I love the study of history, particularly United States Victorian era history. I feel that the modern era has much in common with this period of rapid technological and social change. Because I think studying history is one of the best ways to predict the future, I want to share this history with you.
It was a time of inventions that changed the world. The steam ship, the railway, and the river boat made shipping goods faster and more reliable than imagined in the days of sailing. The telegraph enabled rapid communication around the globe. Electricity from dams and water mills let factories keep longer hours. Outside forces like the Irish Famine and the Opium Wars drove new immigrants to American shores.
Cities rose along ports and railway stations, and young people flocked to them for new job opportunities. Away from home and their families, they faced new temptations in gambling halls, taverns, and brothels. City populations multiplied and the crowded wooden tenements couldn’t contain all the poor workers.
You can’t really talk about the Victorian era without discussing the fashion. Members of the lower classes were likely to wear simple country clothing or work uniforms. Middle and upper class city dwellers wore several layers of clothing. A man might wear a three piece suit, shirt and necktie, bowler hat and overcoat as informal daywear. A woman might wear petticoat or bloomers under a bodice dress or tightly cinched blouse and skirt.
Compared with the leggings and jeans of today, their clothes seem formal and cumbersome. But to Victorians they were quite modern. No more corsets! No more powdered wigs! If they’d had access to InstaGram, at least a few Victorians would have uploaded a deguerreotype of their grandparents and wondered why sartorial standards fell since their day.
Tune in next time for a regional and intersectional take on life in the Victorian era United States!