Ladies’ Evening Dress of the 1860s
an Overview on How to Create a Period Ensemble
Please click on some of the pictures for more fashion plates and
the original period descriptions of the fashions.
This era was one where ladies fashions were transitioning from
a style where bell-shaped skirts were supported by a multitude of petticoats (see 1854 illustration, left)
to the introduction of the
cage crinoline or hoop-skirt as skirt support. Skirts were bell-shaped in the 1850s and early 1860s,
slowly during the 60s the skirts fullness shifted to the back and the skirt became
cone shaped by the end of the decade (see 1865 illustration, below right), leading the way for the bustle that appeared in the
Skirts were full length, sweeping the floor for day wear and a bit shorter for dancing,
gathered or pleated
(or a combination of the two) at the waistline, with the size of the hoop ranging from around
115" to 150" in circumference. The skirt should have enough extra fullness to allow it to
fall gracefully over the hoop. A skirt that is too tight will show the
lines of the hoop’s boning.
Hoops were generally narrower for day wear than evening wear.
The width of one’s hoop should be chosen to harmonize with a lady's height. A lady of 5’ 2"
might choose a hoop of 120" circumference, but a lady 6’ tall might have her hoop at 150"
Ladies’ evening gowns of this era typically consist of a full gathered
or pleated skirt (usually 115"-140" at the hem), a fitted bodice with rounded open neckline
and short puffed sleeves. In the early 1850s they would have been worn over starched
petticoats, after around 1856 they would have been worn over a wired hoop (105"-125" bottom
hoop circumference on average). The bodice is usually fastened at the center back by either
hooks and eyes or lacing. The look of the bodice was usually longer waisted in the 1850s and
fairly short waisted in the 1860s, flounced skirts were quite popular in the 1850s.
FABRICS AND TRIMS:
Fabrics used were most often silks in taffeta, moire or brocades; patterns
can be solids, stripes, small prints (both allover and border prints) or plaids. For summer
wear lightweight silk organza and cotton muslins were popular. Colors would be lighter for
young ladies, darker for older women. Bright red should be avoided, as should black (in
America) and very dark colors. The gown can be decorated with contrasting or complimentary
trim and black or white lace. Decorative elements (ruffles, bows, geometric designs, etc.) on
the bodice and skirt usually matched, with the skirt decoration reflected on a smaller scale
on the berthe (neckline trimming, see illustration) of the bodice.
Godey's Lady's Book, February 1860
P.O. Box 9, Nahant, Massachusetts 01908
phone: (781) 49-WALTZ (781-499-2589)
© 2011, Vintage Victorian, All rights reserved
Go to 1860s Library Pages:
Ladies Evening Dress:
the Early Jazz Age:1920-1924
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last updated 28 may 2011/csb