In the 1800’s, clothing for both men and women went through many changes. There was a blurring in the distinction between clothing for the rich and clothing for everyone. The Industrial Revolution influenced the style of 1800’s clothing for both men and women, leading to development of mass-produced clothing and the rise of famous fashion designers in the 20th century.
At the end of the 1700s, men were dressing in knee britches, stockings, frock coats or cutaway tailcoats and powdered wigs. In the beginning of the 1800s, the style of men’s clothing underwent a minor revolution when long pants were introduced. The influence of the Industrial Revolution led to men discarding capes in favor of overcoats and tailcoats in favor of the shorter suit coat that has remained popular through present times. Neckwear changed from cravats to bowties and neckties.
Women’s 1800’s clothing also went through some drastic changes. In the early part of the century, the simple high-waisted Empire dress worn by Napoleon’s wife Josephine became widely popular. Empire dresses were loose fitting, low-cut in front and often had short sleeves. Within a short time, waistlines began to drop again and the top part of dresses, known as the bodice, began to get tighter.
English fashion became influential in the mid-1800s. Sleeves were long, bodices tight and skirts were bell-shaped. These bell-shaped skirts became wider and wider until they became the hoop skirts that we associate with American Civil War era fashion. Once skirts seemed to have reached their maximum possible width, styles changed again and slimmer skirts with bustles in the back became popular. Skirts were elaborately embellished with swags, ruffles and drapes.
In the final years of the 1800s, the bustle was abandoned and women’s clothing became more practical. Tailored dresses and suits became popular, with a close fitting jacket worn over a tailored blouse and long skirt. The style for tailored suits coincided with women’s growing interest in equality. It led to the Gibson Girl look of the early 1900s. The term “Gibson Girl” refers to the drawings of American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who created the image of idealized females who wore shirtwaist blouses and long tailored skirts.
The introduction of the sewing machine in the late 1800s revolutionized the clothing industry. For the first time, hand sewing wasn’t required for each article of clothing. Fashion could be mass produced, allowing more people to dress themselves fashionably. Mass produced clothing would have a major impact on culture and society in the century that followed.