1890s Style- Day Wear, Part 3

By 1895, the 1890s “look” for day wear had fully defined itself. In contrast with the relatively static 1880s, styles gave emphasis to a more flowing silhouette that suggested mobility and constant movement. More significantly, in response to the rise of the “New Woman,” we begin to see a proliferation of day styles intended for various specific activities, many of them occurring outside of the home. One of the most profound fashion trends of the 1890s was the development of day wear that was suitable for the workplace. More and more women were taking up newly emerging opportunities to work outside the home and thus there was a need for practical day which was answered by the waist/jacket/skirt combination. Women were also now participating in sporting activities in increasingly numbers to include tennis and golf. And finally, one cannot overlook the radical (for the time) styles that emerged in response to the growth of bicycling- both for sport and as a practical method of transportation.

Image result for 1890s silhouette

The “X” Silhouette

In terms of style elements, no matter the outfit was, they all tended to follow, more or less, the X-silhouette (or hourglass figure) characterized by a combination of the wasp-waist created by corsetry along with A-line skirts and bodices that widen out towards the top with large gigot sleeves. In short, big on the top and bottom and narrow in the middle.


The Ideal

  Below are a few examples of the variety of day wear that was extant:

5_1895 tweed

Day Dress, c. 1895; Daughters of the American Revolution Collection

In the above picture we see an extremely LARGE set of gigot sleeves, each one almost as large as the bodice front. While the waist is not a severe wasp-shape, it still is structured and defined by the corset underneath and as such, measures 21 1/2 inches. The skirt has clean lines, simply flaring outwards and the bodice features a front with shirring. The basic fashion fabric is a wool tweed combined with shirred silk crepe and velvet trim.

 Below is another example only this time, the bodice is a solid piece that matches the rest of the dress:


Day Dress, c. 1895; August Auctions

Once again, a basic day dress style only with the bodice being completely made of the same fabric as the skirt. The striped cotton fabric makes for an interesting visual effect combined with the collar, cuffs, and waist belt in a black velvet.

Walking Suit

However, this was not the entire picture…with the New Woman going off to work outside of the house, there was a need for more practical day wear and this was reflected in such styles as the “walking suit” or “tailormades”:


Walking Suit, Jacques Doucet, 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.15&A-1979)



Waking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)


Side Profile


Rear View

For the top, women’s suits either consisted of a separate jacket and waist or a a faux waist/jacket that were actually one unit. This idea can be seen first seen during the 1880s but it wasn’t until the 1890s that one sees this style pushed further as can be seen with this example:

Walking Suit 1892

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Walking Suit 1892

Front Close-Up

Walking Suit 1892

Side Profile

Walking Suit 1892

Rear View

The lines on this suit are very clean and the overall effect is very plain except for the soutache on the front and back of the jacket and cuffs as well as running all the way around the skirt hem. The jacket is cut so that it’s mostly open with wide lapels accentuating the top along with the puffed sleeves- the sleeves are relatively undeveloped but this example was made in 1892 before the gigot sleeve trend had set in. What is especially striking about this example is that one can also view the waist separately from the suit:

Finally, we come to the most extreme example of the women’s suit: the bicycling suit:

Cycling Suit 1896

Cycling Suit, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.547a, b)

Cycling Suit 1896

Rear View

Cycling Suit 1896

Skirt Top Detail


Cycling Suit, c. 1896; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1980-110-1a–d)

This is a relatively tame example of the cycling suit in that while the skirt was shorter (essential for clearing the bike chain while riding), it was still a skirt. Later, this style would also feature bloomers, an even more practical garment for riding. Below are some more examples:


C. 1897- The individual in the picture does not appear to be happy.

Besides “suits”, bicycling clothes could also consist of separate skirts and jackets or simply waists and skirts.


The Delineator, September 1896

Black broadcloth cape and bicycling outfit in 'The Ladies Home Journal', March 1896.:

The same basic outfit worn for bicycling was also practical for other activities such as golf:


Vasser Students Playing Golf, c. 1895

Besides suits, skirts, and jackets, sporting activities also had an effect on other items of women’s clothing such as sweaters:


Women’s College Sweater, c. 1895; DAR Collection

38.93 0002

Women’s Sweater, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1111)

Yes, you see that right- sweaters with gigot sleeves! In some circles, this would be considered scandalous- no bodice whatsoever. 🙂 And of course, the logical combination was for the sweater to be worn with a skirt…


Sweater & Skirt Combination; Metropolitan Museum of Art

In terms of fashion, the 1890s spawned a wide variety of styles intended for various activities outside the traditional home and while this may seem somewhat tame by today’s standards, it marked the beginning of a major shift in the roles of women in society and we begin to see an increasing number of women pursuing public life, whether through desire , necessity, or a combination of both and it’s a process that’s still playing itself out to this day.

In future installments, we’ll be taking a closer look at day styles of the mid to later 1890s where we see the gigot sleeve grow to sometimes absurd proportions and the subsequent reaction. Stay tuned! 🙂


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