4 Cringe Worthy Victorian Fashion Trends

Oscar Wilde QuoteExcept for a brief period of conformity in my teens, I have never been a jeans and t-shirt girl.

My style has always veered toward the fancy, feminine, and frivolous. I own more dresses than pants, more gloves than sneakers. Family members chuckle at my interpretation of “casual wear” because it involves pearls or a cloche hat. Usually both.

This zeal for fanciness is one of the reasons I love Victorian fashion and endeavor to incorporate elements of 19th century style into my 21st century wardrobe.

However, while there’s much to admire about Victorian fashion, there were also trends which make me shudder. I’m all for dressing up. But I’m also all about comfort. To me, style should not involve pain.

Yet to the Victorians, fashion and pain often went hand and hand.

To illustrate, here are 4 Cringe Worthy Victorian Fashion Trends.

1. Corsets

Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia, 1887.

Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia, 1887.

“The fashionable size for a waist in the 1800s was alleged to be eighteen inches. A corset was the device used to attain this width or something close to it. It consisted of two halves, reinforced with whale bone, that got hooked together in the front and then laced up in back. Compressing all that flesh into a small area was not always an easy job. The corset was one reason women needed a lady’s maid—someone to stand behind them to pull the laces tight.”

~ Daniel Pool, from What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.

19th Century Corset Advertisement

Fashion-Corset Damage

During the Victorian Era, there was a trend of “tight lacing” corsets among a portion of the fashion conscious, upper-class. Figure “B” shows an example of the deformation which could occur with repeated “tight lacing”.

As one who has suffered a rib injury and the resulting chronic pain, the mere thought of lacing on a corset literally makes me cringe. And wince. And clutch my side, uttering “By the very beard of Jules Verne, why?” Why would anyone purposely endure such a device in the name of fashion? To me this makes no sense. I shall stick to highlighting my waist with a stylish belt, thank you.

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8 Rules of Etiquette for the 21st Century

Angela BellHello, my name is Angela, and I am a 21st century Victorian lady.

What exactly does that mean, you ask? I shall tell you.

It does not mean that I wear corsets, am waited on hand and foot by servants, and only speak to those within my social sphere. No, indeed. I’m modern enough to appreciate my dish washer, independent enough to fetch my own glass of water, and liberated enough to make polite conversation with people from a variety of backgrounds.

A 21st century Victorian is simply a modern person with 19th century sensibilities. One who lives in today’s world without casting aside the best of yesteryear. A 21st century Victorian is not naive enough to wish themselves back in time. No, I like my smart phone, indoor plumbing, and air conditioning. Rather we choose not to throw lady-like elegance out with the crinoline.

Fashion Plate-Riding Habit

As a 21st century Victorian lady, I admire the hand-crafted and antique, maintain the belief that perfection is a fairy tale but romance is real, and feel empowered through my femininity—not in spite of it.

Books

I also endeavor to go through life practicing certain rules of etiquette. Not because it’s dictated by a stern, unforgiving society. Nor for the purpose of elevating myself by putting down another. For me, etiquette is the setting in which the gem of politeness is showcased. Continue reading