What Did People Wear in the 1850s?

Dominant fashion trends in the 1850s included fitted suits for men and dresses with huge skirts for women. The sewing machine had just been invented, and with this new technology, even the most elaborate clothing could be made faster.

Another invention in the 1850s, the steel hoop crinoline, dominated women's fashions for over a decade. Before the hoop, women wore multiple layers of heavy petticoats to create a full skirt. The new hoop had steel rings that held a petticoat or two to create a huge silhouette. The skirt was offset by a tiny waistline formed by a corset. Often, the skirts were decorated with pleats, ruffles and a fringe.

Women also wore jackets that fit closely at the waist and flared out over their skirts. Called the basque waist, the hip-length garment also fit tightly over the bosom.

Dresses during the second half of the decade featured the popular Jenny Lind collar, a stiff, tall band. Women also began to wear bishop sleeves, which are long, full sleeves with fitted cuffs at the wrist. Common prints were checks, gingham, calico and plaid.

Women's and children's clothes were often decorated with flounces, lace, tatting and crochet. In the early part of the decade, collars were large and spread out over the shoulders.