What fashionable ladies wore in the 1860s

If you think being a woman is tough now, imagine how arduous it was a hundred and thirty years ago, when fashion dictated a frighteningly elaborate clothing and makeup routine. 

fashion1870s“Once arrayed for a fete, especially if she had lost the bloom of youth, the butterfly of the eighteen sixties and early eighteen seventies staggered forth under the burden of an infinite variety of beautifying apparatus constructed of steel, iron, wire, cotton, wood, horsehair, and wool, all attached to her person by straps, tape, and mucilage,” wrote Herbert Asbury in 1929’s All Around the Town.

The look a woman of the time wanted involved a tiny waist and big breasts (attainable thanks to a steel corset), plump arms, small feet, and a “Grecian bend,” basically a butt supersized with the help of bustles and pads under her dress.

 fashion1870s2Hair was puffed up with the help of human-hair wigs or horsehair extensions. The face, neck, shoulders, and arms were painted with “vegetable rouge” as well as chalks and pastes. A coat of India ink darkened eyebrows.

Some fashionable chicks had their bodies coated in enamel—kind of  like a more time-consuming version of today’s spray-on tan.

“Many society women made regular tri-weekly trips to the enameling studio, while a few had coats put on to last anywhere from a week to two or three months,” Asbury wrote.

A hot babe of the 1870s, from All Around the Town

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One Response to “What fashionable ladies wore in the 1860s”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Whenever I see women’s enormous floor-length skirts from this era, I’m reminded of a passage from a book on fashion called “Are Clothes Modern?” (Bernard Rudolfsky, 1947):

    “The following snapshot is handed down to us by the observer of a trifling incident: A lady, attired in a dress with a train that answered the dictum of the fashion, boarded a cab after a short walk and left on the curbstone the rubbish she had collected while sweeping the street. The onlooker, without doubt an analytical-minded person, made this inventory of the refuse:

    2 cigar ends
    9 cigarette do (sic)
    a portion of pork pie
    4 toothpicks
    2 hairpins
    1 stem of a clay pipe
    3 fragments of orange peel
    1 slice of cat’s meat
    half a sole of a boot
    1 plug of tobacco (chewed)
    straw, mud, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous street refuse”

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