Fashion and Courtship in The Victorian Era

Written by Leanna Serras

The year Victoria became queen of England was the official beginning of the Victorian Era. This period began in 1837, and it extended until 1901, which was the year when Queen Victoria died. Queen Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch of England until 2015, when she was surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II. During the Victorian Era, a certain narrow-mindedness ruled both fashion and etiquette. Women were often forced to adhere to rigid rules about their appearance; Fashion tended to center around what was considered proper behavior.


Queen Victoria set a standard of femininity for British women. Although she was queen, Victoria epitomized domesticity, and her example displayed the rightful place of women as being in the home, surrounded by their husbands and children. The Victorian Era is known for its restrictions on women, which extended to include makeup and the use of fragrance. It was generally discouraged for women to wear a lot of makeup, so they often settled for pinching their cheeks or biting their lips to add a bit of color. Queen Victoria herself played a role in the public's opinion of makeup by making statements about the connection between prostitutes and makeup. Women used natural ingredients in their pursuit of beauty, turning to egg yolks, honey, and rosewater. For those women who did choose to wear makeup, their color choices were very limited. These brave women usually opted for subtle shades that added only pale color to the eyes, cheeks, and lips. The typical cosmetics of this period were powders and lotions designed to make faces appear lighter. Women of the upper classes used very little makeup. Pale complexions were a hallmark of the Victorian Era, and dark circles under the eyes were also a common theme of this period. It's rumored that some women even resorted to drinking vinegar to enhance their pale complexions. The fragrances of this era were light and floral in nature. Perfume technology was basic, and it mainly included the use of botanical essences such as roses, honeysuckle, and other scented blossoms.

Courtship and Marriage

Victorian society focused on women's positions and roles in their homes, managing their families. A woman's career was seen as her marriage and family. Therefore, preparations for this career centered around grooming a girl for marriage. Victorian women had a helpless image, seen as delicate flowers who needed men to take charge. Courtship was the dating period that occurred before marriage. A number of stringent societal rules dictated the courtship period. For example, a woman could never be alone with a gentleman. A chaperone had to be present at all times, supervising meetings and time spent together. A single woman could never begin a conversation with a gentleman without having a formal introduction first. No physical contact of any kind could occur during courtship. The only exception to this rule was if a couple was walking on a bumpy road and the gentleman extended his hand to help steady the woman.

A courtship generally began with simple conversations. From this point, the couple might take a walk together, with a chaperone in attendance. The next step of a courtship could include spending time together at social events. If everything progressed well between the lady and gentleman, they would become engaged. During the engagement period, couples were allowed to hold hands and take unchaperoned walks and carriage rides. Although an engaged couple could spend time together in a private parlor or sitting room, the gentleman had to leave before dark. Any deviations from these rules could ruin a woman's reputation beyond repair. After marrying, the Victorian woman focused all of her attentions on fulfilling her duties as a wife and mother.


When Queen Victoria assumed the throne, dramatic fashion changes followed almost immediately. The ostentatious styles that had been popular became less showy. Instead of flouncy sleeves and hoops under skirts, styles were narrower. Corsets and tight bodices were common. However, the purpose of the corsets was not one of fashion. The common belief of the day was that corsets were important for maintaining posture and keeping the internal organs aligned properly. Hairstyles also became simpler. Women tended to wear their hair long, parted in the center, possibly with ringlets. A chignon at the base of the neck was a popular style and perfume applied to the area behind the ears and at the base of the throat complemented the looks.

Daytime clothing styles featured high necklines, while evening wear may have shown a little more skin. It was considered daring for a women to show her ankles. Women tended to change outfits frequently during the day, with different dresses being required for different activities. Women would wear one dress for visiting and another dress for receiving visitors. A specific dress was needed for walking, riding, traveling, or attending balls.