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Nineteenth-Century Costume

The Empire style, associated in early 19th-century France with Josephine, was an attempt to recapture classic simplicity. Women wore a thin muslin dress with a high waist, a low round neck, and puffed short sleeves. Men wore a short-waisted cutaway coat with tails, a high collar, and large lapels and military boots; plain-colored wools became predominant. The whole male appearance was strikingly military. After 1815 women, emphasizing their fragility, achieved an hourglass shape with an extremely tight corset. Their dresses had wide collars, sloping shoulders, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and full skirts. Men wore the frock coat, which was fitted and had a skirt that reached the knees, and trousers were introduced and generally adopted.

After 1840 Victorian women wore layers of decorative crinoline and after 1855 the hoop; sleeves were bell-shaped, and waist and necklines were pointed. Though men still wore the tailcoat and frock coat, the sack coat, sometimes worn without the vest, was becoming popular for everyday wear. In general, men's clothes were becoming looser and more tubular and were predominantly of somber broadcloth.

After 1865 the bustle became fashionable for women; at this time, too, women first wore a tailored jacket with collar and lapels—the forerunner of the suit. The growing emphasis on sports, especially tennis and golf, was beginning to affect costume. Knee breeches, called knickerbockers or knickers, came into fashion for men, and sweaters became popular. After 1890 women most often wore the suit or the shirtwaist with balloon sleeves and wasp waist: the dress of the Gibson girl. Men's suits had square shoulders and straight waists and were usually of serge or tweed; the tuxedo was used for formal wear.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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