Random Writer Tool: 200 Years of Illustrated Women’s Fashion (Historical Fiction)

Illustration showing women clothing fashion examples from 1785-1970, used as a tool for writers of historical fiction

Random Writer Tools: Fashion in Historical Fiction

Writers of historical fiction: rejoice

As a writer, you never know what kind of random tools that you find online will come in handy, and this article from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (“the Met”) is one such example! 

A team of researchers painstakingly reviewed fashion plates, dress patterns, images, and descriptions to compile this comprehensive illustrated timeline of women’s historical fashion from 1784-1970

The timeline includes an example of popular fashion (mostly dress designs) from every year.

Now, if you’re writing a story, book, or script of an event that takes place in the past 200 years or so, you can have a visual example.

The article also gives a brief description of the general fashion trends of each decade, including details like raised or lowered hem lines or waist lines, preference for long or short sleeve lengths, and a notation about hats, bonnets, and head fashion accessories.

Some Drawbacks...

While this illustrated timeline is helpful and certainly a lot of fun(!), it’s important to note that: 

  • This is limited to European and American fashions and does not include examples of fashion trends in other areas of the world.
  • This is also limited by class and most likely depicts the fashion trends of middle-class and upper-class women.
  • Because of that, all illustrations depict upper-middle-class White women.
  • The timeline ends in 1970, at which point, fashion photography and popular media make most fashion research easier.

This article also doesn’t touch on shoes or footwear! But, as this blog discusses, footwear is an important element of fashion in fiction. 

Use the Best Tools for the Best Writing

No matter what genre you write in, you will spend time researching to improve and enhance the accuracy, details, and believability of your writing. Historical fiction presents its own unique challenges, and many writers choose to specialize in one specific historical time period (and location) because of how overwhelming it can be to “live inside” the world you create as a writer. 

The best writers use the best tools, and you never know what will be useful. Hopefully, historical fiction writers find this illustrated fashion timeline one of the tools worth saving for later. 

Editor of Historical Fiction

Editor Cortni Merritt enjoys editing historical fiction from a variety of time periods! Interested in a beta read, line edit, or proofread for your historical fiction? Let’s talk! 

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