Costume Glossary

1800s to 1830s

From Ionic Column to Double Pyramid

Referring to the wealthy, upper class of society, grand and stylish.

Brocaded Silk
A heavy fabric made from silk yarn, woven with a raised pattern.

Bustle, 1839
A pad attached to the back, below the waist level.  The pad could be stuffed with down, cotton wadding or horsehair and was worn under the skirt, giving a ‘bottom’ interest.

A firm undergarment worn from the early 19th Century to the early 20th Century to support and shape the torso fashionably and give a small waist (or an illusion of one).  Corsets were made of strong cotton twill, quilted and stiffened with whalebone or steel, and laced at the back.  They could either be elasticated and comfortable to wear, or destructively tight laced.  Pulled to an ‘ideal’ 17 inches (43cms) the rib cage could be crushed, causing serious damage to internal organs.

Pointed arch style in churches of Western Europe during 12th to 16th Centuries, incorporating geometric and naturalistic carvings.

Morning Dress
A formal day dress.

A fine woven cotton fabric, which has a gauzy appearance.  The name is derived from the city Mosul on the Tigris River, North Iraq.  Imported to Europe in the 17th Century.

A coat made along the same lines as the dress, but opening down the front.

Cord encased in a tube of fabric, applied to seams as a detail.

Long rectangular wrap worn around the shoulders.

Tightly Laced
During the 1830s the waist was tightly laced, its smallness emphasised by the wide shoulders and skirt.  Corsets were laced at the back by cords running through over sewn eyelet holes, and another person was needed to tighten the laces.

Collapsible spoked fabric cover to protect from the sun, or the rain if waterproofed.

1840s to 1850s

From St. Paul’s Dome to Bell Tent

Short-sleeved or sleeveless, knee-length shift made from linen or cotton.  This was worn next to the skin, under the corset, and was the ancestor of the modern T-shirt.

The 1840s and 1850s saw Victorian home life expanding.  Women were now organisers and entertained at home, guided by etiquette books: ‘a wife should be a model of domestic virtues’, (1840).

Two tubes of fabric gathered onto a waistband and left open at crotch, worn to below the knee from the 1840s onwards.  Made of wool flannel or cotton calico and fastened with a drawstring or buttons.

Health corset
Madame Caplin was awarded a prize in the Great Exhibition of 1851 for her health corset, which gave support to the body without confining the chest.  She was praised by the medical profession for her innovative corset.

Hair from horse’s tails and manes used as a stiffener for petticoats. It was woven with wool to make a heavy fabric.

Skirts worn under the dress during the 19th Century to give fullness and shape.  Made from cotton, wool or linen, some were woven with horsehair to make them stiffer, others were shaped using whalebone hoops.  Many were frilled or flounced; piping or horizontal pleating held out hems.  Starch was generally used on cotton to help keep the shape.

1860s to 1870s 

Hot Air Balloon to Centaur

England enjoyed an immense commercial prosperity and extravagance in dress was said to be ‘one of the prevailing vices of the day’.  Skirts, with crinolines beneath, became maximum size and created a major nuisance in everyday life before they were flattened at the front and developed a bustle at the back in the 1870s.

Crinolines had become too large and shaped like a pyramid or funnel, sometimes 18 feet (around 6m) in circumference.  The skirt changed shape to a flattened front, a full back and was box pleated into the waistband.

An age of extraordinary wealth and luxury, a period of inflation and ‘feminine extravagance’.  Bustle supports were in fashion from 1870s to 80s in an extreme form, made of fabric pads, horsehair cloth, frills, or wire frames.

Braid and Cord
Braid is a band made of woven or plaited fabric used as decorative feature. Cord is made of twisted or plaited threads and used for piping around collars, cuffs and waist seams or as a decorative feature.

Term from the French ‘crin’ (horsehair) originally used to stiffen the ‘lin’ (linen) of the petticoat.  From the late 1850s, it was a tape and metal cage, instead of a stiffened fabric petticoat.

A garden game. Wooden balls are hit with wooden mallets through half-hoops set into the ground.  During the 1860s to 70s, croquet was the most popular game for ladies.

Boned and lined bodice designed to fit closely to the upper body and hips, resembling an external corset.

