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About Old Time Photos

Life During the Turn of the Century (1880-1905)

Cowboys of the American West | True Cowboys & the Canadian West | The History of Photography | Turn of the Century Fashion

Turn of the Century Fashion

Fashion in the 1880s in European and European-influenced countries is characterized by the return of the bustle. The long, lean line of the 1870s was replaced by a full, curvy silhouette with gradually widening shoulders. Fashionable waists were low and tiny below a full, low bust supported by a corset. The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in reaction to the extremes of fashionable corsetry.

Corsets and Undergarments
Women's corsets and undergarments circa 1886.

In 1890, fashionable women's clothing styles shed some of the extravagances of previous decades (so that skirts were neither crinolined as in the 1850s, nor protrudingly bustled in back as in the late 1860s and mid-1880s, nor tight as in the late 1870s), but corseting continued unmitigated, or even slightly increased in severity. Early 1890s dresses consisted of a tight bodice with the skirt gathered at the waist and falling more naturally over the hips and undergarments than in previous years.

The mid 1890s introduced leg o' mutton sleeves, which grew in size each year until they disappeared in about 1896. During the same period of the mid '90s, skirts took on an A-line silhouette that was almost bell-like. The late 1890s returned to the tighter sleeves often with small puffs or ruffles capping the shoulder but fitted to the wrist. Skirts took on a trumpet shape, fitting more closely over the hip and flaring just above the knee. Corsets in the 1890s helped define the hourglass figure as immortalized by artist Charles Dana Gibson. In the very late 1890s the corset elongated, giving the women a slight S-curve silhouette that would be popular well into the Edwardian era.

Various Clothing Patterns from McCalls Magazine
Various clothing pattern from McCalls magazine.

Fashion in the period 1900-1909 in European and European-influenced countries continued the long elegant lines of the 1890s. Tall, stiff collars characterize the period, as do women's broad hats and full "Gibson girl" hairstyles. A new, columnar silhouette introduced by the couturiers of Paris late in the decade signaled the approaching abandonment of the corset as an indispensable garment of fashionable women.

Women's Gowns
Women's Gowns from McCalls magazine.