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Women's Clothing

The form of the skirt again changed dramatically in the 1880s, with new arrangements of folds, drapes, and pleats, and a reappearance of the bustle. Both skirts and bodices continued to receive a lot of trim and frill, and the styles remained quite exuberant. At the same time, clothes were designed for women to wear in the workplace and to accommodate an increasing interest in outdoor activities for women.

By 1880, the skirt was very narrow, and the back of the dress had only slight padding. The woman in the early 1880s image below wears a quite narrow skirt, and one can just make out the gathered material at the back.

1880s Narrow Skirt

1880s Narrow Skirt: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995

The women sitting in the images below all appear to have the narrow skirt of the earlly 1880s. Also note the lavish decoration of their costumes, a hallmark of this time period.

1880s Lavish, Narrow Skirt 1880s Lavish, Narrow Skirt

1880s Lavish, Narrow Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

After 1882, skirts became wider again, and the back became more accentuated - all leading up to the revival of the bustle in 1883. The bustle sat high at the back, and the side of the dress was pulled into high puffs with deeply folded apron drapes. This broad-hipped style lasted from 1883 to 1886, and the bustle reached its maximum size in 1886. The women in the four images below all sport rather large bustles. The bustle on the bottom left appears to have reached its maximum size.

Mid-1880s Bustle Mid-1880s Bustle

Mid-1880s Bustle Mid-1880s Bustle

Mid-1880s Bustle: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Around 1887, the bustle flattened considerably and formed a drooping set of deep folds down the back. This new style caused the skirt to hang straight from the hips. At this time, the overskirt was often pleated into a seam high on one side at the front and draped diagonally across the body to a low set of hip tucks on the sides. The back was gathered in several low-hanging puffs. The women in the four images below wear this late 1880s fashion. Notice how the overskirt swoops up, sometimes rather high, leaving the underskirt exposed.

1880s Draped Skirt 1880s Draped Skirt

1880s Draped Skirt 1880s Draped Skirt

1880s Draped Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

By 1888, many daytime and walking dresses featured long, box-pleated skirts that hung straight, and the apron drape rose to a band of folds high across the stomach, as seen in the image below. By the end of the decade, a very narrow skirt was popular. The material of the skirt was tied at the back of the thighs and made walking quite difficult.

Late 1880s Pleated Skirt

Late 1880s Pleated Skirt: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Jerseys became a popular bodice in the 1880s. The jersey is a high-necked wool sweater worn tightly over the skirt to the hips with tight sleeves and short wrists. The short corset reappeared in 1886, and increasingly shorter basque bodices (bodices with a tight fit and a crisp flare over the hips) were worn from 1883 to 1886. The short bodices fit closely and had long, rounded points at the front. The bodice had a high, curvaceous form and a very high-standing collar. The women in the image on the left all wear the snug basque bodice with a high-standing collar. The image on the right provides an excellent view of the short-waisted, curvaceous form of the 1880s.

1880s Bodice 1880s Bodice

1880s Bodices: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

A number of sleeve styles were worn in the 1880s. Tight sleeves cut short on the forearm with cuffs or half-cuffs were popular. More relaxed sleeves were worn with active wear. After 1887, looser, often puffed sleeves appear, and, in the last year or two of the 1880s, an applied shoulder cap was worn. The woman on the left demonstrates the tight sleeves and short cuffs, while the woman on the rigth displays the looser puffed sleeves popular after 1887.

1880s Sleeves 1880s Sleeves

1880s Sleeves: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

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