Historical Fashion
Comments 4

Ten Fashion Guides for the 19th Century Woman

I spent the weekend exchanging my winter clothes for my summer clothes.  In addition to a deep sigh of relief that the clothes still fit, I took a long hard look at each piece, evaluating it’s condition, design, and fashion.  A strong 90% was able to stay, but a few found their way into the give-away pile.  While I believe in buying pieces that have multiple seasons in them, fashion often changes too fast.  With numerous fashion magazines, both modern and historical, offering advice and tips, it is always fun for the fashion conscious female to explore the “rules” no matter what the year.

Here are ten fashion tips taken from an 1870’s book entitled “The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style, and Propriety of Costume.”

  1. Consult suitability of occasion and where any doubt of style of dress exists, avoid over dressing.
  1. In arranging trimming, always allow about three inches to the yard for corners and fullness.
  2. Never force the season. (I suppose this means no shorts in February)
  1.  In making evening-dresses, trimmings and ornaments should always be tested by the same artificial light in which they are to be worn.
  1.  Consult your figure as well as your face in the choice of your dress, and if you cannot follow the fashion without appearing ridiculous, modify the fashion.
  1.  Feathers should only be worn in winter.
  1. Refinement in feeling requires refinement in dress.
  1. Two garments are indispensable in the wardrobe of a lady who travels much.  A waterproof cloak with a large hood, and a full, loose, linen duster to entirely cover the dress.
  1. Let your mirror and your taste select your hat or bonnet, rather than your milliner.
  1. Where economy and taste are at variance, let common sense decide your dress.

Now go and be fashionable! 🙂





  1. Not only do these tidbits provide an inside look at the standards of dress in the 1870’s, they are still sound pieces of advice today. I especially like numbers 1, 7, 9 and 10. But number 5 stands alone and could be a golden rule: “Consult your figure as well as your face in the choice of your dress, and if you cannot follow the fashion without appearing ridiculous, modify the fashion.” How I wish more people paid attention to this. 🙂


  2. Terry says

    I have done theater costuming in the past and several women told me that my costumes helped them feel like their character. So #7 is an important one – in all areas of life!


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