When it comes to Victorian Era fashion and especially fashion of the period from 1870 through 1900, people have the idea that a dress with more trim and accents (i.e., “bling”) makes for a more elegant and opulent dress. However, this is not always the case and sometimes too much trim and accents can have the opposite effect with the end result being a mish-mash of details that ultimately do nothing towards creating a unified style or “look.” In some cases, we see little more than a fashion trainwreck.
However, this wasn’t always the case and often designers utilized more simple designs, relying on the use of the fashion fabric alone to achieve results. One example of this can be found with this 1880s dress designed by Emile Pingat that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:
According to the website, the dress is from the 1880s and we suspect that it was made sometime in the mid-1880s. Also, although the dress is described as having both a “day bodice” and a ballgown bodice, there was no picture of the ballgown bodice thus at a minimum, this dress was probably meant as a visiting or reception dress. However, that said, our interest is that there is no trim on this dress and it only uses the fashion fabric itself.
The vertical stripes serve to accentuate the length of the dress and give a nearly cylindrical appearance. Also, at the bottom, we see two layers of narrow knife pleating separated by ruching, all from the same fabric. Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the dress from the direct front and it’s hard to get a full idea of the bodice’s appearance but it’s evident that the strips on the fabric do accentuate the curves of the bodice. Although this dress looks fairly “plain,” the manipulation of the fashion alone does the work and gives the dress an overall sense of aesthetic uniformity. In short, “less is more”.
And here’s a view of the hem detail:
Now, admittedly, aesthetics and style are a very subjective matter and we all have our preferences but nevertheless, we see that designers utilized various methods to achieve their visions. While unfortunately we do not have a formal treatise on Emile Pingat’s design philosophy, it’s evident that he was flexible in his approach.
Many of Pingat’s designs involved clean lines and the use of the fashion fabric as the central focus. Here is another example that’s perhaps a bit more elaborate than the above example but still exhibits the same characteristics:
What’s interesting here is that like this first dress above, Pingat uses only two colors as a combination only this time there are two separate fabrics, blue silk and white silk.
For a bit of contrast, let’s take a look at this reception dress from circa 1874:
In many respects, this dress is a precursor for the above two from the 1880s in that we see a blue and white striped silk overskirt combined with a solid blue silk underskirt and bodice. Also, we see white lace trim used to edge the overskirt and trim the bodice cuffs and front. Finally, we see white silk used along the hem and part of the underskirt for contrast. While we would expect an early 1870s to be somewhat elaborate with several layers of draped fabric, it’s sill relatively simple for the period.
Perhaps we’re reaching here a bit but it’s still interesting to consider the idea that Pingat tended to be more restrained in his designs and that he was firmly in the center- being neither too fashion forward or too regressive. Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion through some of Pingat’s designs. 🙂