10 Ways Victorians Managed to Stay Cool Without A/C

Victorian ladies fashion is often characterized as ornate and covering the whole body. For men, it was formal and rigid.

We know from period paintings, fashion plate illustrations, and photographs that Victorians wore multiple layers of clothing, even during the summer months.

Women would often wear up to five layers—petticoats, corsets, and chemises worn under gowns, with various accessories such as shawls, gloves, and hats to complete the ensemble.

The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting
The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter 1855
Too Early by James Tissot 1873
Too Early by James Tissot 1873

Fashion Plate August 1865
Fashion Plate August 1865

Ladies' dresses from 1870-1875
Ladies’ dresses from 1870-1875. The ladies are both wearing hoop-skirted gowns of the post-Civil War period. The woman at left is wearing a ribboned bonnet, while the other has an elaborate hat to match the patterned silk of her gown. A long cape falls from the shoulders of the first, while a shawl lies nearby the second. The solid, dark-colored dress of the first woman is heavily contrasted with the patterned dress of the second woman.

Men also had to wear several garments including wool pants, suit coats, waistcoats, ties and long sleeved shirts. Top hats were generally worn by upper class gentlemen and bowler hats by the working class.

Victorian Gentlemen
Victorian Gentlemen from 1840s through 1880s.
Group of men posing for a portrait c1890
A group of men posing for a portrait c.1890, all wearing 3-piece suits.

Victorian women and men continued to wear multiple layers of clothing through the summer months, albeit often made from more lightweight fabrics.

So the big mystery is how did they keep cool?

Here are 10 ways Victorians managed to beat the heat.

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