We’ve put together the ultimate guide to help you make a historically accurate early Victorian period look for your 18-inch and other size dolls! The Victorian era lasted from the 1830s until 1901 (when the Edwardian era began). This style guide will cover from the 1830s through the 1860s as styles stayed somewhat similar during this time period (watch for our part two article about the later years of Victorian fashion, coming soon).
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The Victorian era was named after the British Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901.
Fun Fact: up until 2015 she was the longest reigning British monarch of all time and is still today the tenth longest reigning monarch in all of world history.
The fashion of the early Victorian period was defined by full skirts, poufy sleeves, and tight corsets all of which were set into style by the Queen herself. Victoria’s influence on fashion not only stretched across the Commonwealth but also over to the United States as well, especially on the East Coast where America was on the brink of the Civil War.
The 1830s is the earliest period in Victorian fashion and it diverted quite a bit from the previous several decades. Since the change of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, women’s dresses became smaller with less volume. The 1830s reintroduced volume and excess in women’s fashion. This can be seen through the popularization of the gigot Sleeve, which is a French word referring to the back leg of an animal. It is an edited version of a leg-o-mutton sleeve where the sleeve is wide and voluminous at the top but narrow at the bottom.
Skirts of dresses featured many pleats, embellishments starting around the kneeline, and hems that ended at the ankles. Bodices had off-the-shoulder necklines, were tight, and ended slightly below the waist in a point. They were nearly always accentuated with sashes, belts, or other ties. Evening and formal dresses would resemble day dresses in silhouette but would often feature shorter sleeves that were still puffed and more decorations. To finish the look, the most women would wear their hair parted down the middle and tightly pulled back into a low bun with ringlets surrounding their faces and sometimes falling over their buns. To try it yourself, you can check out this tutorial.
The 1840s stayed somewhat similar to the 1830s in terms of style and fashion. One of the main differences was the change in bodice style. Dress bodices still ended slightly below the waist at a point. They were now worn with a higher neckline that ended with a collar or sometimes a shallow v-neck that modestly did not show any cleavage. The armscye was dropped and started lower off of the true shoulder line than before with less dramatic sleeves. Sleeves were still large and slimmed at the cuffs, but their volume was now distributed more evenly than in the 1830s. Long sleeves were worn for day dresses and short sleeves were worn for formal wear. The hems on the skirts of dresses dropped back down to the ground during this decade as well. It is also important to note that starting in the 1840s skirts became progressively fuller until the 1860s where the plateaued for a bit, then they shrunk back down starting in the 1870s.
The popular Hairstyle stayed fairly similar to the 1830s except instead of ringlets framing the face, the face was now surrounded by tight braids that looped below the ears (you can try it yourself using this tutorial). It is also interesting to note how much clothing women wore at once during the 1840s and 1850s specifically. Women wore up to five layers of clothing daily that consisted of a dozen individual pieces: a chemise, a corset, bloomers, stockings, petticoats (sometimes multiple petticoats), a crinoline (also known as a hoop skirt), a dress (which could be up to two pieces, see below), sleeves (separate from the sleeves attached to the bodice), a shawl, a bonnet, gloves, and a parasol.
In the 1850s hems on dresses raised once again back to the ankles or slightly above. Day dresses were still worn featuring tight bodices and full sleeves, but the sleeves changed shape during this era. Popular sleeve styles included bell, bishop, and pagoda sleeves. Each of these sleeve types were different from the previous decades because they did not lose their fullness near the wrist, in fact, they grew larger towards the wrists. Lace collars on the necklines of dresses were popularized during this time. A new trend in women’s fashion that appeared were jackets and jacket type bodices. Jackets at this time usually had pagoda-style sleeves with a v-shape opening in the front to expose the bodice underneath. They closed near the collar usually with only one fastener which was most likely either a tie, a frog clasp, or a hook-and-eye. Jackets most often were worn cropped and ended at the waistline on gowns. Another interesting innovation in the 1850s was the introduction of two-piece dresses. These were still considered to be dresses although they contained two parts: a bodice and a skirt. Most women had two or more bodices per skirt that were all made from the same fabric. This made it so the same dress could be worn for multiple occasions just by changing the bodice.
