Later Victorian (1870-1890)
After the death of her husband in 1861, Victoria went into seclusion, and though still deeply respected as sovereign of a great empire, she ceased to influence fashion as directly. The somber colors that came into fashion are attributed to the fact that the British Court remained in mourning. Black became a popular fashion color in this period, not only worn for mourning. However dress forms changed significantly. After decades of full skirts, a new silhouette appeared that accentuated the body while still covering it. The tightly fitted bodice remained, but now the full skirts were swept back, leaving a tight narrow skirt in the front, with all the fullness arranged in the back. The chief feature of this period was the rear emphasis in dress, typified by the bustle, a padded arrangement of drapery that accentuated the buttocks. The bustle was at its largest in the mid 1870s (above right), but would develop in a more tailored form in the mid 1880s (left). However, throughout the period, the narrow silhouette and rear emphasis was a constant. Although the new look was decried as immodest because it revealed, even exaggerated the female shape, it was also an extremely restricting style that required exceptionally severe corseting. This was a period in which more women were coming out of the home and into the community to participate in volunteer work and other public activities. In this period the women's rights movement (which included suffrage, protection for working women, and dress reform) gained momentum. Both the revelation of the woman's body and the protest against the restrictiveness of the garments reflected the changing times. In addition to factory work, long done by poor women, the typewriter and the sewing machine were now creating work opportunities for middle class women who needed income. Since fashionable dress limited mobility, changes in dress were called for to accommodate these new realities. Art...
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