Experience Timeless Elegance: Women’s Fashion in the 1890s

Travel back in time to the 1890s and experience the timeless elegance of women’s fashion during this era. From voluminous dresses to intricate hats, the fashion choices of the time were not only beautiful but also told stories about social class and values. Fashion was not limited to women of wealth, as even everyday wear had its own distinctive charm. Discover the unique style of the 1890s and explore how women expressed themselves through fashion.

Experience Timeless Elegance: Women's Fashion in the 1890s
Experience Timeless Elegance: Women’s Fashion in the 1890s

The Historical Context of Women’s Fashion in the 1890s

Understanding the historical context of the 1890s helps to appreciate the fashion trends that emerged during that period. The latter part of the 19th century was a time of great change in the world. Several technological advancements were made, including the development of the telephone and the electric light. These innovations changed the way people lived and worked, and also transformed fashion.

The Influence of Queen Victoria

The Victorian era, named after England’s Queen Victoria, spanned from 1837 to 1901. During this period, Queen Victoria’s style and ideas greatly influenced fashion in England and throughout Europe. Queen Victoria emphasized modesty and propriety, which resulted in a shift towards more conservative clothing. This trend extended to the United States and other parts of the world, making Victorian-style garments the standard for women’s fashion.

Industrial Revolution and Its Effect on Women’s Fashion

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century also had a significant impact on women’s fashion. As people began working in factories and other industrial settings, clothing had to be practical and functional. Women’s clothing had to be comfortable enough to allow freedom of movement while working, and also had to be affordable to the masses. This led to the creation of clothing that was both fashionable and comfortable, resulting in the emergence of a new fashion industry.

Changes in the Social Landscape

The late 1800s marked a time of change in the social landscape, particularly for women. Women began to push for more rights, including the right to vote. As a result, women’s fashion became a tool for self-expression and empowerment. Clothing allowed women to define their identities and make statements about their beliefs. The Gibson Girl look, which emphasized a full bust, small waist, and wide hips, became a symbol of independence and femininity.

The Silhouette of Women’s Clothing in the 1890s

The fashion trends of the 1890s emphasized an hourglass figure, with tight corsets, long skirts, and broad shoulders. Women’s clothing during this era also featured several distinct silhouettes that were achieved through the strategic use of volume and layering.

The S-Bend Corset

One of the most defining features of women’s fashion in the 1890s was the S-bend corset. This type of corset pushed the hips back and the bust forward, creating a distinctive silhouette that emphasized an hourglass figure. The S-bend corset was more comfortable to wear than earlier corset styles because it allowed women to breathe more easily, but it still required a lot of effort to lace up and wear for extended periods of time.

Puffy Sleeves and Broad Shoulders

Another defining feature of 1890s women’s fashion was the use of puffy sleeves and broad shoulders to balance out the exaggerated hourglass figure created by the corset. Sleeves were often gathered or pleated to create extra volume, and they were sometimes adorned with lace or ruffles for added decoration.

Long Skirts and Layering

Long skirts were a staple of women’s fashion in the 1890s, and they were often layered for added volume and visual interest. Petticoats, bustles, and other undergarments were worn to create a desired silhouette, with the outermost layer featuring fashionable details such as pleats, ruffles, or strategically placed gathers.

Hats and Accessories

To complete the look, women wore hats and accessories that matched the style and tone of their outfit. Wide-brimmed hats were popular, often adorned with ribbons, flowers, or feathers. Gloves were also an essential accessory, and they were typically made of lightweight fabrics such as lace or silk.

Popular Fabrics and Colors in Women’s Fashion in the 1890s

The 1890s marked the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the Edwardian era, a time of lavish fashion styles and elegant designs. During this period, fabrics and colors were carefully chosen to create stunning outfits suitable for various occasions. Here are some of the popular fabrics and colors used by women during the 1890s:


Silk was the most widely used fabric in the 1890s for making women’s garments. It was particularly popular for evening dresses, ball gowns, and blouses. Silk could be found in a variety of colors and patterns, including floral designs, checks, stripes, and dots. It was a luxurious fabric that added elegance and glamour to any outfit.

Vintage Velvet

Vintage velvet, also known as crushed velvet, was another popular fabric in the 1890s. It was mostly used for evening wear and was particularly popular in dark colors such as red, navy, and black. Vintage velvet had a rich, plush texture that made it ideal for creating dramatic and eye-catching dresses and gowns. It was also a favored fabric for winter coats and outerwear.

