During the grand opening of the Grand Exhibition, Queen Victoria wore a cream dress with a wide neckline, front tiers and ruffles reminiscent of floral bouquets. In the coming months, every woman who could get her hands on a reproduction, did. Victoria’s influence on womens’ clothing choices was so great that it leapt across the pond--women in the Americas looked to England for fashion, and English women, of course, to Victoria.
Not everything lasted, to be sure. The women of Victoria’s England were viewed as soft, demure and angelic creatures who didn’t really need to move their arms. The fashion was to lower sleeve seams, add boning to bodices, and of course, stiff white ruffled collars and sleeves were added in the name of modesty. Fortunately, soon after, ease of movement became the standard, but the look still pervades.
Victoria’s appreciation for fashion stemmed from a love of beauty and the arts. She and her husband, Prince Albert, began the Great Exhibition, an international event in which artists and producers showcased their works. This event helped to make fashion trends more visible to a larger group. While mass production allowed for cheaper and more accessible clothing, the people clamored for woven silks and decorated cottons seen at the Exhibition. Textile artists were able to take fashion and wearable art from the clutches of the upper class and drive it into the hands of the common folk.
Before her, wedding dresses came in an array of bright, lovely colors, but when Victoria wore white to marry Prince Albert, the style caught on so quickly and ingrained itself so deeply into western culture that few brides consider wearing anything else.
Despite being 4’11”, the queen never shied from accessories, preferring them large, colorful and spectacular. She amassed one of the most remarkable jewelry collections of recent history, including a set with Albert’s miniature which she never took off after their engagement. She and her beloved husband took to exchanging jewelry to mark occasions and to celebrate holidays, and friends, children, and political friends followed suit. Her collection is one of the largest recorded to date, and the heirlooms still live among the royals and influence the markets today.
Victoria’s influence on fashion still holds tightly to trends today. At this very moment, we’re watching a revival of Victoria’s favorites—corsets, ruffles, velvet, and heirloom jewelry are all, once again, carried forth on runways as the height of fashion.