Andrea Edelman wearing a simple, yet nicely made, work dress
Image by Floyd D. P. Øydegaard

This page covers the styles most popular between 1875 to 1885.

Depending on your selected social standing and desire to do an accurate portrayal, what you wear will have an effect on your period costume. From the details of your hair style to the very undergarments you make: these will determine who you are and how much historical interest you've placed in what you wear. This page is only a guide and never the last word on the subject. View old images and "fashion plates" of the time you wish to represent: It's important you do your own research. Remember that if your intention is to educate the public, you do them a disservice when you don't make an accurate portrayal. What you put on your face, such as eyeglasses, makeup, earrings, hats, etc., is just as important as what you wear.

It's always best to start with a naked form, covering it with a chemise. This garmet covers the skin to protect it from the corset and usually falls atleast past your backside. Sometimes it's below your knees; very much like a simple shift. Over this goes the corset. By 1875 the corset became longer then the earlier styles, and by 1882 suspenders for stockings were attached. (See 1886 style corset). Drawers (wrongly called bloomers or pantaloons) were crotchless and reached the knee. It may be wise to first put on leggings (stockings) and the bands (garters) that hold them up above or just below the knee. One would advise putting shoes on now, as it's mighty difficult to tie shoes while wearing a corset. After the corset has been laced as tight as one is comfortable, a corset cover (camisole or petticoat bodice) was usually placed over this to protect the corset and the dress. Next came the bustle pillow or some sort of wired bustle-shaped dress support (period names were: tournure or dress improver) followed by multiple layers of petticoats, (crinoline or crinolette) and the skirt which may be attached to the jacket. Another method popular in the 1880s was the polonaise which was a large part of the costume.

When you do your research, you will see that women of the night dressed very much like a respectable lady if the money they made allowed this. Read about the infamous whores and what their short lives were really like. Hollywood spent much of the mid 20th century creating their image (like what the late 1890's theatre goer would have seen on stage of lace and feather clad saloon girls, dance hall girls, madames and women of loose morals. These costumes were not what a woman wore in the streets. In private she was most likely undressed to a single petticoat, leggings, chemise (aka a shimmy) and corset. She may have had a robe and let her hair down.

Somewhere between the petticoats and the finished coverage, a lady ought to take the time to do her hair up in a proper manner that suits the time zone and the socially accepted styles of that era.
Then find a silly hat to cover it!

Places to learn more about women's clothing


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