Black and White

Black and white were the most popular colors used in women’s fashion during the 1890s. Black was considered a versatile and elegant color, suitable for all occasions. White, on the other hand, was used for summertime dresses and blouses. For formal occasions, black and white dresses were very popular, creating a classic and timeless look.


Gold was a popular accent color in the 1890s, particularly for evening wear. It was often used to embellish silk and velvet dresses, adding a touch of opulence to the garments. Gold was also used for jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, which were often adorned with precious stones and pearls.

The 1890s were a time of great fashion innovation and style, with fabrics and colors carefully chosen to create stunning and timeless clothing. Silk and velvet were the go-to fabrics, while black, white, and gold were the most popular colors used.

Accessories and Hairstyles

Women’s fashion in the 1890s was not just about the dress itself, but with the completion with the right accessories and hairstyles. Accessories such as gloves, hats, and jewelry were essential to complete one’s outfit. A hat was particularly important as it gave meaning to the outfit and put it all together. However, it was important that the hat was worn appropriately according to the occasion.


Hats were necessary for women in the 1890s, and it was rare to see a woman outdoors without one. The straw boater hat was a popular choice for women and was worn in a variety of ways. It could be worn at the back of the head, tilted to one side or with a ribbon crossing the crown and tied under the chin. Bonnets were also worn, but mostly for women who lived in rural areas. They provided sun protection and were practical for outdoor activities such as gardening.


Gloves were a common sight in the 1890s, and women would not leave their home without sporting a pair on. Gloves were made of various materials such as leather and silk, and were available in a range of colors and patterns. Gloves were often worn to dress up an outfit, and it was essential to have a pair for each occasion. For instance, if you were attending an afternoon tea party, you would be expected to wear gloves in a lighter color, whereas gloves worn to a dance would be of a darker shade.


Jewelry was an essential component of women’s fashion in the 1890s. The main focus of jewelry was on necklaces, brooches, earrings and bracelets. Women loved to wear jewelry which consisted of pearls, gold and silver. Lockets were especially popular and were often used to hold a picture of a loved one. A popular style of necklace was the choker, which was worn tightly around the neck. Earrings were typically small and modest, and were often worn in a matching set with a necklace.


Hairstyles were a crucial aspect of women’s fashion in the 1890s. The hairstyle of the Gibson Girl became very popular and was seen as the epitome of beauty. The style involved creating a puff of hair on the top of the head and then styling the remaining hair in coils or waves. The hair was then arranged to give a slightly messy but elegant look. Another popular hairstyle was the upsweep, which involved parting the hair in the middle and twisting each part of the hair up, creating a high bun at the back of the head. The hair was then fastened with combs and hairpins.

In conclusion, women’s fashion in the 1890s was not just about dresses. It was about the complete look, which included accessories such as hats, gloves, and jewelry, and hairstyles, such as the Gibson Girl look. By paying attention to the details, women were able to create their own unique style and stand out amongst the crowd.

Influence on Contemporary Fashion

The fashion trends of the 1890s continue to inspire contemporary fashion designers, with retro and vintage styles often seen on the runway and in stores today. The influence of the 1890s can be seen in various aspects of women’s fashion, including:

1. Silhouettes

The hourglass figure was the ideal silhouette for women in the 1890s, with emphasis on a small waist and a full bust and hips. This silhouette continues to be popular today, with corsets and waist-cinching belts still in fashion. However, designers have also modernized the hourglass silhouette with more relaxed fits and flowy fabrics.

2. Fabrics

The 1890s saw the rise of luxurious fabrics such as silk, velvet, and lace. These fabrics continue to be popular today and are often used in formalwear and evening gowns. In addition, the use of bold prints and patterns, such as florals and stripes, can also be traced back to the 1890s.

3. Accessories

The 1890s were known for extravagant accessories, such as hats, gloves, and parasols. Many of these accessories have made a comeback in contemporary fashion, with wide-brimmed hats and statement jewelry being particularly popular. In addition, the use of scarves and shawls as accessories can be traced back to the 1890s.

4. Hairstyles

The Gibson girl hairstyle was the epitome of elegance in the 1890s, with its soft curls and intricate braids. This hairstyle has been reimagined in various ways over the years, with many contemporary hairstyles incorporating elements from the Gibson girl look.