Volumes of fabric swept to the back of the skirt and arranged to make impressive swags, gathers and flounces.

Half Crinoline, 1870s
A steel frame, hooped at the back and open at the front, giving the dress a flat front and supported fullness at the back.  Sometimes called a ‘crinolette’.

Horse Omnibus
A bus drawn by horses.

Patriarchal Household
Households where the father governs the family.

Princess Line
Introduced by Charles Frederick Worth (1825-95), founder of haute couture.  The princess line had no waist-band; the bodice was lengthened into a slim dress with vertical seams back and front to achieve a close fit.

An imposing addition to the dress where the back of the skirt was extended to trail on the floor.

1880s to 1890s

From Wooden Skittle to Feather Fan

The increasing popularity of outdoor activities (such as cycling) meant an obvious change towards more practical clothes for women. Many women still liked ‘clinging femininity’ as expressed in Paris fashions.  Dress could be frilled and flounced above the waist but below it was rather plain, expressing a conflict of feelings over dress styles.

A version of the 1828 sleeves, then so large that cane structures were necessary to support the puff.

Beads were mounted on net and used for trimmings or just sewn onto the garments.  Beads and sequins were made from metal, glass or jet.

Boning in the form of steel strips inserted into the seams of a bodice to keep it tight and give it shape.

An older lady under whose care an unmarried girl appears in Society.

Divided Cycling Skirt
Another idea from the Rational Dress Society was a divided skirt with very wide trousers that were skirt-shaped.  Allowed for vigorous activity whilst preserving modesty.

A puff at the top of the sleeve, which spread out sideways instead of rising up.

These were used frequently during the late 19th Century.  Feathers from the egret, ostrich and domestic fowl were used most often, usually dyed.  Feathers came from Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, China, Australia and Europe and led to some species becoming extinct. Public outcry at the mass slaughter of birds led to the formation of the Fur and Feather Group in 1889, later the RSPB.

Strips of gathered fabric, which can be many different widths.

Originally 18th Century male dress, these were worn as part of the cycling outfit.  Loose, full breeches, gathered at the waist and also into a band below the knee, usually teamed with a Norfolk jacket.

A luxury fabric of open construction first used in the late 1500s. Needlepoint lace, derived from embroidery, knots buttonhole stitches ‘in air’ to build up complex patterns.  Bobbin lace, related to weaving, is made on a firm ‘pillow’ stuck with pins and follows a paper pattern.  Machine lace was invented around 1750 and mass-produced by the Victorians.

A fine weave, almost transparent, cotton fabric, used for handkerchiefs and summer garments.

A sleeve that is tight fitting from wrist to elbow, then balloons out to the shoulder.  The sleeve head is either gathered or pleated into the armhole of the bodice.  Also called a ‘gigot’.

Pinked Silk
Silk with a raw decorative, serrated edge, cut with pinking-sheers.

Platinum Anti-Corset
More campaigning for freedom in dress led to publications on the harm of wearing corsets and hinted that perhaps corset wearing was ‘past its prime’.  The platinum anti-corset was described as ‘a corset and slip bodice in one’ and was ‘provided with shoulder straps and buttons for stockings and petticoats’.  It had platinum bones, which could be removed in 10 seconds for ease of washing.

The Rational Dress Society was formed in 1881, promoting a healthier attitude towards corsets and women’s clothes in general, aiming to give them maximum comfort.  Dr Gustav Jaeger, Professor of zoology and physiology at University of Stuttgart, was the main promoter of healthy underwear.  He developed a flexible corset made from un-dyed sheep’s wool and camel hair.

Used to decorate the dress, ribbons come in all widths, colours and fabrics, including silk satins, velvets, grosgrain, woollen braid, silk gauze and chiffon.

Ruched Silk
Silk fabric that has been gathered tightly.

Safety Bicycle, 1884
Unlike the ‘Penny Farthing’, the modern Rover safety bicycle of John Kemp Starley, had wheels of equal size.  The rear one was driven by a chain, linked to a large cog, operated by pedals.

A twill weave, worsted (twisted yarn) fabric, originally made of silk, wool, or a mixture.  Used in the late 19th Century for dresses, bathing costumes, suits and coats.

A natural fibre produced from the cocoon of the silk moth (Bombyx mori).  It can be woven into many luxury fabrics such as satin, chiffon and crepe de chine.

