When Proper Etiquette Meant Changing 4 Times a Day

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A jacquard dinner dress, circa 1891. Photo: © 2016 Victoria and Albert Museum; London

It’s a well-known fact that in the 1800s, social expectations in countries like Britain and the U.S. restricted women’s rights. But at the same time, the rules sparked a revolutionary shift in women’s fashion. While proper etiquette forbade women from certain liberties (like walking on the street at night, or riding bicycles when they were sick), it was also taboo for wealthy women to wear just one outfit a day.

This meant expanding one’s wardrobe: Women started to change multiple times a day — from morning gowns to promenade dresses (for walking anywhere outside the house), daytime gowns (for afternoon tea), and formal evening dresses (for dinner). If you had tickets to the opera, you’d wear another gown specifically designed for the occasion.

The new need for different types of dresses for various activities allowed designers to experiment with fabrics, colors, and textures. Evening dresses were decorated with intricate needlework. Tea gowns were embroidered with small beads and pieces of glass.

The new book 19th-Century Fashion in Detail, out last week from Thames & Hudson, chronicles how fashion adapted to the era’s culture. The collection’s 460 illustrations and photographs showcase crinoline-cage skirts, ornate evening coats, and silk promenade dresses that filled women’s wardrobes in the 1800s. Click ahead to preview images from the book.

When Proper Etiquette Meant Changing 4 Times a Day