Clothing in America 1850 – 1900

Clothing at the turn of the century was very formal but yet also somewhat romantic. Styles became darker and drabber, a concept that came from London, due to the city’s soot that would collect on the bottom of their clothes. The idea of fashion and style for wealthier women became prominent and clothing stores opened around the country with exclusive collections. However the majority of Americans did not fall into this luxurious category and most were content with their more affordable, humble ensembles.

Men often sported long slim trousers, balanced out with fuller, broader tops and caps. Lightweight cotton was a popular fabric of the time, and was worn in styles such as the knit shirt, often to the beach and sporting events. Women moved away from the natural, loose, elegant look to more glamorous evening attire, consisting of tight corsets and shorter skirts. The previous decade embraced the natural figure where as these women emphasized small waists and long legs. This shorter skirt was however not just for fashion but also necessary to easily enter the new automobiles and trolleys as well as to walk greater distances. Shoes also accommodated walking, most had little heels and laced up to the knee.

The more practical attire for women consisted of bobbed hair, and even pants, due to their busier lives. One of the most revolutionary inventions during this time was that of the Blue Jeans created by Levi Strauss. The women pictured below, signifies a turning point in the clothing for the working women in America, not simply because she is wearing jeans but because she is one of the first women to wear pants at all, a trend that still carries on today. The safety pin was also an invention that made the idea of tailored clothes much more accessible to the common man.

With all of these inventions and changes to clothing, the lives of Americans became much more comfortable. Clothes began to serve a purpose and were appreciated for their functionality. Hats were worn to protect the face rather then as a social status and dresses were more rational to support events such as riding, cycling or swimming. A great deal of the changes made during this time period carry on today and the ideas behind these changes are still essential in our society.

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