Fashion from the 1880s are recognisable by two things: big bustles and slim waists. Unlike the half-hoop skirts of the 1870s, the 1880s emphasised a less volume overall and focused the bulk and weight of the gown on the bustle which could grow to startling proportions. Necklines crept upwards and shoulders remained covered at balls and certainly also during the day. 1880s corsets emphasised an hour-glass figure, tightening the waist so the bulk of the bustle would stand out in contrast. The sleeves of the gowns remained smooth, wholly unlike the enormous sleeves the 1890s would introduce into ladie’s fashion.
Exercise like croquet and tennis grew increasingly important but exercise gowns were conservative when compared with what would happen some 10-20 years later. Ladie’s hats grew small and focused their attention on the back of the lady’s head, growing into a style called “capote” which emphasised a small brim and big ribbons tied under the chin. Would you believe that I have an extant example that once belonged to a great-great grandmother of mine? As soon as I am able I’m going to take pictures of it.
In action, the size of the bustle varied from the truly enormous to a more sublte collection of cloth around the hips and back.
From the front, dresses emphasised slim waists and well-defined hips. The fabric of the skirt was flat and tight over the legs, a big change from the crinolines of some 20 years sooner and even the half-hoop skirt of the 1870s.
Bathing and swimming dresses were only just coming back into fashion in the 1880s, so tennis and croquet were the sports of the day. Croquet outfits could be pretty much any day dress, but it was important that a tennis dress could be moved in. I couldn’t imagine playing tennis in either of these dresses, though.
It is highly unlikely bustles were worn under tennis dresses, but the bustle effect would be created by pulling the fabric back and creating a modest hump.
Outwear would also have to be loose to make room for the bustles, or like in the example above, be altered so the back of the dress wouldn’t be compromised.
Often ribbons would be emphasised to compensate for the lack of shade, and tied in big, soft knots under the wearer’s chin. The one I own is a mourning bonnet and is primarily made up of black velvet and black ribbons. I really have to take photos of it for this blog.
That’s a small look into the fashions of the 1880s! Next up: the 1870s.