Historic Victorian Gowns

Historic Victorian Gowns offers examples of dresses to adapt with tartans and motifs for your ideal Scottish wedding dress

There are many examples of historic Victorian gowns, spanning the 1800’s.

The Empire style closed the Renaissance Era. Fashion began moving in a new direction as the new century began.

When Victoria was crowned Queen of England in 1837, these new trends came to be called the Victorian Era.Officially, 1820 is the year the Victorian Era of fashion began.

Rosemary, myrtle, roses, and wildflowers decorated gowns and tiaras. Small gilded branches, leaves, & wheat were also popular decorations.

Orange blossoms came from China as a symbol of purity, chastity, and innocence because the fruit & blossoms occur together as a symbol of fruitfulness. The Crusaders brought the custom to Spain, which then spread to France, and by the early 1800’s to the British Isles. The phrase ”to gather orange blossoms”, meant to seek a wife.In 1830 the sewing machine was invented and by the 1860’s most clothing was being sewn on the modern machines.

Blonde, which is silk lace became popular. It’s being duplicated today on embroidery machines, using silk thread. This technique is explained on the Embellishment page.

Hair was twisted, not braided, into knots with loose curls. Soft, gauzy turbans were back in style.

From 1821 to 1840, the waistline dropped, quilted and boned petticoats were added under the gown, hemlines were at ankle length. Hemline decorations went from fringe to pleating then gathers.

From 1824 on the use of silk increased as duty import taxes were reduced.

Historic Victorian gowns were often skirts and a separate bodice, what we now call a blouse. They ran the gamut from plain and utilitarian to elaborate, lacey, and frilly.

Book of Costume1826, Costumes Parisian periodical

For a wedding outfit, this 1826 skirt could be of tartan, with the bodice neck and cuff trim in tartan or embroidered Celtic knots. A different look could be achieved with a feminine, lace bodice.
Embroidered and sprigged muslin came into popularity and can still be found today as Swiss imports.

This feminine wedding dress is embroidered India muslin. Notice the fine gathers at the waistline and neckline, the small dainty puffs on the sleeves with a flower detail on the top puff, and the ribbon at the waistline, all examples of 1830 fashion.

Book of Costume

An organdy overskirt block-printed or stenciled with an off-white or pale lavender thistle, and a tartan ribbon that has purple in it would be feminine, dainty, and Scottish. Celtic knots could be printed or stenciled on the overskirt. Another possibility is a tartan underskirt, with a sheer overskirt and tartan ribbon.

Book of Costume
1835, Deveria

This bodice could really set off a wedding costume. Beneath the dropped shoulders, puffs were set in and beribboned.

Adding a matching skirt, with thistle silk flowers and a veil edged in a pale thistle color would be striking. Or the skirt could be of silk tartan.

The Chalmers family, of Merchiston, sat for this portrait with the daughters dresses showing the pre-Civil War pattern and fabric design.

Book of Costume
1840’s, photographed by David Octavius Hill.

Many of the gowns in this period were plaid, if not tartan.
1850 to 1864 was a time of sentimentalism in thought and fashion. The hair was softer, with a natural part, drawn back into a coil to accommodate the head dress of the day.

In 1854, Worth was designing gowns for Empress Eugenie. This design has come to be called the Worth gown. It still reigns as the number one choice for formal gowns, as it is graceful and becoming on ladies of all ages and sizes.

This style often had white lace flounces over colored silk panels. As a wedding gown, a colored velvet or tartan train trimmed with the same lace as the flounces would be stylish.

Book of Costume
1854, Noel
Empress Eugenie in Worth gown

This 1863 example of historic Victorian gowns, is of blue taffeta and brocaded with black velvet.

Book of Costume

A wide lace collar, over tartan, with lace flounces would be stunning. The lace could be dyed to match a color in your tartan or black as in this illustration.
This is a fine example of historic Victorian gowns. Designed in Stewart tartan, for Alexandra, Princess of Wales, she wore it to a ball at Balmoral Castle.

Book of Costume
1863, by Elise of London

In any tartan, either silk or wool, this could be a stunning wedding dress. The flounces on the underskirt could be made less pronounced using two colors from the tartan for the founces and the trim. The lace at the neckline would probably look best in a dark color if the tartan is light, or in a light color if the tartan is dark.

The underskirt could be embroidered, beaded, or printed in Celtic knot motifs if the flounces seem to much for you.

Garibaldi, liberator of Italy, arrived in London in 1864, wearing a pillbox cap and a blazing shirt. The ladies latched on to his style of dress and wore it for 50 years.

Image courtesty wikipedia.com

This cherry red satin dress, trimmed with red velvet and black lace, with a black lace coat, was popular style of historic Victorian gowns in 1865.

Book of Costume

A tartan dress, trimmed in a colored velvet and black or colored lace would give a good Civil War era look. The lace coat could be modified into a train, or made sleeveless for less austerity.
If you’re dreaming of the sweet, demure style of historic Victorian gowns, look no further. This Watteau gown has a silk skirt, with sprays of silk roses. The bodice has a tulle overlay, while the neck is finished with a wreath of roses, as is the hair. The train is also of white silk and gathered up to match the silk overskirt.

Godey’s 1869, Plate 41

Even though roses were and are very popular in Scotland, you might consider silk embroidered thistles and greenery to adorn this gown.
This white silk gown is trimmed with grapes, while the puffs are of illusion veiling ~ both embellishments popular on historic Victorian gowns.

Image courtesy Godey’s 1874, Plate 51

Just imagine this gown trimmed with thistles instead of grapes!
Even though this Civil War era example of historic Victorian gowns is awfully busy, just look at the bodice and matching underskirt.

Image courtesy Godey’s 1875, Plate 57

Imagine the lace trimmed bodice with a tartan, then an underskirt with the same tartan on the bias. Next open up a simple overskirt in a solid color, without the bows, ruchings, and tucks.
For a 1877 walking dress, as an example of historic Victorian gowns, this camel’s hair gown is described as being done in two shades of brown. The underskirt was the darker brown, with one plain and one plaid ruffle. The overskirt and basque (bustle) were of plaid, with the darker brown sleeves. The trim and buttons were the darker brown.

Image courtesy Godey’s 1877, Plate 70

The lighter, plaid fabric could be tartan, either wool or silk, without the buttons and with a sleeveless bodice. The bodice could also be shortened for a more formal, evening gown look.

The Victorian Era drew to a close in 1901, as the 20th century moved forward and Queen Victoria’s death became imminent.

Edward was preparing to become the King of England, while changes were taking place socially, financially, and historically. Click the link below to view the gowns of the Edwardian Era

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