shape, with extra volume and length at the back. The waist is set quite high and the torso is a pronounced hourglass shape due to the corset commonly worn by women of every class. The waist, although emphasised, is not small because the massive proportions of the skirt make the rest of the body appear dainty.
The hair is very typical of the 1860s. It is parted in the middle and swept down flat into loops or buns towards the nape of the neck.
This photograph gives a good idea of Lady Hawarden's studio and the way she used it. It was situated on the second floor of her house at 5 Princes Gardens in the South Kensington area of London. Here her daughter Clementina poses beside a mirror. A movable screen has been placed behind it, across the opening into the next room. A side table at the left balances a desk at the right. The figure of the young girl is partially balanced and echoed by the camera reflected in the mirror and the embroidery resting on the table beside it.
Cotton muslin daydress with lace and embroidery, designer unknown
Cotton muslin, trimmed with satin, bobbin lace and machine whitework
Museum no. T.12 to B-1943
Given by Miss Aida B. Cooper
This ensemble is an example of fashionable women’s daywear for summer in the late 1860s. The light muslin bodice and skirt are unlined, but they were probably worn over an opaque under-dress. There is an overskirt over the back of the dress, accentuating the bustle that by this time was worn underneath. The off-the-shoulder seam and sleeves with width at the elbow are typical of the 1860s.
'Carte de visite' (visiting card) photograph of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, John J.E. Mayall
Carte de visite (visiting card)
John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1810-1901), Guy Little Theatrical Photographs
Bequeathed by Guy Little
Museum no. 3504-1953
A miniature photographic portrait such as this example, is called a 'carte de visite' (the French for 'visiting card'). This was a photographic format, originating from the visiting card, which was introduced in France in 1854. Cartes were mass produced, and those like Mayall's pictures of the royal couple were ordered by the hundreds of thousands. It was fashionable to collect 'cartes de visite' and compile them in albums.
In this image, the Queen's skirt is tiered for fullness, which was fashionable in the 1850s and very early 1860s. It is held out in a pronounced bell shape by layers of petticoats or a steel cage crinoline. Her bodice is buttoned high at the neck and trimmed with a lace collar, with low-set and sloping shoulders. Her hair is parted in the middle and scraped back into loops and buns at the nape of the neck. Prince Albert wears a high starched collar with a neck-tie tied in a knot around it. His hair and moustache was copied by many men at this time.
Ribbed silk boot with lace trim, designer unknown
Pair of boots
Great Britain or France
Ribbed silk trimmed with lace and ribbon; leather sole
Given by Dr. F. Spencer
Museum no. T.180&A-1984
The red boots, which are of ribbed silk, come up above the ankle and have a 'military' style heel covered in silk to match the uppers. They have lacing at the back and are trimmed at the top with bobbin lace and ribbons.
Frivolous boots of silk and silk satin, some with high heels, were imported into England from France in the 1860s and 1870s. These French styles were also imitated by English shoemakers. The French influence was due to the stylish Empress Eugenie who had married the French emperor, Napoleon III, in 1853. She was probably responsible for the introduction of the shorter skirt which led to a greater emphasis on stockings and shoes.
Additionally, by about 1860 chemical aniline dyes were widely available. Many of the colours they provided were rather gaudy, such as this bright red.
'Carte de visite' (visiting card) for Flora and Julia Bradford, by Camille-Leon-Louis Silvy
'Carte de visite' (Visiting cards), for Flora and Julia Bradford
Museum no. E.1027-1992
Photography was a novel and exciting development in Victorian days, and many people had studio photographs taken for ‘cartes de visite’ which could be presented when visiting friends, as introductions or with messages if the person was out. They were albumen prints made from glass negatives, attached to stiff card backing printed with the photographer’s name. ‘Cartes de visite’, the size of formal visiting cards, were patented in 1854 and produced in their millions during the 1860s when it became fashionable to collect them. Their subjects included scenic views, tourist attractions and works of art, as well as portraits. They were superseded in the late 1870s by the larger and sturdier ‘cabinet cards’ whose popularity waned in turn during the 1890s in favour of postcards and studio portraits.
The woman shown here is wearing a fashionably voluminous skirt. From the end of the 1850s up until about 1868-8, skirts were at their fullest. They were held out with layers of crinoline petticoats or with crinoline cages made of steel, cane or whalebone hoops. Towards the end of the 1860s skirt got narrower, with material draped up to create a bustle.
