In the 1800s, the silhouette of the dress was simplistic with a slightly emphasized shoulder. Fabrics were lightweight with a high-waist and a straight hem. Towards the 1840s, dresses became structured with padding and firmer fabrics, skirt hems widened and fuller shoulders became enormous sleeves. Petticoats were separate skirts worn to fill out the outer dress skirt. They enlarged the bottom of the skirt, emphasizing the silhouette of the dress.
The 1850s through 1900s was a different silhouette with narrow waists and wide, hoop crinoline skirts. The sleeves became fitted the dress hem was floor length. Shoulders dropped to an unnatural position, and skirts continued to fill out leading to the hoop skirts in the 1860s. Dresses became full with the use of the crinoline cages (hoop). Hoop sizes and shapes changed throughout the next thirty years, changing the shape and fullness to the skirt. Rounding into the 1900s shoulders returned to the natural position, and the V-shaped bodice disappeared and was replaced with corsets. Corsets were synching devices worn under the dress to define the waist creating an extreme silhouette with the contrast of the wide skirts. As the 1900s approached, bustles faded, and only a small amount of padding remained. The silhouette of the dress became much smaller around the waist and hips. However, the bodice became fuller and the neckline had risen to just below the chin. Dressing throughout the 1800s was a task in itself. Small hoop eyelets were used to fasten garments and hooking the eyelets often took more than one person. The historical dressing was meant to take time, as the length of time to dress was a sign of wealth.
The 1900s brought slim dresses with an immense amount of ruffles. The silhouette became more relaxed. Skirt lines were straight with no padding and corsets were worn as support. The hem of the dress rose back to the ankles as it was in the early 1800s. The early 1930s brought longer hemlines and natural waistlines. Pads were placed within the shoulders and hips in order to exaggerate the women’s figure and create an hourglass silhouette. Zippers and buttons were introduced to clothing in replacement of the hook-and-eye closures. Zippers and buttons influenced the ease of wearing clothing, as it only required two hands to fasten a garment. The 1970s brought skirt suits with length variations from mini, midi, to maxi.