Victorian decorative arts refers to the style of decorative arts
during the Victorian era. Victorian design is widely viewed as
having indulged in a grand excess of ornament. The Victorian era is
known for its interpretation and eclectic revival of historic styles
mixed with the introduction of middle east and Asian influences in
furniture, fittings, and interior decoration. The Arts and Crafts
movement, the aesthetic movement, Anglo-Japanese style, and Art
Nouveau style have their beginnings in the late Victorian era and
The Commandant drawing room, Port Arthur, Tasmania.
Interior decoration and design
Interior decoration and interior design of the Victorian era are
noted for orderliness and ornamentation. A house from this period
was idealistically divided in rooms, with public and private space
carefully separated. The parlour was the most important room in a
home and was the showcase for the homeowners where guests were
entertained. A bare room was considered to be in poor taste, so
every surface was filled with objects that reflected the owner's
interests and aspirations. The dining room was the second-most
important room in the house. The sideboard was most often the focal
point of the dining room and very ornately decorated.
Vanderbilt Mansion, Living room
1879, Parlor of Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street, New
Lanhydrock House, Drawing Room.
Dunedin Club, interior, Billiard Room
Walls and ceilings
The choice of paint color on the walls in Victorian homes was said
to be based on the use of the room. Hallways that were in the entry
hall and the stair halls were painted a somber gray so as not to
compete with the surrounding rooms. Most people marbleized the walls
or the woodwork. Also on walls it was common to score into wet
plaster to make it resemble blocks of stone. Finishes that were
either marbleized or grained were frequently found on doors and
woodwork. "Graining" was meant to imitate woods of higher quality
that were more difficult to work. There were specific rules for
interior color choice and placement. The theory of “harmony by
analogy” was to use the colors that lay next to each other on the
color wheel. And the second was the “harmony by contrast” that was
to use the colors that were opposite of one another on the color
wheel. There was a favored tripartite wall that included a dado or
wainscoting at the bottom, a field in the middle and a frieze or
cornice at the top. This was popular into the 20th century.
Frederick Walton who created linoleum in 1863 created the process
for embossing semi-liquid linseed oil, backed with waterproofed
paper or canvas. It was called Lincrusta and was applied much like
wallpaper. This process made it easy to then go over the oil and
make it resemble wood, leather or different types of leather. On the
ceilings that were 8–14 feet the color was tinted three shades
lighter than the color that was on the walls and usually had a high
quality of ornamentation because decorated ceilings were favored.
There was not one dominant style of furniture in the Victorian
period. Designers rather used and modified many styles taken from
various time periods in history like Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan,
English Rococo, Neoclassical and others. The Gothic and Rococo
revival style were the most common styles to be seen in furniture
during this time in history.
Albert Chevallier Tayler The Grey Drawing Room
Albert Chevallier Tayler The Quiet Hour
Breakfast by Albert Chevallier Tayler 1909
Christmas tree decoration by Marcel Rieder (1862-1942)
Wallpaper and wallcoverings became accessible for increasing numbers
of householders with their wide range of designs and varying costs.
This was due to the introduction of mass production techniques and
the repeal in 1836 of the Wallpaper tax introduced in 1712.
Wallpaper was often made in elaborate floral patterns with
primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) in the backgrounds and
overprinted with colours of cream and tan. This was followed by
Gothic art inspired papers in earth tones with stylized leaf and
floral patterns. William Morris was one of the most influential
designers of wallpaper and fabrics during the latter half of the
Victorian period. Morris was inspired and used Medieval and Gothic
tapestries in his work. Embossed paper were used on ceilings and
"Artichoke" wallpaper, by John Henry Dearle
for William Morris &
circa 1897 (Victoria and Albert Museum).
Acanthus wallpaper, 1875
Snakeshead printed textile, 1876
"Peacock and Dragon" woven wool furnishing fabric, 1878
Detail of Woodpecker tapestry, 1885
Victorian style dining room, USA,
Victorian style parlor, USA, early 1900s
Room with Victorian design, early 1900s
Parlor in a New York House from the 1850s.