Game played with 9 bottle-shaped, wooden pins, set at the end of an alley to be bowled over with a wooden ball.

Stuffed Pad
A small horsehair filled pad sewn into the back of the skirt of the 1887 to 1889 period – the last of the bustle!

Tailor-Made Suits
Bodice and skirt skilfully cut along male tailoring lines were more practical for the ‘new active women’.  The bodice often had short coat tails and revers; the skirt gored with pleats down the back.

Tweed, thought to be a misreading of tweel (the Scottish pronunciation of twill).  Associated with the River Tweed in Scotland.  A rough textured fabric woven from wool in a variety of coloured mixes.

1900s to 1940s

From Cylinder to Soldier

Bias Cut
Cut across the grain of a fabric, which allows a small amount of stretch.  When garments are cut on the bias (or on the cross), they tend to cling to the body.

A haircut evolved to go under the cloche hat.  The ‘bob’ imitated the 15th Century pageboy’s hair and was cut at mid cheek or chin level, with a side or centre parting and sometimes a fringe.

Item of underwear worn 1900-20, that covered and extended from the bust to waist.  It developed from the 19th Century petticoat bodice, which covered the corset.  Loose fitting and decorative with front fastening buttons and shoulder straps, it was later worn without a corset.

A light see-through fabric usually made from silk.  It has an irregular surface produced by tightly twisting yarns before the weaving process.

Cloche Hat
A tight fitting bell-shaped hat worn with the brim at eyebrow level.

A fabric with India rubber threads woven through it.  Used for corsets in the early 19th Century, and later in the manufacture of underwear and swimwear from the early to mid 20th Century.

Grecian Bun
In 1919, the ‘Greek Coiffure’ was fashionable.  This was an immense bun or cone of hair sticking out at the back of the head in a horizontal direction, often with a hairband worn low on the forehead.

In 1911, Paul Poiret (1879-1944) designed the ‘hobble’ skirt.  It had fullness around the hips, but narrowed between the knee and ankle, allowing the wearer only the ‘briefest of steps’.

Home Knitwear
Everybody was encouraged to re-use clothes from season to season to keep up morale and save resources.  Many knitting magazines showed how old garments could be unpicked and knitted into more modern styles by ordinary people at home.

New Look
In 1947, French designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) led the ‘New Look’ fashion, using volumes of fabric.  The dresses were very feminine, with small waists, narrow shoulders and calf-length full skirts.  Dior was condemned by the Board of Trade as being irresponsible in the extravagant use of fabric in post-war, recovering Britain.

Padded Shoulders
Pads were sewn inside the shoulder seam of dresses, blouses, jackets and coats to increase the width of the shoulders.  Accentuates the ‘masculinity’ of a feminine style and gives the illusion of a smaller waist.

Picture hats
In 1925 hats with domed crowns and wide brims turned down over the eyes became popular.  Decorated with ribbons and flowers on the left side, they were inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s 18th Century society women.

Potassium Permanganate
Used to stain legs brown to imitate stockings when nylon and silk were diverted in 1941 to make parachutes.  Other alternatives for staining legs were gravy browning, cocoa and calamine lotion. An eyeliner pencil drew a seam at the back.

Fixed allowances of food, clothing and fuel in times of shortage, such as during Wartime or national emergencies.  Controlled by the Government, and ‘de controlled’ on the streets by black marketers.

Students Drawings
Sketches of fashion design ideas, often inspired by study of historic styles, and re-drawn with fresh creativity and enthusiasm.

Tubular Shift
A simple unshaped garment.

Utility Clothing
The Board of Trade introduced a scheme producing clothes using the minimum of fabric and selling at a controlled price.  These were identified by a label ‘CC41’ (Civilian Clothing 1941).  Set patterns had to be used and there was a list of restraints within which dressmakers, tailors and manufacturers had to work.  A dress could have no more than “two pockets, five buttons, six seams in the skirt, two inverted or box pleats, or four knife pleats and 160 inches of stitching”.

