Victorian Era Fashion: A Fusion of Opulence and Restraint

The Victorian era marked the dawn of a new age, with its fashion a unique fusion of classic elegance and vintage charm. From the rise of the crinoline to the invention of the bustle dress, fashion during this period was a mix of opulence and restraint, often showcasing the lavish wealth of the time. For anyone with a love of vintage style, the Victorian era is an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration. Here, we unravel the secrets of this captivating period in fashion history.

1. Exploring the Grandeur of Victorian Era Fashion

The Victorian Era saw the expansion of fashion culture in Britain, with the upper class being at the height of style. The decades of the 19th Century produced some of the most exquisite fashion trends on record, from ladies’ huge skirts to men’s tall top hats.

One of the most eye-catching articles of dress for women during this era was the crinoline. This large bell-shaped structure was worn to up to a three metre circumference, designed to fan out from the waist and held up by the use of several supportive hoops of steel.

The wealthy weren’t the only ones to indulge in extravagant and ostentatious designs. The middle-classes too embraced the fashion styles of the day, although their wardrobe was more muted in style and usually made of cheaper materials.

For men, upper class attire featured tailored dress coats which were often accompanied by the iconic top hat. Necessities such as a cane, pocket watch and gloves accompanied the more formal look for a gentleman.

The Victorian era also saw embellished and detailed accessories which were created to emphasise the grandeur of the clothes. Intricate jewellery crafted from semi-precious stones, colours and embroidery were plentiful. Chignons and plaited updos, large hats with wide brims, ostrich feather boas and elaborately decorated reticules completed every lady’s look.

  • Women
  • Crinoline
  • Embellished accessories
  • Chignons and updos
  • Large hats with wide brims
  • Men
  • Tailored dress coats
  • Top hats
  • Cane, pocket watch and gloves

2. Luxurious Fabrics and Ornamentation of Victorian Fashions

Exquisite Silks and Satins

One of the most opulent materials used for clothing in the Victorian era was silk. Ornate gowns, chemises, corsets and petticoats were commonly made from lightweight silks, such as mulls, crêpes and sarsnets. The period also saw a wide variety of heavier weight silks, such as faille, grosgrain, and mousseline de soie. Satin – a material woven with heavier, stronger threads than regular silk – was also used for both day and evening dresses. It was often embellished with ribbons, bows and trimmings.


Victorian fashions were made even more luxurious with ornate embellishments. Embroidery was used extensively to decorate clothing with floral patterns, scalloped-edged frills and turned-back cuffs. Lace was another popular adornment, both as insertions in garments and also as covers for bodices and petticoats. Fringed shawls and mantles added glamour to eveningwear, while richly decorated dress collars and headgear completed the overall ensemble.

Family Heirlooms

For the most affluent, custom tailoring allowed highly personalized and intricate designs, often incorporating luxurious fabrics passed down from generations. Due to the high cost of fabrics during the period, many people chose to repair and repurpose existing items of clothing or heirlooms. These garments were sometimes altered to reflect the current style of fashion, and sometimes left as ancestral treasures, caressing the richness of history.

A Regal Statement

Victorian fashion was created to make a bold statement of regal elegance. Through a combination of exquisitely crafted fabrics, lavish trimmings and intricate details, the period produced some of the most sumptuous clothing in history. From the fabrics to the ornaments, each outfit was a mark of grandeur and luxury that will continue to inspire fashion designers for years to come.

3. Reining In Opulence: Elegant Clothing with Polite Restraint

We could all use a bit of restraint when it comes to the extravagance of our wardrobe, particularly when it comes to formal wear. But being sensible doesn’t have to mean being boring; there are plenty of ways to pay homage to timeless trends while still opting for reserved yet exquisite attire.

Play with Colours and Textures
Vibrant hues can provide a perfect pair to demure silhouettes. Whether in a suit, formal shirt, trousers or dress, combining a neutral, classic color with an unexpected, eye-catching splash of brightness is an excellent way to exhibit style with restraint.

  • Think navy and vibrant yellow, or soft black with a vibrant red
  • Soft, subtle pastels make for a contemporary look

Alternatively, if bright colours aren’t your style, experiment with textures. Incorporate texture with fabric such as brocade, ribbed velvet, and woolen tweeds to add depth and interest to otherwise simple silhouettes and colors.

Recognise the Details
Sometimes less really can be more – when embracing an elegant, demure look, pay special attention to details. Subdued jewelry that accentuates lines or texture of your ensemble really makes an impact and pulls together your outfit. Opt for delicate and tasteful pieces: pearls or crystals with soberly colored gowns are timeless. Throwing on statement jewelry can balance out more minimalistic ensembles, without going overboard.

Pieces that Last
Modern minimalism and restraint are all about investing in timeless pieces that form the bedrock of your wardrobe. Think classic, tailored shifts and trousers with a directed slim cut. Opt for items that are built to last, no matter how delicate they look.

4. Refining the Look: Victorian Era Accessories for the Stylish Lady

From bonnets to spencers to bonnets again, Victorian Era accessories were picking up popularly in the mid-1800s. Ladies were stepping out of the dark ages in full glam – beaded collars, rosettes and plumes were just the start!

A true Victorian era diva had to accessorize her outfits precisely. Starting with bonnets, this was the most common headwear of the Upper Class. It was usually made of straw or felt, and saturated in bright colors and ribbons. Typically, they featured an elaborate decoration across the front and a bow or a feather on the brim.

Then, the Spencer, an invention that took the world by storm! A soft, feminine jacket made of wool, often featuring deep pocket, structured shoulders and a lace-edged collar. It could be worn over a dress or separate from it, and was usually fastened with decorative buttons.

The Victorian diva also owned sets of Cravats, which came with waistcoats and coats, and could make a dress even more exciting! Collar necklaces and neck ruffs were also part of the wardrobe. Typically, they were made of silk and linen, and trimmed with lace, and could be worn both on and off the shoulder.

  • Belts with intricate details to draw attention to the waist
  • Gloves made of silk, cotton and lace for a glamorous look
  • Spectacles in different shapes and materials to match any outfit
  • Uniquely designed scarfs with floral prints and stripes
  • Shoes with pointed toes and high heels – booties or pumps

The only goal of a Victorian lady was to look as fashionable as she possibly could. Combining the right accessories with a dress, she could achieve the desired effect. From bold earrings with vivid hues, to ankle boots with frills, these accessories were the finishing touch to any outfit.

The Victorian Era was truly a golden age of dress and fashion. It is marvelous to consider how a combination of extravagance and moderation could capture the look and feel of an era so vastly different from our own. The essence of Victorian fashion remains in modern wardrobes, but its influence on society at the time was unparalleled. As we continue to move forward in the 21st century, it is important to remember the past, and to be inspired by the unique fashion sense of the Victorian Era.

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