The Victorian era was so long that it encompassed several distinct periods. For example, Civil War dresses are distinctly different than bustled dresses, though both are technically “Victorian.” The end of the Victorian Era evolved into the fashions of the Edwardian Era that followed, and with this, the Victorian blouse emerged. Especially in 1890, the transition to more practical daywear for women was underway. This was still nowhere close to the kind of freedom in clothing that women experienced later in the 20th century, but it was a huge upgrade from hoop skirts and bustles. For once, a simpler design that permitted movement was in vogue. This is partially because women were finally receiving education and becoming members of the workforce. Since they had labor outside of the household, they had to have outfits that suited their professions.

Blouses were originally meant as informal apparel that women could wear when they were not expecting company or had a task that was a bit dirtier. However, this idea changed later in the century, when blouses became everyday informal day wear or casual evening wear for women. The sleeves of Victorian blouses were leg-o-mutton, and the shoulders were purposefully large. Collars that came down from the shoulders were also extravagant and full with ruffles, and were usually ornamented with beads and lace. The blouse was still narrow at the waist, because corsets were still used on a daily basis. At the beginning of the era, these blouses were called “lingerie” blouses because they featured details like lace that were usually only found on underwear.

The blouse is still an essential part of the female wardrobe today. Women wear them to work, for leisure, and all around town. The essential difference between a blouse and any other shirt is that blouses are more formal and fitted than regular shirts. Some come in silks while others come in fabrics like cotton; however, almost all blouses include some kind of traditionally feminine detail (bows, lace, ribbons, or beads). If you don’t already have a few blouses in your closet, consider stocking up. Their versatility can’t be beat and once you have one you’ll never go back!