The main evolution in womenswear in the 1860s was the introduction of the Garibaldi blouse. These blouses were looser bodices that had large, loose, low-starting sleeves. They were usually collarless with buttons running up the front or the back as a closure. This is one of the first instances where buttons were chosen over laces for a closure. Skirt styles stayed the similar to the previous decade. In America, the 1860s were dominated by the Civil War, which had a direct influence on fashion, as most world events do. Women during this period were near-constantly wearing mourning clothes because of the gruesome war (not-so-fun fact: the Civil War had the most American casualties of any war America has fought in—over 620,000 deaths). A widow at the time was expected to wear mourning clothes for at least a year. These clothes consisted of dresses made of black bombazine fabric (which was a durable, twill silk textile that had a matte finish), a widow’s cap, black cuffs on her dress, a black collar, black petticoats, black stockings, and a black parasol. The next stage of mourning was from the period between twelve to eighteen months after her husband’s death. During this period, she could wear nicer fabrics, such as silk or wool (instead of bombazine), black jewelry, and black ribbons. The third and final phase of mourning happened after eighteen months, during which she could begin to wear “half-mourning” colors such as grey, purple, mauve, or lavender, with her black attire. A daughter in mourning only had to wear all black for the first six months and then half-mourning for the following two.
COLORS AND PRINTS
During the period from the 1830s to the 1860s alkaline dyes were invented and often used. These dyes work by forming chemical reactions between natural fibers in the textiles and the dye molecules using the pH scale. The dye molecules form a covalent bond with the fabric that makes it nearly impossible to wash out the color if done correctly. Because of this, beautiful and more vibrant shades like indigo, lavender, yellow, and various shades of blue and red became popular and attainable. Other popular colors were more natural colors like brown or black. Popular fabrics during this time were silk, cotton, and wool (or various blends that contained some of each). These fabrics also came in a variety of prints like small geometric patterns, florals, and large plaids. Solids, however, were still the most popular choice and were often embellished with lace, embroidery, and/or ribbons. You can take a look below for some of our suggested fabric choices:
Packed Leaves Cotton from Joann Fabrics
Reverie Ice Pink Polyester Satin from Mood Fabrics
Black Silk and Cotton Dull Satin from Mood Fabrics
Chestnut and White Tartan Plaid Cotton Twill from Mood Fabrics
Red Leaf Texture Cotton Fabric from Joann Fabrics
Pixie Faire offers a wide variety of early Victorian period-inspired patterns, like the Gigot Sleeve Dress by Thimbles and Acorns, pictured above.
View the Early Victorian Era 1830s-1860s Fashions Collection today!
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment and tell us which decade between 1830s to the 1860s the picture above is from*!
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You can also share pictures in the Pixie Faire Inspritation Gallery right here on the website, either use the #pixiefaire when posting on IG, or just click the little + box to upload your picture right here on the website!
For Pixie Faire, Katie
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We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment and tell us which decade between 1830s to the 1860s the picture above is from. (1830, 1840, 1850, or 1860)
At first I thought 1840s, because it matched the description you gave for that era, such as the dropped armsyce. I know that we don’t have to get the answer correct, but I was interested. I saw that it was from The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. I was glad you shared, as it was interesting to look through the many garments in their collection. I knew that a local museum shows its collection online. I was glad to be reminded that many other museums do the same. I had never thought of looking at such collections for examples of fashion from different eras. Thanks so much for this informative article.
I think it’s the 1860’s
Love reading about fashion over the years.
I think it’s from the 1840s.
I believe this dress is from the 1840’s because of the raised neckline, lowered waistline, and the sleeves were more evenly distributed. What a fun, fact filled history lesson in fashion.
I think 1860’s
I guess it’s 1840s. Thank you for the blog post.
The dress is from the 1840’s
The Style of dress is from 1840’s
1840s —oh how I would love to win 💗🤗Love the historical fashions!!
I think it is the 1840’s. Love the Victorian era!
1840s is what I think the dress is from. I do know that I would die from being sooo very hot in this dress!!! I think I might be the first one to spontaneously combust from the heat I would generate in such a dress . . . in fact, I think I would be constantly “swooning” . . . but I hate the thought of “smelling salts”!!! Great information – thank you for all you do.
I AM THINKING TH 1840’S
it certainly looks like to 1840’s
It should be 1840s
I would say that it is most likely B- 1840’s
I say the dress is from 1840’s just because of the waist on it.
1840s Nice article
pretty sure is from the 40’s
My guess is 1840. Thank you for the interesting article.
My guess would be “B”, 1840s. :) Thanks for the giveaway!
my guess is 1840`s
I WOULD SAY CLOSER TO “B” 1840S ERA. PS LOVE 18 INCH ANF THE SIBLIES DOLLS THE MOST. YOUR CLOTHING FOR ALL THE DOLLS DESIGNS ARE INCREDIBLE. AND YOUR PATTERNS ARE PERFECT. LOVE USING THEM. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK.
