Women's fashion in the 1860s focused on accentuating the thin waist. This was achieved by a corset and it provided a smooth foundation so a well fitted dress could sit smoothly. A corset hooks up in the front and laces up in the back. There were 5 layers to a woman's outfit. The first layer is the undergarments such as underpants, a chemise, and stocking that held up the garters. A chemise is a long undershirt that gives the dress a more flowy look. The next layer is a corset, crinoline, a hoop skirt or petticoat. Hoop skirts were put under the dresses to make the skirts bell out. Hoop skirts were bell shaped in the early 1860s but became more cone shaped later in the decade. Petticoats had the same effect but were more heavy and uncomfortable. The next layer is the bodice, skirt, belt, and shoes. The skirts were wide and the bodices were tight. Women wore dresses for different times of the day and different activities throughout the day such as walking or dancing. The 5th layer of an outfit was accessories such as scarfs, gloves, an umbrella and a small purse.
Men typically wore wide, baggy trousers and a long sack coat. This style was very popular with men throughout the 1860s but the baggier jackets were only popular during the early 1860s. The men wore single breasted vests with flat collars and a watch chain that was tucked through the top hole and hangs down the front of the vest. The watches were an important accessory for men. The mid 1860s jacket was shorter and had a closer fit in the sleeves. Jackets were made in a solid dark color with a checked pattern. Men kept their pants up with suspenders and men in the West used leather belts.
The shape of the dress changed significantly during the 1870s and the bustle was most distinguishing feature of the new 70s fashion. The large section at the back of the skirt carried on the 1860s trend of flat fronts of the dress and extra material in the back. Skirts and bodices contained ruffles, trim, flounces, and other frills made of different materials and a variety of deep colors. The sides of the dress were drawn further back. In mid 1870s the bustles were set high but later the bustle became lower and by the end of the 1870s the bustle disappeared. The bustle is a garment worn to expand the fullness and add support to the back of a dress. Bustles were worn under the skirt. The skirt was not as belled out and had a closer fit. Some women pulled their skirts up at the sides to reveal the detailed underskirt.
Men's fashion did not change much from the 1860s. The jacket became less over-sized with a closer fit and narrower sleeves and lapels. The large sack jackets were still worn but were buttoned at the top so the vest and watch chain could be seen, In the 1870s, shirts came in a wider variety of colors and designs. Men wore long pants with long coats. They were very formal with button up shirts and ties with top hats. Men had mustaches or beards that were nicely trimmed and short hair that didn’t go past their shoulders.
The skirt drastically changed again in the 1880s and had new details such as folds, drapes, pleats, and the reappearance of the bustle. The skirt and the bodice continued to have a lot of trim and frill. The bustle came back in 1883 but was now worn at a lower placement with a narrower width. The sides were pulled into high puffs with detailed drapes. This created the effect of broad hips and skinny waists that contrasted the style of the last 2 decades. Near the end of the 1880s, the bustle flattened which caused the skirt to hang straight from the hips. Jerseys became popular. A jersey is a high necked sweater worn over the skirt to the hips with tight sleeves and short wrists. The short corset became more popular rather than the regular corset because the crinoline was worn more often. Colors of the dresses were darker and constructed with heavier fabric. Dresses were more constricted with long bodices, tight sleeves, and high necklines.
Men's clothing had a closet fit than previous decades. The jackets were short and narrowly fitted with narrow sleeves. The lapels were extremely narrow and small while the jacket fit close to the throat, which barely revealed the necktie. A cutaway jacket was introduced where the bottom was cut so you could see the vest and watch chain. The jacket was buttoned at the top. The trousers were more narrow and were usually black but sometimes had a striped pattern. Some coats were worn that went down to the knee and were buttoned all the way up. It was uncommon to see because it was popular among rich men.
The style of the 1890s was more plain and practical than other decades. Women had more freedom of their clothing choices. The outfits for outdoor activities were more functional. In the early 1890s, the skirt was of the shape of a tulip, and was snug around the hips and flared dramatically. The bodice was less decorated with frills, drapes and pleats but still existed. Corsets loosened around this time and skirts were worn separate with blouses. Along with the color white, dresses with different colors were popular. The back of the blouse was shorter than the back and the collars were stiff and straight like the dresses of earlier decades. The sleeves were tight and had puffs around the shoulders. By the end of the 1890s the sleeves became more loose.
During the 1890s men wore only ready made mass produced clothing. This is the only major difference between the style of clothing since the 1980s. A greater variety of clothes was available for work, play, causal or formal wear. The cuffs were revealed and the shirt collars were small and stiff with small points. Black bowties became very popular with casual wear. Informal clothing consisted of light colors trousers and dark jackets.