“Let men be compelled to wear our dress for a while, and we should soon hear them advocating a change, as loudly as they now condemn it.” – Amelia Bloomer, Lily, March 1851
The middle of the 19th century was when the Rational Dress movement started, also known as dress reform. As fashions became more extreme, with crinolines, bustles, and tightly-laced corsets, many women – and suffragists in particular – were pushing for more sensible and comfortable fashions. As more women wanted to participate in active sports, dress reform became a political issue in the same way abolition of slavery and women’s rights were issues. Bloomers made their first appearance.
It was the mid-1800s when skirts reached the peak of their fullness. Crinolines replaced petticoats, because the number of petticoats required to maintain the fashionable silhouette would have been too heavy for any woman except a trained athlete to walk in. The skirts of the gowns of the 1850’s and onwards were made up of layers and flounces and well decorated with trims, on contrast to the simpler skirts from the 1840s. This was the era that saw the rise of haute couture, with Frederick Worth opening the first Parisian fashion house.
Aniline dyes, the first chemical dyes, were discovered in 1856 and quickly became fashionable. Mauveine was discovered by William Perkin, and the race was started to find new colours for the fashion industry. Here is a list of the new fashionable colours that were invented over the next few decades:
- Violet Imperial (a purple shade with more blue tones than red tones)
- Verguin’s fuchsine (a rich crimson red),
- Bismark brown (a rich brown with red tones)
- Dahlia Pink (what we Australians might call lolly pink)
- London orange (bright orange shading to red tones)
- Hofmann’s violet (a vivid purple),
- Magdala red (a pale pink-tinted red),
- Manchester brown (a coffee brown),
- Martius yellow (a bright yellow with a hint of green, but not a true chartreuse),
- Nicholson’s blue (a vivid mid-blue),
- aniline yellow (sunshine yellow),
- bleu de Lyon (deep blue shading to violet),
- bleu de Paris (possibly royal blue),
- and aldehyde green (a mid-green with a hint of blue).
During the 1860s, day wear gowns featured wide pagoda sleeves worn over decorative undersleeves, and the high necklines were made ornate with lace or tatted collars. In contrast, evening gowns had low necklines and short sleeves, and were worn with gloves. It was impossible to dance without gloves, as holding your partner’s bare hands would be most improper. With the introduction of all the new colours, some of the dress were almost psychedelic in their colour schemes.
This was an era of sumptuous fabrics made into sumptuous dresses being contrasted with the dress reform movement and the Artistic Dress movement. Artistic Dress or Aesthetic Dress was a fashion movement, circa 1850-1900, that rejected highly structured and over-trimmed Victorian fashion trends in favour of beautiful materials and simplicity of design. So you can’t look at one dress and say that was representative of the era. Which means you can probably find a style you love to adapt to a Steampunk Aesthetic.