Fashion in the 1820s

Ladies' fashion

Ladies fashions in the first decades of the 19th century were characterized by being for informal and undressed than in the previous century. Fashion appeared to be more demure, in part because war was a strain on the economy, but also because no one wanted to be associated with the French aristocracy that had so devastatingly fallen during the French revolution. Dresses became simpler, less fabric was required to make them, and also fabrics chosen were less costly. Instead of ostentatiously showing off your wealth, good taste was apparent to those who mattered though the small details of the attire. Thus, clothing and fashion choices became a way of expressing individuality.

The early 19th century women’s fashion was inspired by the ancient Roman and Greek style, characterized by gracious, loosely falling dresses, gathered under the bust to accentuate the natural waist. The ideal silhouette celebrated the natural form, thus the heavily boned stays were replaced with shorter, and less stiff stays and bodices. Sheer muslins were popular for a flowing look, but also heavier cottons, woolens and other textiles were used, often with print.

The Nathanson Family, 1818. Artist: C.W. Eckersberg. Owner: SMK

Gowns and dresses

Dresses were short-waisted, with loose skirts, and were not very confining, especially compared to earlier periods. The dresses varied depending on the situation. A dress worn in the morning and at home was more informal, often simple white cotton, linen or wool, with long sleeves and a covered bosom. Evening dress was for evenings and formal occasions, and could be extravagantly trimmed and decorated., and also have short sleeves and show more neckline. 

Dress. 1823-1825. Owner: Victoria and Albert Museum
Dress, 1820-1825. Owner: Nasjonalmuseet
Journal des dames et des modes. 1820. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France


As dresses increasingly were made in cottons or thinner fabrics, outerwear became popular. Jackets,such as the spencer jacket, or long coats like the pelisse and redingotes helped keep women warm.These were decorative, and used both inside and outside. Similarly capes, as well as shawls werewidespread. Especially the paisley patterned shawls made of Kashmir wool were very popular.

Journal des dames et des modes. 1819. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Wadded Coat (douillette), c. 1820. Owner: Rijksmuseum


As with much of fashion at the time, ancient Rome and Greece was an important inspiration. This was also the case for hair. Curls were especially popular. Long hair was gathered high at the back of the head, and fastened with ribbons and pins. Some women also cut their hair to fit the roman and Greek look

Boel Cathrine Homann, 1815. Artist: Liepman Fränckel Owner: Telemark museum
Mendel Levin Nathanson's Elder Daughters, Bella and Hanna, 1820. Artist: C.W. Eckersberg. Owner: SMK
Fru Lovise D. Storm, ca. 1825. Artist: Frederik Petersen Owner: Nasjonalmuseet

Gentlemen's fashion

A new men’s fashion emerged at the turn of the century. It partly reflected the growing interest in nature and natural things, but also widespread interest in Greek and Roman antiquity. The people depicted in classical art were idealized, and the silhouette changed accordingly. For men, tailoring became an increasingly important indicator of social standing, and there was increased use of high-quality woollens.

Many began using clothes as a means of expressing themselves and their individuality, rather than belonging to a social strata or group. As a result, fashion at the start of the 19th century enabled individuals to not only present a wide range of identities, but also a glimpse of their personality. Fashion became an arena in which tradition and change collided.

Gentlemen’s fashions gradually became more refined. This was largely due to the “dandies” and the romantic movement, emphasizing style, but with an air of nonchalance.  Dark colors became popular, often combined with strong, contrasting colors. Fabric choices were more practical, such as silk, wool, cotton or calf skin.

Outside the Lottery Agency, 1808. Artist: C.W. Eckersberg. Owner: SMK

Coats and waistcoats

Coats were tailored to fit tight on the body and often buttoned tight. Blue jakets with long coattails and golden buttons were especially popular. Overcoats were introduced, made of boiled wool or English wool cloth, and often with lapells and cuffs in fur or velvet. The Garrick coat, sometimes called a coachman’s cloak, had three to five cape collars, as was mostly used for travel and riding. 

Waistcoats in the 1820s were more demure than those in the preceding century. High at the waist, double breasted and cut straight at the bottom, they could be striped or floral silks, but also of simpler textiles like cotton, and white or single colors. 

Journal des dames et des modes. 1822. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Jacket, 1800. Owner: Norsk Folkemuseum
Waistcoat, 1800-1830. Owner: Nasjonalmuseet

Trousers and footwear

Trousers reaching all the way down the leg, and sometimes with a band beneath the foot, became widespread in the first decades of the 19th centyr. They replaced the “old fashioned” knee breaches. Trousers in the 1820´s were made in different materials, depending on the season. Licht cottons were typically used in summer, dark woolens in winter.

Wellington bots became popular in the wake of Napoleons defeat at Waterloo in 1815. They were knee high in front, and cut lower behind the knee. With the spread of long trousers, shoes with heels became popular.

Drawing, 1800. Artist: C.W. Eckersberg. Owner: SMK
Cossack Trousers, 1820-1830. Owner: Victoria and Albert Museum

Hairstyles and hats

Wigs or long, powered hair became unfashionable. Instead, men wore their hair short, in small curls, like the statues from the Antique period being unearthed in Greece and Rome. Many combined this with long and distinct sideburns. To style the curls and facial hair they used hair wax. Older men, and men in conservative professions (like doctors, layers and servants to wealthy families) retained the wigs and the powder.

Though two and three pointed hats were still in use, the most fashionable hat was tall and conical shaped. This was soon replaced by the top hat, which still today is the only hat used for formal occasions.

Portrait of Christopher Ingier. 1800. Artist: Carl Buhre. Owner: Oslo Museum
Portrait of architect Olav Olavsen, 1820. Artist: Jacob Munch. Owner: Nasjonalmuseet
Journal des dames et des modes. 1821. Owner: Bibliothèque nationale de France