Costume Making for Amateur Theater Groups—Nineteenth Century

A bride in the latest Victorian fashion as shown in a 1880 French fashion magazine. Notice her companion's dotted print.

The nineteenth century is divided into the Empire period, the Mid-nineteenth century period, and the Victorian period. Many plays are set in this era, including works by Chekhov, Pinero, and Oscar Wilde.

Empire Period: The Empire period, named after Napoleon’s attempt to establish an Empire across Europe, featured a return to elegant simplicity. Women’s dresses were high-waisted, cinched in under the bust; the skirt flowed down to the ankles. Necklines were low and scooped. Fabrics were soft and the style was much less restrictive to movement than later Victorian era garments would be. No tight corsets or stiff petticoats are required for Empire style.

Men wore tapered trousers, tailored coats with long tails, vests (waistcoats), and top hats. Large bow ties were in vogue.

Mid-nineteenth century: Formal wear for men was by this time becoming similar to today. A modern white dress shirt is suitable worn with a waistcoat and a white bow tie. Black is the standard for the trousers and cut away jacket.

Women’s formal dresses feature hooped skirts, low necklines, and short puffed sleeves.

Victorian period:
Men wore trousers and long coats. Vests (waistcoats) were generally worn. Shirt collars were stiff and turned up; they were worn with a cravat or a bow tie.

High necks, tight fitting jackets, and plenty of buttons mark women’s Victorian fashions. Hooped skirts were worn for formal wear and the bustle came into style for street wear, but not every woman liked a bustle. Wealthier characters should be clothed in the latest French fashions which featured draping and tucks. Lower class characters can wear less elaborate skirts, blouses, and jackets. Both solid colors and prints were used.