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Nineteenth-Century Clothing

Nineteenth-Century Clothing

Dress during the nineteenth century changed dramatically. The change was influenced by shifts in taste, of course, but more significantly by the introduction of machines to the construction of clothing. Sewing machines, power looms, or weaving machines, steam power, electricity, new dye formulas, and other inventions increased the speed and ease of clothing manufacture. These inventions were used to add embellishments to women's clothing; machine-made trimmings were applied in bulk to the enormous flowing gowns worn by women in midcentury. By the end of the century, the introduction of ditto suits for men increased men's interest in ready-to-wear clothing, which would ruin many tailors' careers by the mid-twentieth century since the clothes did not need alterations.

The style of dress worn by men became increasingly somber and less flamboyant throughout the century. At the beginning of the century, stylishly dressed men known as dandies, such as George "Beau" Brummell, influenced male fashions by replacing fancy outfits of ornate waistcoats and ruffles with plain dark jackets, high-collared shirts and simple cravats, vests, and eventually trousers. Although some men wore corsets and loud clothing during the century, by the end of the period proper male clothing came to be associated more with clean, polished clothing rather than with fancy ornament. The color black, introduced during this century as proper for male dress attire, has endured to the present day in the form of tuxedos and dark suits.

Women's fashions shifted dramatically throughout the century. Starting with styles that revealed more of the female figure than ever before in Europe and America, women shifted to wearing large dresses with huge sleeves and skirts and heavy ornamentation by midcentury. As the century continued, women's fashions changed again to incorporate slimmer silhouettes, or profiles, with the fullness of the skirt limited to the rear bustle. Despite the huge variations in skirt and sleeve size, women's waists were pinched tighter and tighter in a variety of constrictive corsets throughout the century. The importance of a slim waist throughout the nineteenth century influenced some mothers to confine their young daughters in binding corsets as well.

While the styles for men at the end of the century laid the foundation that would influence men's clothing for the centuries to come, the styles for women did not. Women's fashion began to be influenced by fashion designers, the first being Charles Frederick Worth (18251895). And in the coming century, women would experience much more liberty and a variety of new styles would emerge to reflect this. One style introduced during the nineteenth century would have a lasting impact on the fashion of both men and women across the globe: Starting as a sturdy work pant, blue jeans would become one of the most influential American fashion trends.


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Charles Frederick Worth Industrializes Fashion
Bathing Costumes
The Betsy
Blue Jeans
American Cowboy
Dinner Jacket
Ditto Suits
The Dandy
Gigot Sleeves
Kashmir Shawls
Tennis Costume

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"Nineteenth-Century Clothing." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. . 18 Jan. 2019 <>.

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