1820s in fashion

During the 1820s in European and European-influenced countries, fashionable women's clothing styles transitioned away from the classically-influenced "Empire"/"Regency" styles of ca. 1795-1820 (with their relatively unconfining empire silhouette) and re-adopted elements that had been characteristic of most of the 18th century (and were to be characteristic of the remainder of the 19th century), such as full skirts and clearly visible corseting of the natural waist.

The silhouette of men's fashion changed in similar ways: by the mid-1820s coats featured broad shoulders with puffed sleeves, a narrow waist, and full skirts. Trousers were worn for smart day wear, while breeches continued in use at court and in the country.

Women's fashions


During the first half of the 1820s, there were slight gradual modifications of Regency styles, with the position of the waistline trending successively lower than the high waistline of the Regency (just below the breasts), and also further development of the trends of the late 1810s towards giving skirts a somewhat conical silhouette (as opposed to earlier more clinging and free-flowing styles), and in having various types of decoration (sometimes large and ornate) applied horizontally around the dress near the hem. Sleeves also began increasing in size , foreshadowing the styles of the 1830's. However, there was still no radical break with the Empire/Regency aesthetic.

During the second half of the 1820s, this neoclassical aesthetic was decisively repudiated, preparing the way for the main fashion features of the next ten to fifteen years (large sleeves, somewhat strict corseting of the natural waist, full skirts, elaborate large-circumference hats, and visual emphasis on wide sloping shoulders). Around 1826, fabrics with large bold checkerboard or plaid patterns were seen on various fashion plates (another contrast with the previous fashion period, which had favored small delicate pastel prints). A bustle was sometimes also worn. Belts accentuated the new defined waist.

Day gowns were often worn with a round ruffled linen collar similar to a soft Elizabethan ruff.

The late 1820s fashion plate (right) gives examples of late 1820s fashions; the rightmost outfit, with its smaller, shorter sleeves, non-whitish color scheme, and slightly lower neckline, is the evening dress.

Hairstyles and headgear

Early in the decade, hair was parted in the center front and styled into tight curls over the temples. As the decade progressed, these curls became more elaborate and expansive. The bun on the back became a looped knot worn high on top of the head. Wide-brimmed hats and hat-like bonnets with masses of feathers and ribbon trims were worn by mid-decade.

Conservative married or older women wore indoor caps of fine linen descended from the earlier mob cap; these had a pleated or gathered caul on the back to cover the hair, and a narrow brim at the front that widened to cover the ears and often tied under the chin. These caps were worn under bonnets for street-wear.


Shawls remained popular. Cloaks and full-length coats were worn in cold or wet weather.


The fashionable shoe was a flat slipper.

Style gallery 1820-25

  1. Ingres Mademoiselle Jeanne Suzanne Catherine Gonin.jpg wears a dark dress with small puffed sleeves, with a ruffled collar and a blue plaid ribbon at the neck. Her hair is styled into small curls at her temples.
  2. Collettte versavel 1822.jpg's blue dress of 1822 is slightly cone-shaped, and is trimmed with frills around the hem. She carries a deep red shawl with a paisley patterned border.
  3. Francesco Hayez 032.jpg wears an arrangement of tight, vertical curls at her temples. Her sheer chemise or chemisette has a double ruffled collar, 1823.
  4. 1823-Ball-Gown-Diaphanous-Overskirt.jpg of 1823 has a sheer overskirt.
  5. 1824 laver coral.jpg of a "carriage" or travelling dress of 1824 has fur trim and a matching muff. Note lower waist, fuller sleeves, and wider skirt.
  6. Marchesa Marianna Florenzi, by Heinrich Maria von Hess, 1824.jpg wears a fur-trimmed gown with a belt over a white ruffled undergown and carries a feather-trimmed bonnet, 1824]]
  7. Berry, Marie-Caroline duchesse de - 1.jpg's fashion-forward gown of 1825 shows the wide waistband that was gradually lowering waistlines. Her fitted bodice and prominent headdress would be important styles for the next several years.

Style gallery 1826-29

  1. Ingres Madame Marie Marcotte.jpg wears a brown gown with a wide buckled belt, full sleeves, and a sheer collar with shell buttons. Her hair is worn in elaborate curls on the sides and on top. 1826.
  2. 1826-Wiener-Moden-fashion-plate.png of 1826. Stripes run in different directions on the skirt, hem and sleeves, and the hat is lined with plaid fabric and trimmed with a matching ribbon.
  3. Kinson MacMahon.jpg wears a satin gown with a conical skirt trimmed with horizontal frills at the hem. Matching frills accent the new wide-puffed sleeves. She wears a large hat decorated with ostrich plumes, latter half of the 1820s.
  4. Stieler strobl 1827.jpg wears a sheer overdress with full sleeves in the new fashion over a white gown with short puffed undersleeves. A wide ribbon sash is fastened with a gold buckle. German, 1827.
  5. Harding Mrs Blake.jpg wears a frilled indoor cap trimmed with sheer ribbon and a high-necked chemise or chemisette under her black gown and scarlet shawl. Massachusetts, c. 1827.
  6. Stieler Kruedener.jpg of 1828 shows the beginnings of the dropped shoulder and wide sleeve puff that would flower in the 1830s. Hair is worn in elaborate side curls, and the knotted bun is higher on the crown of the head. German.
  7. Joseph Stieler - Regina Daxenberger, 1829.JPG wears sheer blue oversleeves with short puffed undersleeves. Her fitted bodice has pairs of waist darts, 1829.

