Fashion Plate: c. 1850s, Flounces and Bell Sleeves

© Gaskell Blog

Their dress is very independent of fashion; as they observe, “What does it signify how we dress here at Cranford, where everybody knows us?” And if they go from home, their reason is equally cogent: “What does it signify how we dress here, where nobody knows us?” The materials of their clothes are, in general, good and plain… but I will answer for it, the last gigot, the last tight and scanty petticoat in wear in England, was seen in Cranford — and seen without a smile.

The Cranford Group read begins this Tuesday and I thought we’d take a quick look at the fashions of the time it was published, even though our dear Amazons didn’t follow them.

Fashion constantly counters itself– while the Romantic period was about width in the sleeves; the 1850s Victorian fashions were about width in the skirts.

© Costumer's Manifesto

The lady on the right wears a printed day dress with a tiered flounce skirt. Her sleeves are loosely fitted in the upper arm then drop into a bell-like shape at the elbow.  I just love her small bonnet! It’s trimmed a little bit of floral detailing on the side. You’ll notice that while bonnets are smaller ribbons remain wide, creating a charming full bow when tied. The lady to the left wears a pale green skirt with stripe details, which enhance the width of the skirt. Her sleeves are a loose bell shape trimmed with ribbons.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. To hold these skirts out away from the body, women often had to wear several stiff, scratchy petticoats… Before the cage crinoline was invented, these ladies often complained about the weight and warmth of so many layers. The flounces on top of flounces were a way to get even more volume when the amount of petticoats a woman could wear was maxed out.

    1. Thank you for sharing some of your expertise with us, Sarah! 🙂

  2. I love the green dress! One of my latest fantasy outfits is a cap-sleeved, fitted jacket with a long, bell-sleeved blouse. It would create the same silhouette that is pictured here – and would look very romantic but modern with fluid, flared trousers. (I’m always exquisitely dressed in my daydreams!) This era of fashion is very inspiring. Thanks for the post!

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