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Women's Clothing

The shape of the dress changed significantly during the 1870s, and the bustle was most distinguishing feature of the new 70s fashion. This high protuberance at the back of the skirt carried on the 1860s trend toward flat fronts with extra material gathered in the back. The excess that characterized the Victorian era continued with increasing exuberance during the 1870s. Skirts and bodices boasted ruffles, trim, flounces, lace, and other frills, a number of different materials, and a variety of deep colors.

The introduction of the bustle in the early 1870s changed the shape of the entire dress, not just the back. The sides of the skirt were drawn further back, creating a narrower front. By 1873, bustles were set quite high. Later, bustles were lower, and by 1877, the bustle disappeared. Even after the bustle fell out of favor, dresses were still gathered and accentuated in the back. The woman in the image on the left wears a large, high bustle at the back of her dress. The woman's dress in the image on the right is drawn back from the sides. The front is smooth and narrow, while gathered material falls down the back.

1870s Skirt 1870s Skirt

1870s Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, 1995

Throughout the 1870s, the skirt was significantly narrower and closer fitting than previous decades. During the early years of the decade, skirts were fuller at the hem. An overskirt draped to an apron front, and a full, flounced underskirt and full petticoats threw out the bottom of the skirt. Skirts often fell in multiple layers of ruffles and flounces. An overskirt was often pulled up at the sides to reveal the underskirt. Throughout the decade, many skirts had small trains.

Notice the narrow skirts with full hems in the images below. The narrower cut became more fashionable toward the end of the decade.

1870s Narrow Skirt 1870s Narrow Skirt 1870s Narrow Skirt

1870s Narrow Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

This more conservative dress style still demonstrates the overskirt with the fuller underskirt, and one can see the material gathered at the back of the skirt.

1870s Conservative Dress

1870s Conservative Dress: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Notice the layers of excessive ruffles and flounces of the skirts in the images below.

1870s Ruffles and Flounces 1870s Ruffles and Flounces

1870s Ruffles and Flounces

1870s Ruffles and Flounces: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The girls in the images below have pulled their skirts up at the sides to reveal the flounced underskirt.

1870s Flounced Skirt 1870s Flounced Skirt

1870s Flounced Skirts: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

During the first four years of the decade, the shortwaisted, fitted, basque bodice (a fitted bodice with a crisp flare over the hips) was quite fashionable. The lower back was often trimmed with deep pleats and bows. The shorter bodice is worn by the young women in the image below. Collars and cuffs became quite frilly and lacy. Notice the tight fitting waist and flare over the hips.

1870s Bodices

1870s Bodices: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

Notice the very high waist of the bodice in the image below. Although the woman is sitting, it is possible to see the high bustle at the back end of her dress.

1870s Shortwaisted Bodice

1870s Shortwaisted Bodice: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

The woman below wears the shortwaisted basque bodice with trim at the back.

1870s Shortwaisted Basque Bodice

1870s Shortwaisted Basque Bodice: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

By 1874, the waistlines became longer. The two-piece dress also gained popularity. A skirt with a very long jacket bodice (called a tunic, sacque, or cuirass) was fashionable during the latter half of the decade. The bodice, which buttoned up the front, was often a different material from the skirt and the sleeves. Sleeves were straight or an open bell form. By 1877, the long bodice fit more snugly to the hips.

Late 1870s Long Bodice Late 1870s Long Bodice

Late 1870s Long Bodices: Image courtesy of Joan L. Severa

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