the trouble with style
Getting Dressed In The 1850s

When getting dressed the fashionable woman first put on her stockings, which were gartered above the knee with elastic bands. She might then put on her high cut button shoes because, once the corset was on, it then became difficult to bend down to button the shoes. The next two pieces were drawers and chemise. Drawers were knee-length or longer cotton trousers that buttoned at the waist. Over the drawers she put on either a hip-length knitted vest and a short petticoat or a chemise. The next essential garment was the corset stiffened with thin strips of whale bone. Over this a woman put on a corset cover and then a bustle, a contraption made of coils that was tied around the waist and hung in back. Another petticoat would be worn over this.

Finally the fashionable woman would put on her gown, which might consist of a boned bodice and stiffened skirt to match. Strings or elastic might be attached inside the skirt to keep the back fullness and the bustle in place. If it were cold, the fashionable woman might wear a jacket decorated with jet beads, which could add as much as ten pounds to her clothing. In all, her complete outfit could weigh as much as 25 pounds.

- Patricia A. Cunningham, PhD