Fashion Parade

One aspect of collecting carte de visite photographs is the ability it gives us to look back and see what our forebears were wearing during the second half of the 19th century.

Sitting for her portrtait

An image from around 1860

It has to be said that male attire altered somewhat less over the years than did that of the ladies. When studio photography took off during the 1850s, women were swathed in yards of fabric shaped by the bell-shaped undergarment known as the crinoline, as seen above. This confection of hoops, wires and padding gave the characteristic sweeping outline so desired by ladies of fashion. Those further down the social scale had to make do as best they could.


The crinoline in various forms was the defining fashion statement of the next few decades. However, gradually change came and clothing for women became more tailored. But excess was still there in the form of the bustle, exhibited in typical style, above. Yards of material were caught up in sculpted flounces to the rear of the wearer, showing off the tiny waists of the wearers, held in by tight-fitting corsets.

By the 1890s, the silhouette of high fashion had become more refined and separates were introduced in the form of blouse and skirt. At the same time hats went to new heights, covering themselves with bows, flowers, feathers and occasionally artificial birds. Sports wear put in an appearance for games of tennis, sea bathing, tennis and archery as women finally and literally began to break the bonds that bound them. Knickerbockers for lady cyclists were perhaps the most innovative fashion, at last revealing that women had legs. Everyday garments, however, still kept the female form under wraps.


Children too felt the pull of fashion being mostly dressed as miniature versions of their parents. The girl in the photo above, taken by Hector of Crediton in the 1880s, exibits all the frills and furbelows in her dress that appeared in adult fashions of the time. Meanwhile the menfolk were still sticking to the usual format of shirt, tie, jacket and trousers, or uniforms of one kind or another. Captain Hoseason, below, photographed in Jersey, Channel Isles, is dressed ready for the field but gentlemen were usually photographed in their everyday clothing, as can be seen in the photo of Mr Roddick and his family

Edward and anes Rodick and children

Captain Hoseason

To see more examples of Victorian womens fashions go to

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