There was a whole range of eveningwear depending on the occasion and the age of the woman. The dress worn to a grand dinner was different from a ball gown, and the attire for an opening night at the Opera was nothing like the clothes worn to a late-afternoon theatre production, which a woman might attend wearing her town clothes and a hat.
Dresses for dinner and for the theatre usually had a higher neckline and did not reveal the shoulders, which were covered by richly adorned three quarter sleeves. A typical feature of these dresses was the difference between the front and the back: drapery drew in the skirt at the front, while a train bordered with flounces opened out behind. From 1867-1868 onwards it was considered elegant to let the skirts trail along the floor.
For balls and evenings at the Opera, dresses had low, off-the-shoulder necklines, and elaborate hairstyles were adorned with jewellery or flowers. These dresses had to be silk, but there was a great variety ranging from tulle and tarlatan to the heavy figured silks and velvets. The fabrics could be combined, and ribbons, lace flounces, ruching and ruffles added for certain styles. But the fabric alone, with its patterns and texture, could also ensure that a dress was original, even more so as two types of material were often used, one with a figured weave and one velvet, in contrasting colours or in different shades of the same colour.
A woman's silhouette during the 1870s was influenced by two accessories: the corset, which drew in the waist and accentuated the bosom, and the bustle, which supported the looped up sides of the "polonaises" on the hips. o protect against painful whalebone marks, a woman would first slip on a sleeveless chemise over which she put the busk of the corset, fastening it at the front with hooks and eyes, before pulling the laces tight at the back, tying them in front, and then slipping them under the large hook sewn into the bottom of the corset to prevent the laces and petticoats from riding up.
She then put on a linen corset cover, and pulled on stockings held up by garters at knee height. She would then put on a pair of linen knickers, a horsehair or whalebone bustle, and finally a petticoat with drawstrings and flounces to support the skirt.