Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

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Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

 

Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

The Victorian Era, spanning the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), witnessed a fascinating transformation in women’s fashion. Unlike the flowing, empire-waisted silhouettes of the Regency period, Victorian gowns became synonymous with a dramatic, structured look. Defined by a tightly corseted bodice and a dramatically full skirt, these garments captured the essence of the era and continue to hold a place of intrigue in our collective imagination. This article delves deeper into the multifaceted reasons behind the prominence of voluminous gowns during this period, moving beyond a superficial understanding of fashion as mere aesthetics.

The Intertwined Threads on Victorian Era:

Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

Victorian society was built on a rigid social hierarchy with distinct gender roles. The ideal woman was portrayed as a paragon of domesticity, embodying grace, submissiveness, and a certain physical fragility. Voluminous skirts, often achieved through layers upon layers of petticoats or the ingenious innovation of the crinoline (a cage-like structure), served a dual purpose. Firstly, the sheer size and weight of these skirts restricted a woman’s physical movement. This outward restriction, both literal and symbolic, reinforced the societal expectation of a woman’s proper behavior – confined to the domestic sphere and gracefully performing her wifely and motherly duties.

Secondly, the luxurious fabrics and sheer volume of these gowns became a potent symbol of wealth and status. In a period where the newly emerging middle class was striving for social recognition, owning and maintaining elaborate garments served as a visual declaration of a family’s economic standing. The ability to afford a plethora of fabrics, intricate trimmings, and skilled dressmakers became a mark of distinction, separating the wealthy from the working class whose clothing was primarily focused on practicality.

The Technological Spark: From Humble Beginnings to Grand Designs

Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

The Industrial Revolution irrevocably altered the fashion industry in the 19th century. The invention of the sewing machine in the mid-1800s facilitated mass production, making clothing, particularly undergarments like petticoats, more accessible. However, the most significant innovation came in the form of the crinoline. Initially crafted from whalebone or horsehair, the crinoline eventually transitioned to steel hoops, creating a bell-shaped silhouette that dramatically increased the skirt’s circumference. This technological advancement opened doors for the construction of even grander and more luxurious gowns. Dressmakers could now utilize a wider variety of fabrics, from silks and satins to opulent brocades and velvets, to create masterpieces that showcased their skills and the wearer’s wealth.

The Allure of the Hourglass: A Celebration of the Feminine Form

Beyond reinforcing social expectations, Victorian fashion embraced a specific aesthetic ideal – the hourglass figure. The voluminous skirt, juxtaposed with the tightly corseted waist, accentuated the desired feminine form. This silhouette emphasized a small waist and broader hips, a look further enhanced by the bustle, which replaced the crinoline in the later part of the century. The tightly corseted bodice not only created the illusion of a smaller waist but also pushed up the bust, further contributing to the desired hourglass shape. This silhouette, celebrated in paintings and sculptures of the era, reflected the Victorian fascination with female beauty and idealized femininity.

Romanticism’s Brushstrokes: Beauty, Emotion, and the Grand Gesture

Why were the gowns made so big during victorian era

The influence of the Romantic movement, a cultural movement that emphasized emotion, imagination, and a connection to nature, cannot be overlooked. Voluminous gowns, with their cascading layers and billowing fabrics, evoked a sense of grandeur and drama, aligning perfectly with the Romantic aesthetic. These garments resembled the flowing drapery of classical sculptures and paintings, further enhancing the association with beauty and artistic expression. Furthermore, Queen Victoria’s reign coincided with a heightened focus on beauty and refinement. Elaborate gowns became a way for women to participate in this cultural fascination, allowing them to showcase their taste and appreciation for aesthetics. Attending social gatherings and balls provided the perfect platform for women to display their exquisite gowns, becoming a performance of beauty and social standing.

A Silhouette in Flux: The Evolving Landscape of Victorian Fashion

It is important to note that the silhouette of Victorian gowns did not remain static throughout the era. The early Victorian period (1830s-1840s) saw a more natural, flowing silhouette with emphasis on the shoulders, known as the “leg of mutton” sleeve. The introduction of the crinoline in the 1850s led to the most dramatic expansion of the skirt, creating a silhouette often referred to as the “cabbage stalk” dress. However, by the 1860s, the silhouette began to shift again. The crinoline, cumbersome and increasingly viewed as a safety hazard due to its flammability, evolved into the bustle, which concentrated volume at the back of the skirt. This shift offered a slightly more practical silhouette, allowing for a bit more movement. The late Victorian era (1880s-1900s) saw a significant departure from the dramatic styles of the mid-Victorian period. The “Aesthetic Dress” movement, a reaction to the perceived restrictiveness of Victorian fashion, gained popularity. This movement championed simpler, more comfortable silhouettes with flowing fabrics and less emphasis on corsetry. The “Tea Gown,” a loose-fitting garment ideal for afternoon gatherings, became a popular choice for this era.

Beyond Aesthetics: The Practicalities and the Price of Fashion

While voluminous gowns were a dominant trend, their practicality was often a point of contention. The sheer size and weight of the skirts, particularly those supported by crinolines, could be cumbersome. Everyday activities like walking, riding in carriages, or even sitting down became a challenge. The crinoline’s metal hoops could snag on furniture or cause injuries in crowded spaces. Additionally, the early versions of the crinoline, made from flammable materials like horsehair, posed a serious fire hazard. Several documented incidents of women’s crinolines catching fire during social gatherings fueled public anxieties about these garments.

The health implications of tight corsets were another source of concern. Medical professionals voiced their disapproval of the restrictive nature of corsetry, arguing that it could restrict breathing, damage internal organs, and even lead to fainting spells. These concerns sparked debates about the restrictive nature of Victorian fashion and the need for reform.

A Reflection of a Society: The Legacy of the Voluminous Gown

The voluminous gowns of the Victorian era were much more than mere fashion statements. They were a reflection of the social norms, technological advancements, and aesthetic ideals of the time. These grand garments served to reinforce societal expectations of femininity, display social status, and embody the prevailing notions of beauty. While practicality often took a backseat to aesthetics, the evolution of the silhouette throughout the era reflects a constant negotiation between fashion and function. Understanding the motivations behind these dramatic fashions offers a deeper insight into Victorian society and its complex cultural landscape.