The parlor of the Whittemore House 1526 New Hampshire Avenue,
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C
Old interiors preserved
1890s Bedroom, James A. Garfield National Historic Site
Victorian Bedroom exhibition, Dalgarven Mill, Ayrshire
The Victorian sittingroom
Viktorian kitchen, Dalgarven Mill, Ayrshire
Viktorian kitchen, Dalgarven
Victorian fashion comprises the various fashions and trends in
British culture that emerged and developed in the United Kingdom and
the British Empire throughout the Victorian era, roughly 1830s to
1900s. The period saw many changes in fashion, including changes in
clothing, architecture, literature, and the decorative and visual
By 1907, clothing was increasingly factory-made and often sold in
large, fixed price department stores. Custom sewing and home sewing
were still significant, but on the decline. New machinery and
materials developed clothing in many ways.
The introduction of the lock-stitch sewing machine in mid-century
simplified both home and boutique dressmaking, and enabled a fashion
for lavish application of trim that would have been prohibitively
time-consuming if done by hand. Lace machinery made lace at a
fraction of the cost of the old developed new, cheap, bright dyes
that displaced the old animal or vegetable dyes.
Princess Albert de Broglie wears a blue silk evening gown with
delicate lace and ribbon trim. Her hair is covered with a sheer
frill trimmed with matching blue ribbon knots. She wears a necklace,
tasseled earrings, and bracelets on each wrist.
In the 1840s and 1850s, women's gowns had wide puffed sleeves.
Dresses were simple and pale, and incorporated realistic flower
trimming. Petticoats, corsets, and chemises were worn under gowns.
By the 1850s the number of petticoats was reduced to be superseded
by the crinoline, and the size of skirts expanded. Day dresses had a
solid bodice and evening gowns had a very low neckline and were worn
off the shoulder with shawls.
In the 1860s, the skirts became flatter at the front and
projected out more behind the woman. Day dresses had wide pagoda
sleeves and high necklines with lace or tatted collars. Evening
dresses had low necklines and short sleeves, and were worn with
short gloves, fingerless lace or crocheted mitts.
In the 1870s, un-corseted tea gowns
were introduced for informal entertaining at home and steadily grew
in popularity. Bustles were used to replace the crinoline to hold
the skirts up behind the woman, even for "seaside dresses". The fad
of hoop skirts had faded and women strived for a slimmer style. The
dresses were extremely tight around the corseted torso and the waist
and upper legs; Punch ran many cartoons showing women who could
neither sit nor climb stairs in their tight dresses. The crinoline was replaced by the
bustle in the rear. Small hats were perched towards the front of the
head, over the forehead. To complement the small hat, women wore
their hair in elaborate curls. Some women wore hairpieces called "scalpettes"
and "frizzettes" to add to the volume of their hair.
In the 1880s, riding habits had a matching jacket and skirt
(without a bustle), a high-collared shirt or chemisette, and a top
hat with a veil. Hunting costumes had draped ankle-length skirts
worn with boots or gaiters. Clothing worn when out walking had a
long jacket and skirt, worn with the bustle, and a small hat or
bonnet. Travelers wore long coats like dusters.
In the 1890s, Women's wear in the last decade of the Victorian
era was characterised by high collars, held in place by collar
stays, and stiff steel boning in long line bodices. By this time,
there were neither crinolines nor bustles. Women opted for the tiny
wasp waist instead.
Emma Hill by Ford Madox Brown (1853), a woman wearing a
version of the poke bonnet.
Women's hats during the Victorian era are stereotypically thought of
as the enormous, feather- and flower-laden creations that were
fashionable in the late-Victorian period. They evolved through many
trends over the decades before reaching the later style.
The exaggerated structure of certain Victorian dress elements was
part of an effort by designers to emphasise the popular silhouette
of the moment. Millinery was incorporated into this design strategy.
During the early Victorian decades, voluminous skirts held up with
crinolines, and then hoop skirts, were the focal point of the
silhouette. To enhance the style without distracting from it, hats
were modest in size and design, straw and fabric bonnets being the
popular choice. Poke bonnets, which had been worn during the late
Regency period, had high, small crowns and brims that grew larger
until the 1830s, when the face of a woman wearing a poke bonnet
could only be seen directly from the front. They had rounded brims,
echoing the rounded form of the bell-shaped hoop skirts.
