I had never really paid attention to the 1840s — that is, until I found this dress one day during an online browsing session. It almost took my breath away. My first thought was how wearable it looks — unlike many historical garments, it isn’t ridiculously skinny. And it has fabulous details. (Did you notice the little decorative circles marching up the bodice?) I love the sleeve treatment — fitted, but with fabric billowing out near the forearm. And the little lace detail around the neckline is so sweet! (If I’ve convinced you to love this dress too, click on the picture to go to its KSU page and see more photos…)
I did a little research and found out that the 1840s was a sort of transition period between the romantic 1830s and the true Victorian, crinoline style that came in during the 1850s and 60s. In the 1830s, the waistline was slightly above natural (it was still coming down after the super-high waisted Empire style) and dresses of this period feature wide necklines and ridiculously puffy sleeves. The two examples below are from the Met Museum (click on the pictures to visit their pages):
The 1840s retained the wide neckline, but the huge sleeves were largely restrained to more demure puffs further down the arm, as in the dress above. The waistline also dropped dramatically, with women in this period preferring a very long, slender look.