Sears roebuck and co catalog 1900's fashion

As more women entered the workforce, their wardrobe had to be adapted to changing roles outside the home. Gone were the elaborate gowns with sweeping trains and gathered over-skirts. The bustle disappeared and the silhouette simplified. Interchangeable bodices and skirts became popular.
Drawers, chemises, combinations, and petticoats continued to be worn and were often trimmed with intricate tucking and lace details.
The overall silhouette of this period was "hour-glass"- wide at the shoulder, narrow at the waist, and wide again at the hips. This silhouette was achieved by wearing a tightly laced, heavily boned, mass produced corset that was preshaped into the hour glass form. (This tight lacing sparked a reform movement by medical professionals and others concerned with the health effects of tightly fitted corsets). Some corsets ended just below the bust and were worn with a bust bodice to support the bosom. False bosoms or bust improvers were also worn to help create a fuller torso.
corset reform movement
Period illustration used by those in opposition of the tightly laced corset
(left) the ribcage in its natural form and (right) the effects of the corset

Bodices were highly tailored and had fitted under-bodices. Early in the period, extremely wide, leg-o-mutton sleeves puffed out at the shoulder, narrowing only at the wrist. Later, the width of the sleeves narrowed at the armscye and the bodice gathered at the front. Yokes, ruffles, and a variety of trims accented the breadth of the shoulders. Bodices typically ended at the natural waistline or had small basque waists. Necklines varied from high to open and might include some type of lace or ruffle.
day gown c. 1892  1890s gown
(left) Afternoon dress c. 1892 (The V&A)
(right) 1890s era gown with leg o mutton sleeves (Augusta Auctions)
Skirts fit smoothly over the hips and flared out into a bell shape at the hem. The weight of the skirt was concentrated at the back and usually ended a few inches above the floor.
Gowns for evening followed the silhouette of day wear. Evening bodices had square, rounded, or v-shaped necklines and sleeves typically ended above the elbow and later in the decade, in small puffs just at the shoulder line. Skirts were floor length and often trained.
  1890s ball gown   Worth evening gown1890s
(left) Velvet evening gown with modified leg-o-mutton sleeves (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
(right) C.F.Worth evening gown (The V&A)
Hats were worn outdoors and were often elaborately decorated. Taxidermied birds, feathers, and silk flowers were popular millinery trims. Plain straw boaters and other hats with brims were popular. While bonnets were still worn during this period, the hat was all the rage.

For reproduction Turn of the Century women's clothing, please click here.

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