Opera singer Emmy Destinn wearing a plume-covered hat, around
The silhouette changed once again
as the Victorian era drew to a close. The shape was essentially an
inverted triangle, with a wide-brimmed hat on top, a full upper body
with puffed sleeves, no bustle, and a skirt that narrowed at the
ankles (the hobble skirt
was a fad shortly after the end of the Victorian era). The enormous
wide-brimmed hats were covered with elaborate creations of silk
flowers, ribbons, and above all, exotic plumes; hats sometimes
included entire exotic birds that had been stuffed. Many of these
plumes came from birds in the Florida everglades, which were nearly
entirely decimated by overhunting. By 1899, early environmentalists
like Adeline Knapp were engaged in efforts to curtail the hunting
for plumes. By 1900, more than five million birds a year were being
slaughtered, and nearly 95 percent of Florida's shore birds had been
killed by plume hunters.
Drawing of Victorian men 1870s
During the 1840s, men wore tight-fitting, calf length frock coats
and a waistcoat or vest. The vests were single- or double-breasted,
with shawl or notched collars, and might be finished in double
points at the lowered waist. For more formal occasions, a cutaway
morning coat was worn with light trousers during the daytime, and a
dark tail coat and trousers was worn in the evening. The shirts were
made of linen or cotton with low collars, occasionally turned down,
and were worn with wide cravats or neck ties. Trousers had fly
fronts, and breeches were used for formal functions and when
horseback riding. Men wore top hats, with wide brims in sunny
During the 1850s, men started wearing shirts with high upstanding
or turnover collars and four-in-hand neckties tied in a bow, or tied
in a knot with the pointed ends sticking out like "wings". The
upper-class continued to wear top hats, and bowler hats were worn by
the working class.
In the 1860s, men started wearing wider neckties that were tied
in a bow or looped into a loose knot and fastened with a stickpin.
Frock coats were shortened to knee-length and were worn for
business, while the mid-thigh length sack coat slowly displaced the
frock coat for less-formal occasions. Top hats briefly became the
very tall "stovepipe" shape, but a variety of other hat shapes were
During the 1870s, three-piece suits grew in popularity along with
patterned fabrics for shirts. Neckties were the four-in-hand and,
later, the Ascot ties. A narrow ribbon tie was an alternative for
tropical climates, especially in the Americas. Both frock coats and
sack coats became shorter. Flat straw boaters were worn when
During the 1880s, formal evening dress remained a dark tail coat
and trousers with a dark waistcoat, a white bow tie, and a shirt
with a winged collar. In mid-decade, the dinner jacket or tuxedo,
was used in more relaxed formal occasions. The Norfolk jacket and
tweed or woolen breeches were used for rugged outdoor pursuits such
as shooting. Knee-length topcoats, often with contrasting velvet or
fur collars, and calf-length overcoats were worn in winter. Men's
shoes had higher heels and a narrow toe.
Starting from the 1890s, the blazer was introduced, and was worn
for sports, sailing, and other casual activities.
Throughout much of the Victorian era most men wore fairly short
hair. This was often accompanied by various forms of facial hair
including moustaches, side-burns, and full beards. A clean-shaven
face did not come back into fashion until the end of the 1880s and
Distinguishing what men really wore from what was marketed to
them in periodicals and advertisements is problematic, as reliable
records do not exist.
Victoria's five daughters (Alice, Helena, Beatrice, Victoria and
Louise), photographed wearing mourning black beneath a bust of their
late father, Prince Albert (1862).
In Britain, black is the colour traditionally associated with
mourning for the dead. The customs and etiquette expected of men,
and especially women, were rigid during much of the Victorian era.