I’d say my favorite of the above is the 1850s. I like the full skirts, and the style of the bodices. My absolute favorite Victorian style is the bustle skirts!
My guess is the 1840s. This article is very well presented. I really like the addition of the photos of the garments and the arrows pointing out what parts of the fashions changed over the decades.
From the 1840s. Love these patterns, I hope to make more of them!
The dress is from the 1840s. Like others, I’m glad we are not wearing these styles anymore. Very interesting to see these styles and the changes that came about each decade. Thank you!
It’s an 1840’s style. While those dresses are very beautiful, they look uncomfortable tome.
Based on the information given, the dress pictured would be from the 1840s. Thank you for this article. The evolution of fashion is a part of history that is often overlooked. Please continue to bring us articles like this!
B: 1840. My daughter is obsessed with the Victorian era! We have made several doll outfits and she enjoyed this article. Thanks!
Based on the article and photos (with it’s V shaped bodice), I’d say the dress is from the 1840’s. Really like the doll with orange dress in a field. Guess I’m a Victorian peasant at heart lol.
I think this is from the 1840’s. All the information is so interesting. Thank you.
1840’s. Thank you for the wonderful examples.
1840s. Interesting too learn all the changes happening during these years.
1840! Love it.
I believe this dress is from the 1840’s.
Thank you for this wonderful resource! I love learning about clothing history, both for the adults and the kids. It would be great to also have information about children’s clothing in each period, as our lovely dolls are often supposed to be kids…
The dress looks 1840s to me! Great article with really wonderful examples of dresses from each era.
Thanks for this great article! Dress is from the 1840s.
It seems to fit the styles in the 1840’s.
I would guess the 1840’s after reading the article. Thank you for the article and photos, it was excellent reading for info on the 1st part of the Victorian Age.
1840’s. This is such a great style guide. Thank you!
I think this dress is from the 1840’s because of the lowered armsyce and the higher neckline. This is a very good article describing 1800’s fashion!
1840. I loved the information concerning this time period. How far we’ve come
Hard to choose, but I think I prefer the softer details of the the 1830’s.
This beautiful dress in from 1840’s I’ve always loved the fashions during the 1800’s so elegant. I love making them too even though they can be very tedious and take a bit more time thand todays fashions.
so schön.ich mag Historiche Sachen
This pointed waist lovely dress is from the 1840s.
The dress is from the 1840’s
B 1840s; this one looks a bit more comfortable in wearing
1840s I really enjoyed this post! I love all historical information on dresswear.
Guessing B from the 1840’s Thank you for the interesting article!
I love this time period and have some lovely patterns I purchased that I hope I can get done this year
Thank you for this opportunity! All of these are characteristics of 1840’s
*armscye dropped off of the true shoulder line
*long sleeves with slimmer fit for day dress
*pointed bodice ending below the waist
*fuller skirt with hem dropped to the ground
A lot of fabric to tote around while doing one’s chores: extra weight and extra heat for a time without deodorant, indoor plumbing, and HVAC…
1840’s This has been fascinating.
I believe the garment is from the 1850’s. I really enjoy making these doll dresses, but I add my own embellishments, like tatting lace on silk ribbon around the hem lines.
1840s from what I can see in the pictures provided.
I totally enjoyed reading your post very interesting information. The dresses from the 1800’s are just fantastic. Thank you for sharing.
I would say this is from 1840’s from the description. And the skirt is not full enough to be in 1850 or 1860
1840’s. Love the information!
I agree with all the 1840s
After reading the very interesting article I believe this dress is from the 1840’s.
I believe the dress is from B—the 1840s. Very interesting article and the patterns in the historical collection seem quite accurate!.
The dress looks like it was from the 1840’s thank you for the detailed information on fashion between the decades. I found the slight changes interesting to read. Thanks again
1840’s Thanks for the post. Lots of information!
This is certainly from the 1840’s. One of my favorite periods of historical dresses!
Very interesting article! It looks like 1840’s.
1840’s is the era.
I would guess the 1840s, but its only a guess. I do love all of these styles. I’m working on historical outfits right now, so I will have to add one of these to the line uo!
This dress is from the 1840’s, according to the descriptions and discussions.
1840’s – I love the style of the dress!
Very educational post! Thanks.
I believe the era that would correspond to this style dress would be the 1840s.
I’d say 1840s era.
May 12, 2022
My guess was 1840’s. Thanks for the opportunities. If you like embroidery, check out the fashions of Guo Pei on You Tube. Gorgeous, the stuff of dreams. I can’t wait to do some Guo Pei inspired doll clothes. Happy Stitching