Women’s Fashion of the Times…Dickens Time that is

Copyright © 2012 Deborah M. Zajac. All Rights Reserved.

I was fascinated with the women’s hats, dresses, and hair styles that I saw at the Dickens Fair. There were several different styles of dresses, and bonnets, and the hair styles were either pinned up at the back in a chignon with a loose ringlet or two framing the face, or curled in ringlets and pinned up with the ringlets hanging freely at the back of the head from the crown to the nape of the neck.

Hats, hairstyles, and dresses in the early Victorian era changed at a much slower pace than we’re used today. Unlike today’s seasonal fashion changes, hats and hairstyles only changed about every decade during the Victorian Era.

Black and white feather bonnet

In the late 1830’s the “Great hat” gave way to smaller brimmed bonnets,

Woman in Blue Bonnet

and over time more ornate trim like ribbons, feathers, and flowers were added…

Woman in the Red Ornate Bonnet

Ornately trimmed bonnets stayed in vogue for 50 years, but by 1890 were not worn much.

Women’s dresses changed at about the same pace. Skirts got much bigger requiring more petticoats, and hoops, the sleeves got slimmer, and women wore corsets with boning to keep the bodice from folding horizontally, and to emphasize a small waist.

Unique Corsetry

In the 1840’s the shawl made a comeback;  it was larger and could be used as shoulder wrap.

Woman in Black Bonnet with Shawl

In 1856 The Crinoline Cage Frame was patented by W.S. Thompson.  At least 6 petticoats were needed to hold the wide skirts out.  Petticoats were made of cotton, flannel or wool, and could weigh up to 14 pounds! Can you imagine wearing that much fabric in the summer?

Women sitting full skirt lace cap

Another big advancement in 1856 was the discovery by William Perkin of Coal Tar Aniline Dyes.

While experimenting with coal tar extracts he discovered Mauveine. It’s a bright purple dye. Once in the lab and synthesized it radically changed the textile industry. New colors of dyes like magenta and brilliant blue were soon on the market.

The majority of fashions I saw while at the Dickens Fair were from the decades of 1830-1850 I believe.

Here’s a few more Bonnets and head coverings I saw…

I think these two were in a more ordinary mode of dress…dressed for work perhaps, or for running errands, and they have a foreign look about them.

Women in Knit caps

In work attire, and cap,

In the Bakery… a widow, or Dowager perhaps,

Woman in Black Bonnet

… I should have asked her what she does for a living in Dickens London.

She was just chillin


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