1950s to 1990s

From Sophisticate to Style Supermarket

Biba Vamp
Barbara Hulanicki (b.1936) promoted retro styles of the 1920s and 1930s using crêpes in sludgy colours.  She was the founder of the revolutionary Biba boutiques with their dark, casual, Edwardian interiors. Her midi and maxi lines were a reaction to the mini.  The Biba trademark (pallid face with smokey eyes and dark lipstick) became an alternative sixties icon.  A vamp is an unscrupulous, flirtatious woman who exploits men.

Bomber Jacket
Short bloused jacket with multiple pockets, adapted from airforce pilot jackets of the 2nd World War.

Small, own label shops aimed at young people (or wealthy older ones) wanting a more exclusive fashion look.

Relaxed and informal clothing.

Designer Labels
Garments designed by a young, successful and expensive fashion artist, worn for status, signifying wealth.

Full skirt gathered into the waistband.  Originally part of Austrian peasant costume.

Fashions inspired by the everyday and festival wear of interesting and exciting (to the British) cultures of South America, Africa, Middle East, Far East and the Orient.  Mainly natural materials and traditional patterns with magic or symbolic meaning were used.

Ethnic Chic
Taking an aspect of an ethnic culture and making it high fashion.

Fashion Ephemera
Fashion that lasts only for a short time, such as 1970s hot pants.

Originally a scary, horror film look inspired by Count Dracula was taken up by bands like ‘The Sisters of Mercy’.  Followers were called ‘Goths’ and wore black, dyed their hair black and used black make-up on a pale face.

Vibrant clashing and discordant colours, exaggerated ‘art nouveau’ swirls and contemporary ‘op art’ were adapted as textile designs, supposedly influenced by LSD induced drug trips.

Image Conscious
In 1980 there was a big increase in women returning to work, so couples were living on two incomes.  Expensive designer clothes and accessories were being worn as status symbols.  A fashionable job was stockbroking.  ‘Yuppies’ (Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals) were the style leaders.

Originally these were work trousers in 19th Century America, as indigo-dyed blue denim did not show dirt and was very hard wearing.  From the 1950s jeans have been worn as leisure wear and a symbol of fashion rebellion or comment.  Denim is a twill weave fabric with one thread white and the other blue.

Long sleeved, woollen overgarments worn on the top half of the body for warmth.

Laura Ashley Nostalgia
Laura Ashley (1925-1985), a Welsh designer/ manufacturer, introduced country printed cotton clothes, which reflected Victorian and Edwardian styles.  In the early 1980s she used some mixed fibres.  Her designs were often taken from museum sources.

Melting Pot
Drawing ideas from many different cultures as sources of inspiration, and combining them in a coherent seasonal look.

Mini Dress
A very short dress well above the knees.  André Courréges (b.1923) and Mary Quant (b.1943) were regarded as the introducers and popularisers of the mini.

New Romantic
In 1981, Westwood showed a collection called ‘Pirate’.  This consisted of asymmetrical T-shirts, pirate shirts, breeches and baggy, flat-heeled boots.  Pop stars like Adam Ant and Boy George adopted this fashion, which was known as the New Romantic (of the high sea).

Pop Culture
In the 1960s, young people were being influenced by the media and pop music and developed their own fashions.  Groups such as the Beatles had an influence on fashion, with collarless jackets, elastic sided boots and longer, fringed hairstyles.

Post War Optimism
In 1951 the Festival of Britain demonstrated the economic revival of Britain and its confidence for the future.  It showed people at work and play in industry, transport, home life, sport and leisure in a group of specially designed buildings on the South Bank of the Thames, of which the Festival Hall alone remains.

Power Dressing
Highly competitive women influenced by the American soaps like ‘Dallas’ & ‘Dynasty’, adopted the executive look.  Sexy suits (usually skirts not trousers) with very broad shoulders were popular.  Image advisers and style gurus were followed.

Starting around 1976 and centred on anti-establishment, unemployed youngsters and students setting out to shock.  Dress was usually predominantly black, using fabrics like plastic, leather and rubber. Clothes were adorned with a range of zips, safety pins and razor blades.  Bondage trousers were often worn, with a strap joining the knees together.  Vivienne Westwood (b.1941) and Malcolm MacLaren opened a shop in the Kings Road, London, selling punk clothing during the 1970s.

Imitating fashion clothing from the past.