Silk dress with braid, lace and silk fringe
Silk, trimmed braid, beads, hand-made Maltese-style bobbin lace and silk fringe
Museum no. T.37 to -1984
During the 1860s the fashionable skirt became flatter in front with the fullness receding towards the back. Women still wore hooped petticoats (crinolines) to give the desired silhouette, but they were no longer bell-shaped and by 1868 they curved out behind forming a kind of bustle. In order to fall gracefully over these new structures, skirts tended to be gored, that is constructed with triangular panels rather than straight widths of fabric. The striped green skirt in this example is composed of eight gores that significantly reduce the amount of bulky pleating and gathering at the waist characterising earlier styles. Contrary to much speculation, these gores did not radically diminish the size of the skirt as The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine pointed out in March 1868: 'Skirts are gored, it is true, but they are ample and flowing. Crinolines, far from being left off, have merely changed their shape; they are plain in front, but puffed out on either side so as to remind one strongly of the hoops or paniers of the last century'.
This dress follows the vogue for historical revival with its separate draped overskirt loosely based on 18th century polonaise gowns. Some looped-up styles were given nostalgic names such as à la Watteau and ‘Marie Antoinette dress' or were raised with cords and ribbon bows in the style of the originals. The resulting puffs and draperies were copiously trimmed with silk fringe, brocaded satin braid, beads, marabou feathers, garlands and applied silk flowers. Beneath all these layers and decorative trimmings it is a wonder that a woman could discreetly find her watch pocket which was often concealed in the waistband of her skirt.
Ribbed silk satin evening dress, Madame Vignon
Ribbed silk trimmed with satin
Museum no. T.118-1979
Vivid magenta-coloured silk gives this dress a rich and flamboyant appearance. It was probably dyed with one of the new synthetic colours produced from the late 1850s onwards, although intense hues could also be created using natural dyes. The artificial forms of magenta were very popular and a battle for patents began as dyers sought to distinguish their inventions from those of their competitors. In reality many of the dye samples from different manufacturers looked exactly the same, and it was only the exotic names, claims on colourfastness and improved visual quality that set them apart. Other disputes arose over the health risk posed by the wearing and production of garments coloured with synthetic dyes. In the early 1870s a German chemist found traces of arsenic in fabric dyed with magenta, which could leak out in washing, rain or perspiration. There were also reports of serious skin conditions caused by exposure to aniline dyes, and a dye firm in Switzerland was forced to close in 1864 due to arsenic pollution.
Brightly coloured fabrics also led to words of advice from the fashion magazines. The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of March 1868 recommended that there should be no more than 'two positive colours in a lady's toilet' and that 'very bright tints' should be toned down with white, black or grey to prevent a gaudy appearance. Two shades of the same colour were considered very fashionable, particularly if the trimmings were of a contrasting fabric. (In this example, the difference in colour between the thread and material may have become more evident over time.) Satin bows and pleated bias-cut trimmings complement the ribbed silk of this dress perfectly, while delicate puffs of tulle inserted into the sleeves soften the impact of the dramatic colour. These details reveal the skill of eminent couturiers such as Madame Vignon, the maker of this gown, who was also patronised by the fashionable Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.
Silk dress with beads and embroidery, designer unknown
Dress (skirt and bodice)
Silk, hand-embroidered in black silk and cut-steel beads, trimmed with black taffeta, with a lace collar
Museum no. T.433&A-1976
Wide skirts were a focal feature of fashion during this period. By 1865 the fullness of the skirt had receded towards the back of the garment creating a flatter front. Women wore crinoline petticoats made of steel hoops under their dresses to give them this distinctive shape. Lightweight dress fabrics such as silk and muslin were popular as they draped gracefully over the crinoline cage.
High buttoned necks with low-set sloping shoulders and puffed sleeves were also distinctive features of 1860s dress.
Corded silk day dress with beading, designer unknown
Corded silk with glass buttons and velvet
Museum no. T.22-1973
Given by Dr. N. Goodman
This dress is machine-embroidered, but hand sewn. The first machine for embroidery was invented in France. Examples were first brought to Britain in the 1820s. Machine embroidery developed for men’s waistcoats and women’s dresses throughout the 1840s and 1850s. Various inventions of machines for sewing seams occurred in the 1840s, but they did not become commercially available until the late 1850s. It was several decades before the sewing machine was widely used in homes and by professional dressmakers.