Fashion in the 1820s

Evening Dress. 1820-1823. Owner: Victoria and Albert Museum

Women's fashion

Here are the key things to know about the dresses:

High-Waisted Dresses: Dresses had a raised waistline just below the bust, creating a long and slim look. The bodice was fitted with a square or low neckline.

Empire Silhouette: The dresses had a flowy style, with the fabric falling from the high waist in a loose and elegant way. The skirts were straight or slightly flared. They required far less fabric to make than in previous eras, and sewing them did not require special sewing skills.

Puffed Sleeves: Dresses had sleeves that were puffy at the shoulder and tapered down to the elbow or wrist, adding volume.

Fabrics and Decorations: Dresses were made of lightweight fabrics like muslin, silk, and fine cotton. Silk was a costly fabric spun by worms in China and southern Europa and difficult to weave. Cotton and muslin, on the other hand were affordable for many because much of it was, by the 1820´s grown by slaves in the American colonies, and then spun and woven by machines in England. Lace, embroidery, and ruffles were used to add a feminine touch.


Bonnets: Women wore bonnets on their heads. Bonnets had a wide brim for sun protection and were tied under the chin with ribbons. They often had pretty decorations like flowers and feathers.

Gloves: Ladies wore gloves on special occasions or when going out. They were made of soft leather or silk and came in different lengths.

Flat Shoes: Women’s shoes were flat and comfy, usually made of soft leather. They had a round toe and could be slip-on or fastened with ribbons or straps.

Overall, early 1820s fashion for ladies was all about looking graceful and feminine. The high-waisted dresses, puffed sleeves, and delicate fabrics added elegance to their outfits, while bonnets, gloves, and flat shoes completed the look.

Shoes. 1816. Owner: Norsk Folkemuseum
Journal des dames et des modes. 1820. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Cossack Trousers. 1820-1823. Owner: Victoria and Albert Museum

Men's fashion

Here are some examples of what characterized their style:

Coats: Men wore slim-fitting coats called tailcoats. These coats had long, narrow lapels and were often double-breasted. They had a cutaway front, which showed the waistcoat underneath.

Waistcoats: Waistcoats, also known as vests, were an important part of a man’s outfit. They were made from fancy fabrics and had high collars and buttons on both sides. Waistcoats had fancy patterns and added elegance to the look.

Trousers: Men started wearing trousers instead of knee breeches. The trousers were high-waisted and slim, tapering towards the ankles. They had a fall-front or button fly. Common materials were wool and linen.

Cravats: Men wore cravats, which were long, narrow pieces of fabric around the neck. They were made from silk or linen and tied in fancy knots. Cravats were worn with a high collar and completed the look.

Top Hats: Men’s preferred hat was the top hat. They were tall and cylindrical with a flat brim and a narrow band at the bottom. Top hats were made from silk or beaver fur felt and symbolized elegance.

Gloves: Men often wore gloves, usually made of soft leather. Gloves were worn on formal occasions or when going out. They added a formal touch to the outfit.

Shoes: Men’s shoes were made of leather and had a low heel. They were often laced or strapped and came in different styles like oxfords and ankle boots.

Overall, men’s fashion in the early 1820s focused on a more refined and tailored appearance. It included clean lines, fine fabrics, and attention to detail, reflecting the changing social and cultural trends of that time.

Journal des dames et des modes. 1820. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France