What Was the Standard Fashion for Steamboat Passengers?

The steamboat era in the United States started in 1787 in Philadelphia. It was during the time when John Fitch made the first successful trial of a 45-foot or 14-meter steamboat on August 22, 1787, on the Delaware River. Present in that trial were the members of the United States Constitutional Convention. Eventually, many different types and designs of steamboats have emerged and were used for transportation.

This era had changed the way trades were carried out to different parts of the world. It also began before other forms of transportation were invented, including trains and automobiles. It was the only mode of transportation that connected different places in the world and kept the trade going. Its invention was a blessing to the world as it completely changed the viewpoint of how trade and transportation were carried out in the world. 

Like with other forms of economic change, the use of steamboats also affected the lives of people. And one of the vital things that adapt quickly to different social and economic changes is fashion. This means that during the steamboat era, the styles and attires of people took a turn. If you want to learn more about this, read on as we’re going to tell you more about the standard fashion for steamboat passengers. 

What Women Wore in Steamboats

For many years, the royal courts of Europe set the standards of fashion. Before, women wore panniers as part of their undergarments, as these were used to hold the skirts out from both sides. However, this did not continue when the steamboat era came. In fact, they disappeared entirely by the 1780s from all the formal attires. Women still wore formal skirts and dresses, but panniers were rare. They considered wearing hip pads instead at formal court functions to enhance their flowy dresses and skirts. 

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France before everything changed, was also among the biggest impact in the fashion styles during the steamboat era. She was naturally a rebel, and it was reflected in her fashion etiquettes and styling during the era. She avoided the formal court life and changed the common style. Her style made the vast line of difference between noblewomen and peasant girls decline. She did not use corsets, panniers, and silky robes. She also introduced wearing white muslin chemise daily for noblewomen, which became a huge trend. 

Here are the pieces of clothing that women wore in steamboats:


During the steamboat era, it was popular for women to wear a steep-neck gown that draped over the petticoat. In France, it was also known as a robe. These gowns have an opening in front to show the petticoat. They also featured lacy corners or hooks to keep it together in front, while the petticoat can be seen a bit through the slit. Other styles of gowns worn by steamboat passengers were more fitted with black pleats continuing to make them look ruffled. 

Jacket and Redingotes

Women in steamboats also wore jackets and redingotes, especially those who belonged in the working class. It is composed of a jacket and petticoat made using a delicate fabric. It also had elbow-length sleeves that fitted tightly. There was also a custom-made jacket worn, which borrowed some cuts and designs from men’s coats. It was also paired with a high neck shirt, a petticoat, a waistcoat, and a large hat. However, many women found it difficult to carry the dress around. This was why the jacket and waistcoat were sewn together with the petticoat. 

Shoes and Accessories

Back in the 18th century, stylish footwear was worn. These included curved heels sewn using leather or other fabric. Shoe buckles were also very popular. However, when the French revolution ended, high-heeled shoes were no as longer popular as well as the buckles from the aristocratic fashion. 

What Men Wore in Steamboats

Most of the inspiration for the stylish fashion of men during the steamboat era came from England. When you ride steamboats back then, you will notice men wearing frock coats, riding boots, and jockey hats. It was the usual Englishman attire that became popular around France. During this time, men were obsessed with being dressed like English countrymen. 

The use of embroidered waistcoats and lace coats became outdated, even though they were a significant part of Frenchmen’s style. However, even with all the English countrymen inspirations, the Frenchmen preferred bold and lively patterned clothes compared to simple ones.


Back then, we could tell that people were indeed into fashion even when boarding steamboats. The era may not be a huge turning point for the fashion that late came and removed the line between peasants and aristocrats, but it was still a start of an era. During this time, noblemen and women loved to show off their wealth through the clothes and accessories that they wore. We hope this helped you learn more about the standard fashion for steamboat passengers. If you want to learn more about fashion, you can also read our post about the history of belts.