What Was the Class System like in Victorian England? A guest post by Richard Morrison
During the Victorian era, society was mainly categorized in a hierarchy system. The Upper Class sat at the top, followed by the Middle Class, and with the Low Class or the Working Class at the bottom. This division was decided by wealth, power, and authority.
People belonging to the Upper Class inherited their wealth from their previous generations. They did not have to or even consider working for generations to come.
The Middle Class was rich as well. Their wealth was usually hard earned and not inherited, and led prosperous lives.
The Working Class, however, lived a pretty rough life. They had to work every day and were paid significantly less on an hourly or daily basis.
Their wealth determined their lifestyle. The Upper Class had the most lavish lifestyle with all the luxuries in the world. The middle class also had a great lifestyle with little to no worries.
On the other hand, the Working class had to work for their everyday food, and any other luxury was far from their imagination.
Victorian era fashion was also very peculiar. The Victorian era dresses were usually light colored with massive sleeves, cinched in at the waist by a corset and a large skirt. The rich wore multilayered garments, whereas the poor could not afford such a luxury.
The Victorian era witnessed the social mobility fluctuate from the monarchy to democracy. It elevated from only the rich being able to cast votes to every man having the right to vote.
Class systems and their lifestyles
The upper class was typically the aristocrats, royal families, Lords and Ladies, and Dukes and Duchesses. They inherited all their wealth from their previous generations, and most of them were business owners with large-scale mining and shipping industries.
Most of them hardly worked or even considered working. They lived a grand and luxurious life with access to the finest food, clothing, jewels, and education.
The boys were sent to boarding school to learn the ways to run the family business. In contrast, the girls received education from the governess along with learning etiquette and mannerism suitable for their status.
Initially, the Middle Class was made up of very few families. Most of the people from this class were doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and bankers.
The Middle Class were wealthy as well; however, their wealth came from their profession and was earned, unlike the Upper Class.
With the industrial revolution came about change with an increment of job opportunities. This resulted in a more Middle-Class population and better earnings.
Most of them were merchants with their own ships to take goods made in Britain to India and trade them for Indian goods like tea, coffee, and spices. They brought back these goods and sold them in Britain.
Their children went to boarding schools to learn how to run the family business.
The Working Class consisted of laborers, servants, fishermen, and mine workers. They were paid significantly less and on an hourly or a daily basis. It was barely enough for their everyday survival, let alone any other entertainment.
Most of them lived in rented houses, with sometimes an entire family living in a small room. If the break owner got sick or died, the whole family was forced to live on the streets due to their poor economy. Sometimes, women and children also had to work to increase their family income.
Education was a luxury for them; however, some farmers thought providing education to both their sons and daughters would be helpful. They were sent to hostels made for farmers while they got their education.
They had no say or even awareness about the political affairs of their country and lived a poor life.
The Working Class was further categorized into Skilled Workers and Unskilled Workers. During the Industrial Revolution, the skilled workers could get decent jobs according to their skills, whereas the unskilled workers couldn't get any jobs, further pushing them into poverty.
Social status of women and child labor
Previously, Britain was a strongly male-dominated society. The role of a woman was to take care of their house and children and obey the man in every decision he made.
After the Industrial Revolution, this traditional pattern changed. Women were given opportunities to partake in work and earn money. This allowed them to earn money and share the workload, giving them a sense of security.
They were free from only looking after their house and children and also contributed to dividing large families into nuclear families.
However, child labor was a serious issue during the Victorian era. They had large families, and hence, the working class could not suffice the family's basic needs. Hence, their kids were forced to work in order to maintain the most basic lifestyle.
The children were underpaid, so it hardly brought any ease to the family income. Child labor, especially in coal mines, was brutal. The kids were required to work 12 to 18 hours a day. Since the mines were full of rats and poor ventilation, the children suffered various diseases, increasing mine casualties.
Vestiges of old and new Social mobility
The Victorian era ran through monarchy. They also had a parliament consisting of The House of Lords, whose members were not elected by public voting but by the Lord Chancellor. However, public voting was responsible for the members of the House of Commons.
Most of the votes were cast by the Upper Class and the Middle class. They had the right to vote and were informed about various political affairs.
However, the Working class was unaware of political issues and was not allowed to participate in any political activities. They were not considered important enough to know or get involved in the politics of the country at all.
There were essentially two leading political parties: the Whigs and the Tories. The Whigs were against royal power. They believed every man had the right to vote to elect members of the parliament.
Meanwhile, the Tories supported the monarchy. It consisted of wealthy officials in high authority who were against everyone being able to cast a vote. They believed only the wealthy and affluent people should cast a vote.
By 1884, everyone got the right to cast votes, and later in 1918, women over thirty years old could partake in voting as well. The rise in the concept of liberalism, abolition of slavery, working-class activism, and nationalization of Conservative (Tories) and Liberal (Whigs) were some of the important political changes that took place during this period in the British Empire.
Fashion in the Victorian Era
Clothing was a significant measure of one's status. The most respectable people wore the most stylish garments made of finest fabrics and embellishments. Fashion was noticed and acceptable more than intelligent conversations in any social setting for a lady.
A typical fine dress would consist of a huge sleeve, a tightly fitted corset around the waist, and a voluminous skirt. The ladies from respectable families represented themselves as modest and laidback with a movement restricting shoulder lines and corsets.
Their evening dresses exposed their shoulders and neckline, and the corset synched their waist for a tiny waist appearance. Soft-colored fabrics were preferred during this era.
As for their hair, the women in the Victorian era had long hair tied up in a bun with curls hanging on both sides of the head.
They accessorized their hairstyle with bonnets- either plain or heavily ornamented. Hair extensions and artificial flowers and butterflies were also used to accessorize.
The women preferred their makeup to be very minimalistic. They showed off their pale skin and sometimes smudged their cheeks with rouge. Make-up was used mostly by the people working in the theater business.
For mourning, women had to wear all black for two and a half years. During the last six months, women were allowed to wear shades of white, gray, and purple.
Boots were very popular footwear for both men and women during the Victorian era. The boots were laced in the front with pearl buttons. Later, they started contrasting the color of their boots with the color of their dress fabrics.
The Victorian era was pretty famous for having birds on their hats. From the feathers of the birds to actual birds on their hats, the demand for such accessories increased during this period.
The rich often wore layered clothes with intricate designs; however, fashion was merely an option for the poor. The same went on for the children as well.
The Victorian era was a pleasant time ruled by Queen Victoria. The class system was defined by the wealth and power of a person. It was classified into the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Working Class.
The Upper Class inherited their wealth from their ancestors and did not have to work to live a luxurious life. They experienced the finest of everything and were accessible to the most lavish lifestyle.
The Middle class was rich as well and added up their riches by working. They had a pleasant life as well and had a good lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the Working Class had a very rough life. They worked every day to sustain the most basic life. Luxury was not an option for them. Sometimes, their entire family, including the women and children, had to work to increase their family income.
There were two parties in the Victorian era- namely the Tories and the Whigs. The Tories were in solid support of monarchy and believed not everyone should be allowed to cast a vote. The Whigs were against monarchy and believed that every man had the right to vote.
As for the dressing styles, the women mostly wore huge gowns with tight corsets and massive sleeves. Their social status was distinguished by the material of fabric used and embellishments. Similarly, the rich wore clothes with multiple layers, whereas the poor could not afford such styles.
The Victorian era, in general, was an iconic era that saw both a righteous monarchy as well as a liberated society. The Industrial Revolution contributed massively to this transition.