The 63 year reign of Britain's Queen Victoria gave rise to three distinct periods of fashion, often mirroring the life and times of the Queen herself.
The Romantic Period lasted from 1837 to 1861. Queen Victoria was, at the time, a style-conscious young monarch and a wife and mother who was deeply in love with her husband. It is said she adored jewelry! Full-skirted, long-sleeved dresses were worn with petticoats and often featured lace collars. For the younger and more daring, low-cut, wide necklines were the style. Bonnets covered the hair by day.
When Prince Albert died suddenly in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning, and the world and it's fashions went with her. This launched the Grand period, which lasted until around 1880. Black came in vogue, but styles made up in "fru fru" what they lacked in color, as skirts took on hoops, crinolines, trains, bustles, ruffles and fringe! In 1856, the first synthetic dye was developed -initially in mauve, leading to a plethora of purple clothing. Bright colors became popular through the 1870's. Jewelry was worn in abundance, even by working-class women.
The final period of the Victorian era, the Aesthetic period, lasted from the 1880's until Victoria's death in 1901. Fashions of this era were influenced not by the queen herself, but by her young daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra. Clothing became less frilly, lighter fabrics replaced heavy velvets. Lace, "leg-o-mutton" and balloon sleeves, and high, tight collars were typical. As clothing grew simpler, hats blossomed into huge, extravagant affairs. The modest bonnet was replaced by wide brimmed hats, resplendent with feathers, lace, ribbons, flowers and bows. These weighty contraptions were, by necessity, secured to the head by long, decorative hat pins!