The years 1850-1870 are often referred to as the Crinoline Period, and include the Civil War, which took place 1861-1865. The period derived its name from the cage crinoline, a flexible understructure of whalebone or steel hoops, which replaced the heavy layers of petticoats previously required to achieve the desired fullness of skirts. Heavy weight materials also helped emphasize the fullness of skirts. This fullness gradually became concentrated more towards the back in the 1860s, transitioning into the bustle of the 1870s and 1880s.

The fashionable silhouette of the period was accentuated a narrow waist by the use of very full skirts, a fitted bodice, and dropped shoulders. Popular sleeve styles included the pagoda sleeve, a sleeve which flares out into a full bell shape, the gathered bishop sleeve, and the coat sleeve, which was similar to those of men’s coats. Decorative under-sleeves were also commonly worn.  High necklines were common for day, while evening gowns often had low necklines or were off the shoulder. The sewing machine allowed more decorative effects to be used in dress, and new aniline dyes allowed brighter shades to be used in women’s dress.

Wraps continued to be worn for outerwear, and the shawl became another popular choice. Accessories of the period included parasols, gloves, elaborate bonnets tied under the chin with ribbons, and snoods.