Women’s Clothing in the 1890s

Fanny fashionRenee Ryan here, ready to share more research I’ve uncovered while working on my latest Charity House novel. The book is set in 1896 and despite how much I’d rather dig into the story I must dress my heroine. She is a fashionable woman of her time, so it’s important I get her clothing right.

Fashionable styles of the 1890s finally (and I do mean FINALLY) shed the excesses of previous decades. Crinolines were out, as were protruding bustles in the back. Unfortunately (and I do mean UNFORTUNATELY) corseting continued. Early dresses in the 1890s consisted of very tight bodices. The skirts were gathered at the waist and fell more naturally over the hips. By the mid-1890s leg o’mutton sleeves made their entrance, but by the late 1890s tighter sleeves returned with small ruffles capping the shoulders. Skirts took on an A-line silhouette. 

Sportswear became popular in the 1890s due to changing attitudes about acceptable activities for women. The shirtwaist dress that included a bodice tailored like a man’s shirt was adopted for informal wear and became the uniform for working women.



Afternoon dresses had high necks, wasp waists, puffed sleeves and bell-shaped skirts. Evening gowns sported a square decolletage and skirts with long trim.

Fanny Fashion 3





In short, the 1890s introduced unfussy, tailored women’s clothing. The key element was simplicity, well…at least simplicity in terms of pervious decades of the nineteenth century.




My next blog will include hairstyles, headgear (aka hats) and shoes. In the meantime, leave a comment and you’ll be included in a drawing to win Mistaken Bride, a book in my backlist with a most beautiful dress.

Mistaken Bride

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18 thoughts on “Women’s Clothing in the 1890s”

  1. There are some beautiful dresses during this time. I am thankful we don’t have to wear them today though. I think of the heat! Whew! 🙂

  2. I don’t know if I could stand the summers wearing those tight dresses. It was interesting to learn about the fashions.

  3. I love to look at the dresses of the 17th through the early 20th centuries. The styles were gorgeous and fabrics beautiful. However, I think I prefer the styles of the late 20th and 21st centuries. These styles for the most part a built for comfort for all considered, male and female. Some of the men’s clothing in those earlier centuries were not that comfortable, either. The ruffs of the 17th century–worse than turtle necks, which I can’t wear–feel like I am choking. We truly dress for our a own comfort, even if we are dressing in the latest fashions, now. So thankful the corset has been relegated to history and not a required accessory now. Also, I wonder if the temperatures have changed, I couldn’t imagine wearing the layers of clothing in 90+ weather without air conditioning.

  4. Nancy M and Janine, YES, you both make a great point. I can’t imagine wearing all those clothes (plus a corset) in the summertime. There was a reason south Florida wasn’t truly developed until the introduction of air conditioning.

  5. Dora, I love my comfort, too. Corset…I can’t even type the word without shuddering. I think Spanx are wonderful and magical and should only be worn for very, very special occassions!!! Oh, say, once a decade!

  6. Great post, Renee. Simplicity for then, maybe, but I can’t imagine wearing all of that on a hot summer day without air conditioning anywhere. The thought of a corset terrifies me LOL. I don’t even like the idea of Spanx, but am sure I badly need it. But those 1890’s dresses do look lovely, don’t they?

  7. I recently saw this documentary about all the dangerous stuff people had in their homes in Victorian England because it was new or fashionable, corsets included. In that documentary there was this jar with some woman’s liver in it. Apparently she had worn her corset so tight it had made really deep grooves in her liver. No need to guess what the cause of death had been! And apparently there had been corsets even for pregnant women.

  8. That is a beautiful cover! 🙂 Amazing about the changes of fashion through all the years… I like comfort!

  9. What a fun post! I enjoy reading about fashions of the past, but cannot imagine corseting and such! I’m with you on the yoga pants and t-shirt! 🙂

  10. Great pictures! I like the shirt and blouse look, and I bet it was more comfortable. Thanks for the giveaway- I haven’t read that one yet!

  11. I can’t believe how much time can go into researching these things. But I love the clothing details. Mostly my characters were calico. A solid color sprinkled with flowers. Men? Well, not much worth mentioning there, I’m more likely mention Stetsons and the weapons they carry.

  12. Good post Renee. I love looking at old pictures of years gone by. Yes, it looks so uncomfortable and clumsy even in the pioneer pictures to have to wear even when cleaning, gardening, or whatever needed doing. And corsets would have been horrible seems to me. Tho, I did look better I must admit when I wore a girdle. 🙂 Can’t hold my tummy in with the muscles anymore. But, can’t imagine wearing so many layers of clothing either. And, as for A/C goes, people were more accustomed to the heat when it was hot inside as well as outdoors. I still remember when I never had A/C till 1961. i got hot yes, but it didn’t bother me like it does now when A/C goes off or go outdoors in this hot weather for my body was used to it then. Now it’s cool, in the house, the car, and stores, etc. so when I’m outside it almost makes me sick if in the sun very long. I would sure love to win your book Renee. Maxie
    > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

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