When writing contemporary or fantasy books, dress can pretty much be whatever the author wishes. This is not not the case with historicals. Both men and women had certain characteristic garb, which related to class as well as location. Wealthier women were more bound by the styles of their times, whereas, poorer women were lucky to have clothing that held together and looked clean. How much of the bust was shown also varied with period of time, community, and styles.
an historical, the consideration of what class the woman is in (true
for men to some degree also) as well as where she lives has to be a
consideration in the descriptions of her garments. Some writers go into
extensive descriptions of the gowns while others provide only a few
notes. Readers also vary as to their preference for these kind of
as we do today where any length or style seems to go, it's hard to
remember back even to my youth when a hem had to be a certain length or
it was out of style. Being out of style didn't just matter to the
wealthy back then but to the middle economic classes. I found this article useful in understanding how the bustle came to be and was modified through the years.
Covers are one of the main places where, if the heroine is on the cover, her garb better suit her time period and class.
Put a country gal in an expensive looking satin gown and it misleads
the reader. The more knowledgeable readers will also know if a certain
style is wrong for say 1880 Kansas. I don't think there has ever been a
time with more knowledgeable readers in terms of historic details.
Historic romances are not intended to be non-fiction, but they do have
to have the feel of the period in which they are set and dress is part
describing a character, I am always torn as to how much time to give
her garments. Clothing can be revealing. Does she like dressing up? How
complicated is it for her to put this dress on? Does she dress for
herself or others? Her garb also defines where she fits into her
community. She might delight in being scandalous. If she throws on what
is convenient and clean but doesn't care much what it looks like, that
reveals character as would it if her concern is matching shoes, dress,
and hat. If she wears pants when it's totally not the 'thing' to do, it
gives more clues to her character.