Fashion in the 1880s: How Men, Women, and Children Dressed

Man and a woman dressed in 1880s fashion

At the tail end of the Victorian era, 1880s fashion featured distinctive silhouettes. These iconic silhouettes were created with boned corsets and large, stiff bustles. At their pinnacle, corsets and bustles left little room for movement, setting the course in later years for change. By the end of the 1880s, fashion started to shift away from stiff and decorative clothing. 

Illustration of women's dresses in 1888 fashion magazine

What Did Women Wear in the 1880s?

1880s women’s fashion was marked by tight corsets, large bustles, and high necklines. Bustles created volume in the back of the dress just below the waist. In the 1870s, bustles were created with flowing folds of fabric, but as they grew larger and more decorative in the 1880s, they were more structured and rigid to maintain volume. If you’re having trouble picturing the look, think back to the exaggerated bustles of the dresses worn by Cinderella’s stepsisters in Disney’s animated film.

Tight, boned corsets completed the ensemble featuring a strong silhouette with a thin bodice and large, decorative skirts. Necklines were high and sleeves were form-fitting and tight. To top it all off, women’s fashion in the 1880s was highly decorative. Ruffles, pleats, and draped fabrics were staples in fashionable dresses.

Accessorizing the dresses, women typically wore boots, bonnets, and hats, often decorated with lace and ribbon. Hair was worn in low knots or tight ringlets. 

1880s fashion—women's bustle and two piece dress

1880s fashion included hats decorated with lace and ribbon.

In the 1880s, women wore tight dresses that were difficult to move in.

The overall look was effective, but it was constricting and made it difficult to move. Women took small, awkward steps, with these dresses earning the nickname “hobble-skirt.” As a result, 1880s fashion paved the way for drastic changes in 1890s fashion, which focused more on function and comfort.

What Did Men Wear in the 1880s?

1880s men’s fashion, like women’s fashion, was very formal. Men wore dark, tailored suits and vests. Underneath, they wore white shirts with high, winged collars.

With the ensemble, men typically wore a coat. The frock coat was a staple for most men. It was fitted and buttoned to the waist, where it flared and fell loosely to the knees.

The morning coat was another popular choice in 1880s fashion. It was shorter than the frock coat and tapered away at the waist, making it a more versatile option. On formal occasions, men switched out the frock coat and morning coat for a tailcoat.

Man wearing a morning coat in the 1880s.

Men's and Women's fashion in the 1880s

A man and a young boy wearing similar fashion in the 1880s.

To complete their look, men commonly wore short hair with mustaches. They often accessorized with top hats, canes, and narrow shoes.

What Did Children Wear in the 1880s?

2-year-old boy wearing a white dress in 1880
2-year-old boy wearing a dress

Infants and toddlers, both boys and girls, wore dresses. Dresses were usually long and white and were used because they allowed toddlers to move and play. At age five, boys were introduced to pants, a tradition known as breeching. After that, boys wore short trousers or knickerbockers with a suit jacket. 

For young girls, dresses earlier in the decade were more forgiving of a child’s movement. Sashes tied around the waist and flowed down the back, similar to a women’s bustle, but the dresses were cut more loosely, and pleated skirts were more freeing.

Later in the decade, however, children’s dresses more closely mimicked women’s wear, including tight bodices and full bustles that restricted movement. Concerns for children’s health and growth added to the calls for change in fashion by the end of the 1880s.

How Did Your Ancestors Dress in the 1880s?

Fashion in the 1880s was distinctive, elaborate, and decorative. Did your ancestors follow the same trends? Can you picture them wearing some of these same clothes? Try using FamilySearch Memories to find pictures of your ancestors from the period, or add your own family photos to share with others.

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