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Vintage Supermodels – “Glamorous” Dresses in the 1860s

Marea Harris

It’s hard to look at these pictures from the mid-19th century and imagine that this clothing was ever considered newly fashionable, glamorous or even sexy.

But to anyone living in the 1860s, these were indeed just as fashionable as anything worn by supermodels and celebrities today. The new trends in women’s attire were the gored skirt and the oval hoop dress. Because these dresses were sewn together from several pieces of fabric, they took on a more layered look than dresses from earlier eras.

This “gored” fabric allowed for dresses to be created with flat and smooth fronts, but with backs that puffed or crinkled. In 1865, designers began fastening the back ends of long dresses with cords to keep them from dragging on the ground while walking. The cords allowed the skirts to be lifted and the length changed to suit the wearer.

Young lady in white dress from the 1860s

Young lady in white dress from the 1860s

Young woman in black dress, 1860s.

Young woman in black dress, 1860s.

Girl in a beautiful dress and a hat

Girl in a beautiful dress and a hat

Teenage girl in a lavish dress

Teenage girl in a lavish dress

Girl in hoop dress 1860s

Girl in hoop dress 1860s

Girl in dress 1860

Girl in dress 1860

Girl in a dress

Girl in a dress

Portrait of a girl in a dress

Portrait of a girl in a dress

1860

1860

Elegant Victorian dress

Elegant Victorian dress

Victorian teenage girl

Victorian teenage girl

Girl in a dress and matching cape

Girl in a dress and matching cape

Girl in a black dress

Girl in a black dress

Girl in a beautiful dress reading a book

Girl in a beautiful dress reading a book

Girl with a book

Girl with a book

Girl in a victorian dress

Girl in a victorian dress

As layered dresses became popular, so did buttons and brooches. Designers started experimenting with button styles, colors, and sizes, the buttons getting bigger as the 1860s progressed. Sleeve styling also became popular, including the “bishop sleeve,” which gathered at the wrist, the bell-shaped sleeve and the “Pamela sleeve,” which gathered and tied off at the wrist.

As the dresses and hairstyles became more ornamental, so did fancy trim such as lace and braiding. Women also wore narrow corsets, contrasting the illusion of a tiny waist with the large flaring dress beneath.

But most striking were the elaborate hairstyles of the 1860s, many of which are still used today, including woven patterns, rolls, and plaits. These elaborate hairstyles became so popular, even women who lacked the long and flowing hair to don them would use “false hair,” which came in ready-to-use ringlets, plaits, tufts, and pads.

Girl posing next to a chair

Girl posing next to a chair

Girl in the 1860s

Girl in the 1860s

Photo of a girl in a elaborate dress

Photo of a girl in a elaborate dress

Girl in a white dress

Girl in a white dress

Victorian girl in a glamorous outfit

Victorian girl in a glamorous outfit

Girl in a black dress

Girl in a black dress

Girl in a dress

Girl in a dress

Teenage girl posing next to a chair

Teenage girl posing next to a chair

Young girl in a dress

Young girl in a dress

Photo circa 1860s

Photo circa 1860s

Elegant Victorian girl writing a letter

Elegant Victorian girl writing a letter

Portrait of a teenage Victorian girl in a dress

Portrait of a teenage Victorian girl in a dress

The hairstyles — or “coiffures” — were also adorned with ornaments including flowers, beads, ribbons, buttons, and lace. They were then bound up in nets, of leather, gold, and velvet.

Read another story from us: Vintage Fashion – 1950s Teenage Girls with their Doo Wop Dresses

Still, in spite of the elaborate fashions of the Victorian era, some women rebelled against what they considered a “male-dictated” fashion paradigm, opting instead  shirts and trousers – a trend which wouldn’t become a mainstream phenomenon for another 100 years.

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