Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | November 2, 2014

VERY brief Fashion History for 1840’s-1850’s

A Glimpse of some Fashion History

However, I thought my visitors might enjoy a little something on women’s fashion in 1847/1848 and 1858. Although whaling wives were unlikely to dress at the height of fashion for daily life on board ship, they did enjoy “dressing up” while gamming or in port. Therefore, I have included a brief description of fashion for both decades and a few fashion plates because a wordy, detailed description can never replace paintings from the Era or colored fashion plates.

Ladies Foundation (Undergarments) for 1840’s and 1850’s. Ladies undergarments changed little during the 1840-50’s.  They still wore a wide chemise which had short sleeves and was about knee-length.  Crotchless Drawers were also an option but not as widely used as the chemise. Of course, stays (corsets) served as the foundation for a fashionably small waist, which also meant the corsets (stays) were laced more tightly.  Petticoats were worn in multiple layers to support the longer, ever-widening skirts of dresses. 

Dresses of the 1840’s-1850’s: The fuller sleeves fashionable during the thrities did not dissappear entirely during the forties and fifties, but the “balloon” or fuller sleeves moved down lower on the arm and fitted more closely.  Additionally, by the late forties and through the fifties, the bodice of the dresses came to a point and closed with hooks, buttons, or laces down the front or back.

Hairstyles:  Hair was parted in the middle and pulled smoothly to the temples where it was arranged in hanging sausage-shaped curls or in plaits or with a loop of hair encircling the ears. At the back, hair was pulled into a chignon.


  1. Thank you for yet another good post concerning VERY brief Fashion History for 1840′s-1850′s America's Victorian Era in the Age of Sail: Women at Sea. Exactly where else can anyone get this kind of info in such a concise way of writing? I’ve got a meeting next week, and I am trying to find such information.

  2. Thank you. One of my goals is to provide concise, accurate fashion information without charging a fee (too many of those already). There are a number of sites about Victorian fashion, some accurate, others inaccurate. Much of my information was gained through training-on-the-job while working in the costume shop at a local museum. There are free (rare) Internet sites with scans of primary sources from the 19th century, such as Peterson’s or Godey’s Lady’s Book. However, when writing fashion posts, my “fashion bible” is a college textbook entitled, “Survey of Historic Costume” by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank.

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