THE REVOLUTION IN VICTORIAN FASHION
By Madeline Hewitson
Research assistant for the Colour Revolution exhibition & Chromotope research project. The research presented in this article is part of the Chromotope project which has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC).
Push aside any dark and gloomy preconceptions you may have of the Victorians. Immerse yourselves in the explosive, colourful fashion of this eventful era - a time of enormous societal change and upheavals in science, nature and art.
We think of the 19th century through a monochrome lens. Popular films and television series have cemented images of Dickensian slums, factories belching with smoke and rivers running foul with pollution in the popular imagination to this day.
Perhaps the most enduring figure in this version of a ‘bleak’ 19th-century era is the woman after whom the period is named, Queen Victoria.
Despite enjoying the latest fashion trends in her youth, after her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria assumed a uniform of black-and-white 'widow’s weeds' (the etiquette of mourning) until her own death in 1901.
These sober colours also dominated men’s fashion: tightly tailored suits and top hats with little opportunity for personal expression.
However, much of this monochrome imagery is a misconception.
During the Victorian period, fashion was just as popular and diverse as it is today. Inventions in the field of chemistry and discoveries made across the globe fuelled consumer trends for bright colourful clothing. The changing colours in clothing, particularly for women, were about to light up the fashion and art world, like never before.