The expectations depended on a complex hierarchy of close or distant
relationship with the deceased. The closer the relationship, the
longer the mourning period and the wearing of black. The wearing of
full black was known as First Mourning, which had its own expected
attire, including fabrics, and an expected duration of 4 to 18
months. Following the initial period of First Mourning, the mourner
would progress to Second Mourning, a transition period of wearing
less black, which was followed by Ordinary Mourning, and then
Half-mourning. Some of these stages of mourning were shortened or
skipped completely if the mourner's relationship to the deceased was
more distant. Half-mourning was a transition period when black was
replaced by acceptable colours such as lavender and mauve, possibly
considered acceptable transition colours because of the tradition of
Church of England (and Catholic) clergy wearing lavender or mauve
stoles for funeral services, to represent the Passion of Christ.
"The proper length for little girls' skirts at various ages",
from Harper's Bazaar, showing a 1900 idea of how the hemline should
descend towards the ankle as a girl got older
Men's clothing is seen as formal and stiff, women's as fussy and
over-done. Clothing covered the entire body, we are told, and even
the glimpse of an ankle was scandalous. Critics contend that corsets
constricted women's bodies and women's lives. Homes are described as
gloomy, dark, cluttered with massive and over-ornate furniture and
proliferating bric-a-brac. Myth has it that even piano legs were
scandalous, and covered with tiny pantalettes.
Of course, much of this is untrue, or a gross exaggeration. Men's
formal clothing may have been less colourful than it was in the
previous century, but brilliant waistcoats and cummerbunds provided
a touch of color, and smoking jackets and dressing gowns were often
of rich Oriental brocades. This phenomenon was the result of the
growing textile manufacturing sector, developing mass production
processes, and increasing attempts to market fashion to men.
Corsets stressed a woman's sexuality, exaggerating hips and bust by
contrast with a tiny waist. Women's evening gowns bared the
shoulders and the tops of the breasts. The jersey dresses of the
1880s may have covered the body, but the stretchy novel fabric fit
the body like a glove.
Home furnishing was not necessarily ornate or overstuffed.
However, those who could afford lavish draperies and expensive
ornaments, and wanted to display their wealth, would often do so.
Since the Victorian era was one of increased social mobility, there
were ever more nouveaux riches making a rich show.
The items used in decoration may also have been darker and
heavier than those used today, simply as a matter of practicality.
London was noisy and its air was full of soot from countless coal
fires. Hence those who could afford it draped their windows in
heavy, sound-muffling curtains, and chose colours that didn't show
soot quickly. When all washing was done by hand, curtains were not
washed as frequently as they might be today.
There is no actual evidence that piano legs were considered
scandalous. Pianos and tables were often draped with shawls or
cloths—but if the shawls hid anything, it was the cheapness of the
furniture. There are references to lower-middle-class families
covering up their pine tables rather than show that they couldn't
afford mahogany. The piano leg story seems to have originated in the
1839 book, A Diary in America written by Captain Frederick Marryat,
as a satirical comment on American prissiness.
Victorian manners, however, may have been as strict as
imagined—on the surface. One simply did not speak publicly about
sex, childbirth, and such matters, at least in the respectable
middle and upper classes. However, as is well known, discretion
covered a multitude of sins. Prostitution flourished. Upper-class
men and women indulged in adulterous liaisons.
Some people now look back on the Victorian era with wistful
nostalgia. Historians would say that this is as much a distortion of
the real history as the stereotypes emphasising Victorian repression
and prudery. Women were not allowed to swim, for it would be frowned
upon as "bad etiquette". Women also had to wear special suits to
Also notable is a contemporary counter-cultural trend called
steampunk. Those who dress steampunk often wear Victorian-style
clothing that has been "tweaked" in edgy ways: tattered, distorted,
melded with Goth fashion, Punk, and Rivethead styles. Another
example of Victorian fashion being incorporated into a contemporary
style is the Lolita Fashion.
A mid-Victorian interior: Hide and Seek by James Tissot c. 1877.
Dress designed by Charles Frederick Worth for Elisabeth of
Austria painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.
William Powell Frith's painting of 1883 contrasts women's
Aesthetic dress(left and right) with fashionable attire(center).
Day dress of c. 1875 James Tissot painting.
Whistler's Portrait of Lady Meux 1882.
Evening gown of 1878
Portrait by Alexander Melville of Queen Victoria, 1845
A girl dressed in Victorian fashion incorporated into Goth