Accessories of the 19th Century

A few weeks ago, a subscriber asked for some ideas on what to include in her 1860’s ensemble as the “finishing touches.”  I shared some accessories examples and realized that this would be a fabulous topic for a post highlighting the whole century!

Much like today, accessories are both useful and fashionable.  And they also differ for each individual.  So unless you are portraying a specific individual or social class, feel free to let you current view of accessories guide you in your journey for historical ones.  For example, I am a very minimalist person.  I have a few outfits, wear my hair in a few simple ways, and prefer simple studs or hoops for the extent of my jewelry.  I find that I continue this same viewpoint in my living history wardrobe as well.  One pair of earrings, one pair of shoes, and three dresses I alternate based on weather and event.  However, I have a friend who believes options are the only way to live and has secured quite the historical accessory inventory.  Whatever your style and tastes, there is a look and piece for you!

I have divided the century up into the following categories: Regency (1800-1820), Victorian Goth and Romanticism (1840-1856), Age of the Hoop (1856-1866), Age of the Bustle (1870-1890).  I included a brief overview of the fashion seen during each time period to help “set the scene” so to speak.  I also believe the best way to find out what was worn is by looking at original photographs, paintings, and fashion plates.  Therefore I have included a lot of images!  Click on any image to expand.  Enjoy! 🙂

Regency Era

Light, airy, and often figure forming styles are complimented with equally dainty chemisettes, caps, and shawls.  Jewelry ranged from pearls, fine jewels, and pendants.

1820, Quaker Maternity Dress with Hood and Fichu Sturbridge, MA

Victorian Goth and Romanticism (1840-1856)

WIth skirts continuing to expand outward, shoulder lines and hairstyles aimed to create a meek and feminine appearance.  Accessories such as collars, brooches, decorated hair combs, and delicate gloves all contributed to the dainty look.  Jewelry continued to feature pearls, brooches, drop earrings, tortoise shell, and rings.

Age of the Crinoline

With the arrival of the steel cage, the skirt reached it pinnacle width.  Trimmings and accessories, while lovely and present, were not as ornate or numerous as previous and future decades.  Collars, simple jewelry, and hairpieces were the most common choices.

Age of the Bustle

With the new elongated silhouette of the Bustle Era, skirts with long and elaborately decorated trains took over.  The saying “more is more” certainly was the advice taken to heart with accessories worn and held by many women of various social classes.  Large bows at the neckline, headbands, braids, “Pork Pie” hats, rings, fans, jewelry….etc. all were worn and shown off!



Accessories are those things which really can help turn clothes into an outfit.  And for many living historians, the right accessory gives them that extra umph in feeling confident and proud in their clothes and their role.  Did one of these looks or accessories speak to you?  Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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