Men's fashions


By the mid-1820s, men's fashion plates show a shapely ideal silhouette with broad shoulders emphasized with puffs at the sleevehead, a narrow waist, and very curvy hips.

A corset was required to achieve the tiny waistline shown in fashion plates. Already de rigueur in the wardrobes of military officers, men of all middle and upper classes began wearing them, out of the necessity to fit in with the fashionable gentry. Usually referred to as "girdles", "belts" or "vests" (as "corsets" and "stays" were considered feminine terms) they were used to cinch the waist to sometimes tiny proportions, although sometimes they were simply whalebone-stiffened waistcoats with lacing in the back. Many contemporary cartoonists of the time poked fun at the repressed nature of the tightlaced gentlemen, although the style grew in popularity nonetheless. This was the case especially amidst middle-class men, who often used their wardrobe to promote themselves, at least in mind, to a higher class - hence the dandy was born.

Shirts and cravats

Shirts of linen or cotton featured tall standing collars and were worn with wide cravats tied in a soft bow.

Coats and waistcoats

Coats and waistcoats had high shawl-like collars to frame the face and were cut straight across the waist. Waistcoats were buttoned high on the chest. Cutaway coats were worn as in the previous period for formal daywear, but the skirts might almost meet at the front waist.

Frock coats had the same nipped-in waist and full skirts. Very fashionable sleeves were gathered or pleated into a slightly puffed "leg of mutton" shape. Coats could be made of wool or velvet, and jewel colors like bottle green and midnight blue were high style. Double-breasted coats were very much in fashion throughout the decade.

Trousers and breeches

Full-length light-colored trousers were worn for day; these were cut full through the hips and thighs, tapering to the ankles. They were held smoothly in place by straps fastened under the square-toed shoes. Dark trousers were worn for evening wear, and breeches were worn for formal functions at the British court (as they would be throughout the century). Breeches were also worn for horseback riding and other country pursuits, especially in Britain, with tall fitted boots.

Hats and hairstyles

The crowns of tall hats also became curvy in keeping with the new style, and began to flare from the headband to the top. Curled hair and sideburns were fashionable.

Style gallery

  1. GSJamesMonroe.jpg wears a high shirt collar and white cravat tied in a wide bow. His jacket collar and lapels form a continuous curve very like a shawl collar. 1820-22.
  2. Richard Dighton aviewontheroyalexchange.jpg: In this caricature by Richard Dighton, a stout man wears country clothes (breeches and riding boots) at the Royal Exchange in London. Hats of 1823 are not yet curvy, and the straight-bottomed waistcoat shows slightly below the coat in front.
  3. Fashion Plate Manteau 1823.jpg shows an evening cape or manteau with a fur collar and shoulder cape, worn over dark formal breeches and double-breasted coat, 1823.
  4. Francesco Hayez 043.jpg wears a black coat with a tall collar and a slight puff at the sleeve head over a tall-collared white shirt and white cravat, 1825.
  5. Vicente López Y Portaña 001.jpg wears a gray coat over a satin single-breasted waistcoat and a tall-collared shirt that reaches to his ears, with a white cravat. Spanish, 1826.
  6. Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix 042.jpg wears a dark cutaway coat, waistcoat, and narrow fitted pantaloons or trousers. His flat shoes have square toes and bows on the instep, and are worn with white stockings, 1827.
  7. Goethe (Stieler 1828).jpg wears a coat with a slight puff at the sleeve head, a satin lining turned back to form lapels, and a high contrasting collar over a patterned waistcoat. His white cravat is fastened with a gold pin. German, 1828.
  8. Ferdinand-Georg-Waldmüller-1828.jpg, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller wears a striped cravat and striped waistcoat, both in dull gold and blue, 1828.

Children's fashion


Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500-1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5

Picken, Mary Brooks: The Fashion Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls, 1957. (1973 edition ISBN 0-308-10052-2)

Tozer, Jane and Sarah Levitt, ''Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870, Laura Ashley Press, ISBN 0-9508913-0-4

Walker, Richard: The Savile Row Story, Prion, 1988, ISBN 1-85375-000-X

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