And Now For Something From Charles Frederick Worth…

And today we bring you a little eye-candy from one of the leading Couturiers of the 19th Century, Frederick Charles Worth. As no doubt many of you know, Worth was one of the first Couturiers or designers in the modern sense of the word and gave rise to Haute Couture as we know it today. Although Worth would design individual creations for clients, his primary modus operandi was have his models parade a series of predefined dresses for a client from which the client would make their choice. Trim, colors, fabrics, and even some construction elements might vary but the basic underlying structural design would remain unchanged. Essentially, what the client chose was something that was within a range of styles that were presented to them.

It is also said that Worth deliberately arranged things so that similar dress designs were sold only to clients that were located in different geographic regions so as to minimize the chance that two women would show up at the same affair wearing the same or similar dresses (something to be avoided at all costs). By utilizing this method, Worth was able to give the appearance that each client had bought a unique one-of-a-kind dress but in reality, the selection was based on a relatively narrow range of choices. In many respects, this is way cars (both mass market and high end) are sold today.

Below is a day dress that was designed circa 1890 – 1893 for Katherine Helena (August 2, 1851 – April 4, 1933), Lady Lloyd of the Bronwydd Castle and estate Cardiganshire, whose husband was Sir Marteine Owen Mowbray Lloyd. On June 24, 2014, this dress sold for £6,000 at auction.

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Close-up of the front of the bodice. The faux button-fronted waistcoat panels can barely be seen behind the goffered ivory chiffon.

The dress is constructed from bottle green/teal brocade silk satin with Jacquard-woven black plume repeats. The bodice itself of a basque style, covering the hips and with the front extending further down than the back panels which were intended for wear with a bustle. The bodice and skirt have inset faux button-fronted waistcoat panels made from silk ivory satin framed by ivory chiffon that has been goffered (crimped).  Worth_Green Dress6

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The above views of the back of the bodice provides an excellent opportunity to see the plume design of the fashion fabric at its best. One can see that the bodice was carefully matched when the panels were pieced together during construction.

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Interior view- The lining is an ivory satin (presumably silk)

From the interior view, it appears that the interior was lightly boned, a construction method that helped to define the bodice’s shape.

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The sleeve styling is reminiscent of the Renaissance, especially in the faux slashing. The sleeves exhibit just a hint of the leg-of-mutton style that was to emerge full-blown during the mid- 1890s.

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The inner skit is lined with starched muslin back panels and there are internal ties that allow the bustle frame to be securely attached to the skirt. Also, the skirt hem is weighted with large lead weights to keep the skirt in place.

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The Worth Label- Attached to one of the waist stays on the bodice.

The above dress is a stunning example of Worth’s work. However, it must be noted that although the auction website claims that this dress dates from sometime from 1890 to 1893, it appears to be closer to the late 1880s in style. The bustle, of course, is the biggest indicator of this, along with the basque-style bodice that is longer in the front and shorter in the rear so as to allow for the train created by the bustle effect.

However, at the same time it could be argued that the “open” bodice with faux waistcoat panels is a style characteristic to the 1890s along with the Renaissance style wide sleeve caps. Below is an example that is similar in terms of the open bodice trimmed with goffered chiffon on each edge.

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Evening Dress, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.838a–c)

And another, from 1899:

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Wedding Dress, 1899; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.309, A to B-1982)

So, in the end, it’s the presence of the bustle that firmly places this dress somewhere in the late 1880s or perhaps in the early 1890s (wearing slightly out of date clothing is nothing new either now or back in the 19th Century for both rich and not-so-rich people). Unfortunately for us, the auction site was not able to provide a more specific date as to when this dress was actually constructed nor are there any contemporary photos of the Lady Lloyd wearing the dress so we’re working a bit off of conjecture here. The answer may be out there somewhere and of course we could simply be wrong but I doubt it.

In the end, we have to conclude that from a style perspective, this dress is of a transitional style and give that Lady Lloyd was in her early 40s when this dress was made, it would come as no surprise if she had wanted a dress on the conservative side.

Finally, I leave you with this from 1886, a bit early for the above analysis but yet is has a faux waistcoat…it just goes to show that fashion can not always be neatly pigeonholed. 🙂

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Day Dress, American, 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.47.76.12a–e)

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