Gift of Lee Simonson, 1938 (C.I.38.23.56)
By the 1850s, the ballooned sleeve had disappeared completely, as had any hint of women's feet. The waistline was finally at its natural position, emphasized somewhat by a corset but even more so by the expanding base of the skirt. Still supported by corded petticoats, the skirts of the early 1850s were often pleated or gauged at the waist, rather than gathered. This allowed the same amount of fabric in a smaller space and gave the waist a more narrow appearance. Despite the abandonment of wide, supported sleeves, the upper torso is still open due to the shoulders being held low by corset straps.
The vogue for tartanlike plaids, whether or not with clan associations, was fueled by the affection Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had for Scottish dress, the Highlands, and Balmoral, their Scottish retreat. But for all the ostensible historicism implicit in the wearing of the plaid, its bold colors were the result of the invention of chemical dyes in the mid-1850s.