Fashion in the Wizarding World is primarily static -- that is to say, the changes are in things like trim and color, rather than any real change being present in cut or the actual pieces of clothing. Because of the heavy emphasis on tradition that many pureblooded families posses, there is an official dress of the Wizarding World which has not changed significantly within memory: the robe. The robe is a closed, single piece which varies in cut and fabric based on what it is meant for. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
the movie-created misconception that Wizarding robes are opened in the front with "normal" clothes worn underneath is dispelled when a wizard named Archie at the World Cup refuses to put on trousers instead of his women's nightdress, saying that he "like[s] a healthy breeze 'round [his] privates, thanks." Functionally, robes are like shapeless unisex dresses. They are not particularly fashionable, but because the robe is so traditional no one will be looked down on for wearing one.
Aside from the robe, other staples of Wizarding fashion include tall pointed hats, cloaks, and capes. Hats can be seen both with and without brim and sometimes with decorations such as feathers or stuffed animals on top. Cloaks vary in length, but have hoods; capes are similar to cloaks but without hoods. Cloaks are generally considered to be more practical than capes and are used both for summer and winter wear depending on the weight. Some cloaks have slits for the arms so that one can keep his cloak closed and still use his hands.
The Hogwarts Uniform
The Hogwarts uniform is a good example of the basics of wizarding fashion. The details of the uniform are in Harry's Hogwarts Acceptance Letter, which can be found in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone
1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
4. One winter cloak (black, with silver fastenings)
It should be noted that because everyone has an identical uniform, it is required that students have their names on the tags of their clothing so things do not git mixed up. There are no House indicators of any kind on the uniform. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry and Ron (disguised as Crabbe and Goyle by Polyjuice Potion) see Penelope Clearwater and mistake her for a Slytherin, which would have been impossible if House affiliation was clearly marked on the uniform.
"Excuse me," said Ron, hurrying up to her. "We've forgotten the way to our common room."
"I beg your pardon." said the girl stiffly. "Our common room. I'm a Ravenclaw." She walked away, looking suspiciously back at them.
Paris was the fashion capital of the Western World, and England was close enough to France that what was new in France hit England almost immediately. Locations that were farther from France, such as the Americas, tended to be behind on the current trend because of the time that it took for fashion to cross the Atlantic; figures on how behind vary from a few months to about a year. A character recently arrived from across the Pond might be initially behind on the current fashion trends as well. Catching up would mostly be a matter of having the funding to replace ones wardrobe or redo older dresses with currently fashionable trims. Charles Franklin Worth, an Englishman who relocated to Paris in 1845, was both the first designer to include his name on a label in his designs and the premiere fashion designer up to his death in 1895.
Muggle clothes are fashionable, the current trend. The fashion-conscious watched Parisian Fashion and followed if avidly. However, some more traditional witches and wizards may look down on people who wear "Muggle clothes." Despite this fact, fashion is too prevalent for those few extreme traditionalists to have any real effect.
Women's Fashion 1881 to 1889
In 1881 and 1882, the Muggle world is in the midst of the Natural Form Era. Hoop skirts had been out of style for over a decade, and the flowing empire gowns of the Regency Era even longer than that. A slim silhouette was in style, and the most popular style was the polonaise dress. The following description from Lady LaSalle
captures the feel of the Natural Form Era perfectly:
The dresses were form fitting, and were sometimes worn so close to the body that it actually "hobbled" the wearer preventing them from walking with a normal gait and canter. There were no bustles worn under the dresses but if a lady suffered from a lack of fullness in her posterior, she sometimes may have worn a small bustle pillow or even lined her skirts with net tulle to give the desired illusion.
Examples of Natrual Form Era fashion plates: 1
In 1883, bustles come back with a vengeance as the world moved into the Late Bustle Period. Bustles were larger than they ever had been, and they would stay in fashion until 1889. Lady LaSalle has the following to say on the topic:
The Late Bustle Era is ... characterized by a silouhette with a full posterior, only this time they did it on a grand scale. The Grand bustle was much more pronounced that its cousin in the Early Bustle period. In some images that I have come across, the bustle portion of the skirt sticks out a full 18" from the ladies waist. Yes, you could put a whole tea service back there and still have room! Another fashion tidbit that sets the Late Bustle Era apart from any other is the Flower Pot hats that they ladies wore on their heads. They were formed, literally, by placing a soaked straw or felt hat frame over a flower pot with another pot placed on top to sandwich the frame in between.
Examples of Late Bustle Period fashion plates: 1
Men's Fashion in the 1880s
Men's fashion changed more slowly than women's, and stayed primarily the same throughout the 1880s. Three piece suits (also called ditto suits) were popular, consisting of a sack coat, waistcoat/vest, and trousers for informal occasions. For more formal occasions, a frock coat would replace the sack coat. Dark suits with tails were popular on such occasions. During the day men would wear morning coats. During the winter men wore knee length topcoats or calf-length overcoats, which might be decorated with fur or velvet collars that stood out against the dark background of the coat.
Shirts were stiff, starched, and had folded or wing collars. They would sometimes be decorated with shirt studs on the front as they frequently buttoned in the back. Neckties with the four-in-hand knot and ascots were popular for more casual occasions, but bow ties were a must if things were more formal. White was the most formal color for a bow tie, and sometimes considered to be the only appropriate color for one.
When participating in sporting events or hunting, a man might replace his usual coat with a Norfolk Coat and his long trousers with knickerbockers, which were knee-length and gathered around the top of a man's stockings.
Top hats were popular throughout the entire decade, especially for formal occasions. Other popular hats included the bowler hat, the homburg hat, the deerstalker cap, straw boater hats, and Panama planter's hats.
Examples of Early 1880s fashion plates with men: 1, 2.
Dressing Your Character
If your character is extremely traditional or ignorant of fashion, robes are always a safe choice. Since they range from serviceable work robes (such as the ones in the Hogwarts student uniform) to fancy dress robes, there is one for every occasion. If your character is extremely fashion-conscious, she should always be dressed in the current cuts and colors of Muggle fashion unless a robe is required. For characters who are not at one extreme or the other, mixing Wizarding and Muggle fashion is ideal ... and for the truly eccentric, styles that have been long forgotten are always an option, although they might get ridiculed on both sides for their choices.