Satin Cocktail Dress
A short evening dress worn for cocktail or dinner parties. Satin is a closely woven fabric with a shiny surface highlighting body contours.  Formerly silk, it can be synthetic.

Space Age
Clothes designed with a futuristic appearance inspired by astronaut’s survival suits. André Courréges (b.1923) became known as the ‘space age’ designer, because of his functional, uncluttered, futuristic designs.  His styles used mini dresses, and trousers cut on the bias, in white trimmed with silver, bright orange, navy and pink.

Sporty Styles
Keeping fit became very fashionable.  Sportswear garments like leggings, sweat tops, track bottoms and trainers became everyday garments, often in fashion colours and technologically advanced materials.

Originally a short, thick-bladed dagger, the stiletto gave its name to a high, thin heel with a core of steel, which originated in Italy in the 1950s.

Close fitting, thin coverings to flatter the legs, made from silk, later nylon, and worn with a suspender belt.  They are available in different weights (deniers), 15 denier being the lightest and 40 denier being the thickest.

Related garments matching to produce an outfit, e.g. jacket, waistcoats, trousers and skirts.  Business or formal wear, flattering to all body shapes.

Suspender Belt
A lingerie, elasticated belt worn around the waist, with suspension tapes and rubber or plastic and metal clips to hold up the stocking by its reinforced top.

Mini (very short) skirts revealed suspenders and stocking tops. Tights (Medieval male legwear), were revived in stretch nylon, either natural or in textured patterns and muted colours.

Egyptian Pharoah of the 18th Dynasty, whose tomb was discovered in 1922 with mummy and gold sarcophagus intact.  His ‘face’ was revived as a fashion motif following a major exhibition at the British Museum in the early 1970s.

Used finishes
From the 1960s to the 1980s newly manufactured jeans were produced to already look faded and worn.  This was achieved by pre-washing the fabric at high temperatures, or tumbling the garments with pumice granules, or spraying with bleach.

Designers such as Laura Ashley promoted a fashion for Victorian romantic fashions with long, sprig printed, smock dresses with crochet and lace trimmings and puffed sleeves.  Genuine Victorian dress items and accessories were also worn.

1800-2000 Women’s Changing Shape

During these 200 years, there has been dramatic change in the shape, materials and underlying messages of women’s clothes due to the social and political evolution in women’s roles.

Children’s and Doll’s Dress
It is interesting to study children’s dress, which was formerly mainly a smaller version of parent’s clothes, and is now a fashion of its own. Doll’s dresses often imitated that of their owners and were used by fashion houses historically, to show clients a model of a new design.

Contemporary Paintings
Contemporary means ‘of the same period’.  We can date costumes from paintings and vice versa, looking at clothes that were worn by different people, observed by the artist as a social commentator.

Dressing Room
Small room attached to the bedroom for dressing or changing clothes. Also found in the theatre.

Historic Dress
Garments and accessories which have survived from the past years. Historic garments can suffer from wear and tear, atmospheric pollution, constant washing, insect and light damage, as well as inherent chemical degradation which can rot older textiles. What survives can be a matter of pure chance, giving an inaccurate view of the past.

Making Dress Sense
Understanding the way that fashion has changed and influences that have made this happen.  Explaining different fabrics and fibres and the fashion terms used by specialists in the study of interpretation of dress.

Middle Class
A class between working class (the poorest people) and upper class (the aristocracy), generally professional people.  It could be further sub-divided into ‘lower middle class’ (tradesmen and clerical workers for instance) and ‘upper middle class’ (like bankers and factory owners).

Photographs and Graphics
Family photographs and social history photographs help us to date costume. Graphics in the form of fashion plates, advertisements in journals, magazines and newspapers are a good source of reference.

Careful storage and display conditions are important to stop historic costumes from deteriorating and to keep them in good condition for as long as possible for the future.

‘The Dress’
‘External covering, outward form’, woman’s or girl’s garment. This item alone gives us clues to the wearer, indicating wealth, social status, age and body type.

Women’s Dress
Women tend to need more clothes than men.  Curators see many more women’s garments and accessories surviving in museums.

This plays a vital role underneath the dress.  It provides a shape and structure for the outer dress.  This has changed considerably over the past 200 years, with underwear becoming lighter and briefer, and body shape itself forming the foundation for clothes.