The nineteenth century witnessed an amazing transformation in the political and economic life of Europeans and Americans alike. During the first decade of the century almost all of Europe was under the power of France's ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), or other members of his family who controlled the outer regions of the empire.
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.
The development of special clothing for swimming went through important changes during the 1800s and early 1900s. Though people of various cultures had bathed in oceans, rivers, and lakes for centuries, the nineteenth century saw a dramatic rise in the popularity of swimming as a recreational activity.
A ruffled collar of gathered lace, the betsy, also spelled betsey and betsie, of the early 1800s was an updated variation on the starched linen ruff that had been popular during the sixteenth century. When the ruff reappeared in early nineteenth century England, it was smaller and simpler, a strip of lace gathered and tied around the neck with a drawstring.
Long, loose pants that are gathered at the ankle, bloomers were worn by women during the nineteenth century both as outer-wear and as underwear. Bloomers were part of a movement toward more practical clothing for women, and soon became closely identified with suffragists (women working for women's right to vote) and feminists (women working to improve the status of women).
Durable, heavy-duty pants made from dark blue cotton fabric, blue jeans were first created as work pants for the gold miners of the 1849 California gold rush, a time when people of the United States rapidly moved into California in search of gold. Once worn only by those who did heavy manual labor, jeans became one of the most popular and common clothing items of the twentieth century.
Following the American and French Revolutions of the late 1700s, an appreciation for democracy and for the common man spread over the Western world. This led to a plainer style of dress for the men of the 1800s than had been the fashion in the centuries before.
Full crinoline underskirts were necessities of popular women's fashions of the mid-1800s. As skirt styles became fuller during the century, women were burdened by having to wear several layers of petticoats, or stiff, heavy, and uncomfortable, fabric underskirts.
The dinner jacket emerged from an era when it was considered proper for upper-class men to dress formally for the evening meal. A comfortable, less formal alternative to a tailcoat, a jacket with long flaps in the back, the dinner jacket, or tuxedo jacket as it is sometimes called, has become the most common type of men's formal wear since the 1890s.
The mid-nineteenth century saw the introduction of a type of men's suit that would become the dominant form of Western men's dress clothing of the next century. The ditto suit, as it was called, featured a jacket, vest, and trousers made from the same fabric.
The simple answer to the question about what women wore during the nineteenth century is a dress. There were, however, enormous changes in the size, shape, and decoration of women's dresses during the century.
The most ancient humans created the garments they wore from materials that were around them, and it is likely that animal furs were one of the earliest materials used in the making of clothes. Fur clothing is not only soft, warm, and durable, but has often been a sign of wealth and rank in society.
Gigot is the French word for the back leg of an animal, especially of a lamb or sheep. The gigot sleeve, also called the leg-of-mutton sleeve, was named for its resemblance to a sheep's hind leg: wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.
Indian textiles began flooding European markets in the seventeenth century with the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1597 and the English East India Company in 1600. This early trade provided the foundation for the great popularity of Kashmir shawls among fashionable European women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Named for the Latin word pellicus, meaning "made of skin," the pelisse was a loose cape made of fur, or made of velvet or satin and lined or trimmed with fur. Popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the pelisse was a warm outer garment, commonly worn by women and children.
The nineteenth century saw phenomenal growth in sporting activities, for women as well as for men, particularly between 1870 and 1900. All manner of new sports came into favor, and it was impossible to practice them with any comfort in the formal dress of the day.
Over the course of the nineteenth century hairstyles and headwear changed quite dramatically from the styles of the previous century. At the beginning of the century, both men and women fashioned their hair in styles like those worn in ancient Greece and Rome.
The Apollo knot hairstyle had three essential parts: the front of the hair was combed into a center part; the long hair at the back was piled neatly in a bun on top of the head; and small ringlets fell beside the temples to frame the face. The style reflected the trend in the early nineteenth century to wear Greek-inspired dress styles and hair ornaments called sphendone and wreaths.
The distinctively British bowler is a hard felt hat with a low melon-shaped crown and a rounded brim that turns up at the sides. Known in the United States as a derby hat, the bowler had largely replaced the hard-to-maintain top hat as the headgear of choice for elegant gentlemen in the United States and Europe by the end of the nineteenth century.
The deerstalker was a type of cap favored by deer hunters and other sportsmen in nineteenth-century England. The deerstalker became especially fashionable between 1870 and 1890, when sports clothes became a more prominent feature of men's dress.