5. Evening Wear

Eveningwear in the 1890s was characterized by long, flowing gowns with high necklines and puffed sleeves. These same features can still be seen in contemporary formalwear, with designers incorporating elements of vintage 1890s fashion into modern red-carpet looks.

Where to Find Women’s Fashion from the 1890s Today

If you’re a lover of historical fashion or simply intrigued by the stylings of days past, you may be interested in exploring the elegant dress of the 1890s. Though the era is over a century old, it’s possible to find authentic 1890s women’s fashion in a variety of settings. Below are some suggestions for where to find 1890s fashion pieces today:

1. Historical Reenactment Events

One way to experience women’s fashion from the 1890s is by attending a historical reenactment event. These events bring the past to life by recreating historical settings, with actors portraying people and events from another era. Often, these events will include fashion displays, showcasing the clothing worn by people of the period. They are an excellent opportunity to see 1890s fashion up close, with participants happy to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with visitors.

2. Fashion Exhibits at Museums

Many museums have fashion exhibits that feature pieces from the past, including those from the 1890s. These exhibits may focus on a specific designer, trend, or time period, allowing you to see fashion from the 1890s in the context of its contemporaries. Plus, attending these exhibitions gives you the chance to learn more about fashion history and see how fashion has changed over time.

3. Online Auction and Resale Sites

If you’re looking to purchase or collect pieces of women’s fashion from the 1890s, online auction and resale sites can be an excellent resource. Sites like eBay or Etsy regularly have vintage clothing, including items from the 1890s. When shopping for vintage clothing online, it’s essential to know what you’re looking for and what to expect in terms of authenticity, quality, and pricing. Be sure to read descriptions carefully, ask questions of sellers, and look for reviews and feedback from previous buyers.

4. Antique Stores and Flea Markets

Another possible place to find women’s fashion from the 1890s is at local antique stores or flea markets. These venues may have a variety of vintage clothing for sale, including dresses, hats, and jackets from the 1890s. Keep in mind that finding pieces in pristine condition may be difficult, so search with care and be prepared to do some restoration if needed.

5. Costume Rental Companies

If dressing up in authentic 1890s fashion appeals to you but you don’t necessarily want to own clothing from the era, costume rental companies may be an excellent solution. These companies rent out historical costumes and accessories, including those from the 1890s. This option allows you to experience the fashion of the era without the commitment of purchasing and storing items.

6. Specialty Vintage Clothing Stores

Finally, specialty vintage clothing stores may also have women’s fashion from the 1890s for sale. These shops specialize in vintage clothing from a variety of eras and may have more extensive collections than what you could find at a local antique store or flea market. Some stores may also offer restoration services for damaged or worn garments, making it an excellent option for those looking to invest in quality pieces that will last.

With these options, it’s possible to experience the timeless elegance of women’s fashion from the 1890s today. Whichever avenue you choose, be sure to take the time to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of these garments from a bygone era.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions Answers
What were the popular clothing styles for women in the 1890s? Popular clothing styles for women in the 1890s were tailored suits, high-collared blouses, and long skirts.
Were accessories an important part of women’s fashion in the 1890s? Yes, accessories such as hats, gloves, fans, and parasols were an important part of women’s fashion in the 1890s.
What materials were commonly used in women’s clothing in the 1890s? Common materials used in women’s clothing were silk, wool, cotton, and linen.
Were women’s clothing in the 1890s restrictive? Yes, women’s clothing in the 1890s was often restrictive, especially in the form of corsets that emphasized a small waist and rigid bustle frames to give the illusion of a larger backside.
What was the role of fashion in society during the 1890s? Fashion played an important role in society during the 1890s as it served as a symbol of wealth and status, especially among the upper class.
Where can I find vintage clothing from the 1890s? Vintage clothing from the 1890s can be found in vintage and antique stores, as well as online through retailers that specialize in vintage clothing.

Thank You for Exploring Women’s Fashion in the 1890s with Us

Thank you for taking the time to learn about the timeless elegance of women’s fashion in the 1890s. We hope that this article has given you insight into the style and trends of the era, and perhaps even inspired you to incorporate some of these elements into your own wardrobe. Please do come back and visit us soon for more fascinating glimpses into the past.

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