Dressing Up Info
  Welcome! 1850s A Note on the Fashions

The 1850s was a time of great industrial progress, which for fashion meant great industrial digress. With the trains came a great leap in the speed of travel, which meant a leap in the speed of life and business. The demand for ready to wear clothes increased, as the gentleman traveller could drop into a store and pick up a pair of trousers by their measurements, without even trying them on. The growing and thriving middle class did not want to spend time on clothes, so neither did the clothing manufacturers, who started cutting corners. New technologies in looms and mills meant they could create cheaper and cheaper fabrics. Cotton was blended into the wool for suits, shortening their life span, and some cheap dye jobs would fade in the sun. Quality was substituted with quantity, as patterns, trim, and flashy bits decorated the new clothes. This easily available but phony elegance was tagged with the new term "chic."

Decorative patterns went a new place in the 1850s: down the legs of trousers. Diamonds, spades, even pictures of plants and animals went down to the ground. Usually these were on the trousers of the outfit only, although it did start to become fashionable in the 1850s to sometimes have the waistcoat match the trousers.

The 1850s also saw the invention of the "paletot," a short overcoat that swung wide rather than fit close to the body. Top hats became collapsible, courtesy of the industrial enthusiasm for all things mechanical. And one more bit of strong evidence for the age of progress: in England, coats and overcoats were fitted with a new little pocket, just above the waist seam, for a gentleman to carry his train ticket. Although some passengers simply left it in their hat brim so they would not have to constantly be taking it in and out to show the conductors.