The fashion of the 19th century is renowned for its corsets, bonnets, top hats, bustles and petticoats. Women’s fashion during the Victorian period was largely dominated by full skirts, which gradually moved to the back of the silhouette. However, towards the end of the period, the less restrictive Aesthetic style began to emerge.
Victorian Dress at the V&A
The V&A's Victorian dress collection represents the fashions worn by the wealthy in the 19th century, and reflects their lives and aspirations. The clothing featured here also showcases the high level of skill in dressmaking and design carried out by dressmakers and tailors in Victorian times.
Interactive: Man's Black Wool Suit, by Unknown Maker, 1800-17
An ensemble made from black wool has been the uniform of the middle-class professional – doctor, lawyer, clergyman, academic, merchant, businessmen - since the late 16th century. This tradition continued through the 19th century and well into the 20th.
Spanning four centuries, the V&A’s Fashion collection is the largest and most comprehensive collection of dress in the world. Key items in the collection include rare 17th-century gowns, 18th-century ‘mantua’ dresses, 1930s eveningwear, 1960s daywear and post-war couture. Plus a growing number of pieces from 21st-century designers.
The 19th century was a period of huge growth in Britain, which had a profound effect on art and design. The Industrial Revolution saw Britain become a major manufacturing power, as displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Victorian period saw the British Empire reach its peak, and designers increasingly looked to the East for inspiration.