The Gainsborough chapeau was a women's hat style that was first popularized at the turn of the nineteenth century. Based on the hats often seen on the ladies painted by famous British portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), the Gainsborough chapeau was a large hat with a wide brim, trimmed with feathers, ribbons, and flowers.
Men have always had the option of growing facial hair over their upper lip, but in terms of fashion the nineteenth century was the golden age of mustaches. Beginning about midcentury, a wide variety of mustache styles became popular across Europe and North America, and they remained so into the 1900s.
Sideburns, or facial hair extending past the ear and along the cheek, became a popular male hairstyle during the nineteenth century in Europe and America. Historian Richard Corson identified sideburns, or side-whiskers, as the fashion distinguishing the nineteenth century from other periods, noting that "the timid sproutings [of hair] of the early years had flourished and often developed into flowing, luxuriant growths, frequently unaccompanied by any beard or moustache." During the century men grew a huge variety of sideburn styles.
Women first began wearing the cloth head coverings called bonnets during the 1700s, but they are most strongly identified with the nineteenth century. Designed to protect the head and hair from sun, wind, and rain, bonnets differed from hats because they did not sit on top of the head, but were fitted around the head, usually tying under the chin with long, decorative ribbons.
Introduced during the early 1800s, the top hat became the most common men's hat of the nineteenth century. Worn by men of all classes, for all occasions, at any time of day, the top hat was a narrow-brimmed silk hat with a tall, straight crown and a flat top.
Wigs, false hairpieces that are worn over or attached to the natural hair of the wearer, have been fashion accessories for many centuries. The nineteenth century did not see the widespread use of elaborate wigs that had marked previous eras.
Both men and women wore an abundance of accessories to appear fashionable during the nineteenth century. Women's accessories reflected what time of day it was.
The ascot was a wide scarf-like necktie popular with well-dressed British gentlemen in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was originally named after a racetrack, Ascot Heath in England, where the style was popularized by fashionable spectators attending the Royal Ascot, an annual four-day horse race initiated by Queen Anne (1665–1714) in 1711.
A brooch was a pin featuring a large central cut jewel surrounded by diamonds or pearls. Women fastened brooches to the necklines of their dresses.
Fobs and seals decorated the waists of fashionable men during the early nineteenth century, continuing a trend that started in the late eighteenth century. Fobs were short straps, ribbons, tassels, or chains.
Some form of gloves, garments that cover the hands by encasing each finger in fabric or leather, have been worn for protection and warmth for thousands of years. However, their use as a fashion accessory took hold during the 1500s when famous women, such as Elizabeth I (1533–1603) of England, began wearing elbow-length gloves as a part of formal clothing.
The single lens eyeglass, or monocle, was introduced in the eighteenth century but attained its greatest popularity in nineteenth-century Europe as an emblem of aristocratic arrogance. Often carried purely for dramatic effect, the monocle was usually worn around the neck on a string, ribbon, or chain, and used to peer down on others with an air of superiority, and when placed on the eye, a person was forced to squint in an awkward manner to hold it in place.
Small, handheld bags used to hold money and other necessities, pocketbooks, also called purses, reticules, or handbags, have been an important fashion accessory for women since the late 1700s. People had used small leather or fabric pouches for money and valuables long before that, but those purses had been carried either by men only or by both genders equally.
Men and women living in the nineteenth century enjoyed a variety of foot covering choices. Men's styles were visible beneath their trousers or breeches, but women's long gowns hid their shoes from sight.
A variety of boot styles were popular during the nineteenth century. Half boots, or those reaching halfway to the knee, with square toes were commonly worn by men and ankle boots by women in the early years of the century.
Women's fashions during the midto late nineteenth century tended to emphasize modesty and covered the entire body with long flowing skirts and large puffed sleeves. Despite the modest nature of fashions, high-button shoes that became a fashion necessity for the women of the mid- to late 1800s demonstrated a bit of flirtatious fun.
Slippers adorned the feet of both fashionable men and women at parties and formal evening events during the nineteenth century. Slippers were delicate foot coverings made of fabric, often satin, or soft leather.
Tennis shoes were lightweight canvas shoes with rubber soles, first introduced during the last half of the nineteenth century. They made their appearance just as many social sports were becoming fashionable and immediately became popular among active young people.