September 15, 2016

Vintage Fun: 1850s

In past Vintage fun posts, I mentioned how much the 1830s and 40s were overlooked as decades, and I wasn't joking! But the 1850s were also a decade without a lot of action. There was, however, a lot of building tension. The 1850s in America was basically a giant prequel to the Civil War. As for the rest of the world, it was the industrial revolution. And in the world of fashion, some interesting things were going on...
Litchfield Ledger, 1850s dress owned by Jane M. Wadhams Stevens, hometown Goshen CT; moved to New Marlboro MA when married to Henry Ward Stevens in 1845.:
A cheerful yellow frock. :)
The most noticeable change in fashion was skirt volume. As in they got bigger. A lot bigger. Before 1854 women who wanted full skirts just piled on the petticoats. But then a new invention came out: the hoopskirt. The hoopskirt changed the tiered style skirt of the early 1850s, and made popular one large, smooth skirt. 

Beautiful!!    Henrik Olrik 1859:

Necklines in the 1850s went out around the shoulders, especially for fancy and evening dress. Here we have a lovely painting of a bride and bridesmaid. I noticed that the bridesmaid's bodice looks a lot like the fan-front dresses of the 1840s. (If you'd like to see what that looks like, click here). 

Cincinnati circa 1850s. "Unidentified woman, half length portrait, seated with arm on table." Sixth-plate daguerreotype by James Presley Ball:

This is a woman with a story. If only we knew what it was! I love her jewelry and printed dress. Her big puffy sleeves are called bishop sleeves. 

Evening dress Date: 1850s Culture: French Medium: silk Dimensions: Length (from shoulder): 55 3/8 in. (140.7 cm) Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Stirling S. Adams, 1978 Accession Number: 1978.310.1:

This gorgeous silk gown is a great example of an 1850s ballgown. Imagine being one of the first women to own a hoopskirt, and wearing it under this dress to a dance! How fun! :)

c. 1850, cotton, American:

I've noticed a couple things about the 1850s just from pins and such. One is that the color palette is very pretty; a lot of pastels and beautiful prints. Another is how the waists on the bodices vary from rather high (like this one) to low and pointed, like dresses from the 40s. 

May 1850, La Mode:

Last but not least, we have this lovely print. Both ladies have undersleeves (the white poofs) under their pagoda sleeves. 

Do you like 1850s fashion?
Which dress is your favorite?
Any decade in fashion you'd like me to cover next?


  1. The silk gown is lovely. I probably like that one the best, though I also really like the purple color. I certainly would approve of the 1850's color palette. Pastels are the best!!

    Oh, yes! Wouldn't it be cool to know the story behind that photograph? She looks like a very bright and cheerful sort of person. :)

    Great post as always, Abby! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of historical fashion with us! :)

    1. Pastels are wonderful, especially when on elegant dresses! :) And yes, that lady seems like there's quite a lot going on in that head! Someone should write her story...:)
      Thanks! And you're welcome! ;)

  2. I LOVE these dresses! I adore hoopskirts (my goal is to own one someday; possibly make one). I loved the dresses in the first painting. For one, the artist had incredible detail, and for another, the dresses were just gorgeous. :) I also loved the yellow gown and the silk ballgown. I loved all the dresses! I love it when you do these posts.

    1. I got the opportunity to make my own hoopskirt, and it was really fun! It's more like a construction project getting the rings in place though. :P And yeah, there's some measuring and math involved, but it's still fun. And then you get to twirl in them! :)
      So glad you noticed the painting! I love the detail too, and the colors of the gowns.
      Thanks so much Rae! I love doing these posts too. :)

  3. This was such a lovely post! All of these dresses are sooo beautiful! I'm going to say my favorites are the yellow gown and the floral silk ballgown. The purple gown is a gorgeous color, too. :) I love the print at the bottom, too! The girl on the left's pink sunbonnet is adorable. :D

    1. Thanks Molly! :) I agree, it's hard to choose a favorite, but the silk ballgown is amazing. I like how colorful the print is, especially the bonnet!