With few major exceptions, the process of fashion evolution tends to be gradual and it doesn’t always happen evenly or in a straight-forward manner. In fact, much of the dating used in fashion history tends to be arbitrary and represented more of an approximation than a precise moment when a fashion changed. During the late 19th century, fashion change came at a much slower pace than what we’re used to today in an era of fast fashion and social media and sometimes it defies neat categorization.
In our last installment, we attempted to identify some signs that the shift from the bustle silhouette to something different was happening in the years from 1889 through 1890 but our conclusions are by no means the only ones possible. Our goal is to shine a light on some of the more obscure aspects of late 19th Century fashion and provide a starting point for further study. With that, let’s proceed… 🙂
As the 1890s moved on, the bustle had almost disappeared except for perhaps a small pad in some instances. Essentially, the basic silhouette was taking on a more upright appearance with an emphasis on a less structured flowing skirt ending in a narrow waistband. Moreover, as the 1890s progressed, we being to see the emergence of the “wasp waist” silhouette where the skirt and the bodice were emphasized while the waist was minimized, an effect achieved through corseting; the iconic leg of mutton sleeves contributed to this by emphasizing the upper torso.
This style began to manifest itself by 1892 and here are a few examples or at least the idealized version:
The above fashion plates pretty much capture the shift in styles during the early to mid 1890s characterized by a narrow waist and exaggerated fullness to the skirt and bodice. The full upper sleeves (often termed gigot or leg of mutton sleeves) also served to emphasize the bodice size and these came in a variety of shapes and configurations. Compared to the 1880s, 1890s style seemed to be relative unstructured with flowing skirts and seeming emphasis on a free-flowing “natural form.”
The fashion plate below provides an excellent visual summary of the early to mid 1890s silhouette where we see a narrow “wasp waist” combined with a voluminous skirt and bodice: broadly speaking, the silhouette was now of an “X” shape.
When viewing these fashion plates, it would seem that dresses had become more loose (i.e. natural) with much less of the sculpted structure that characterized the 1880s. However, 1890s style was just as structured but in a different way. Whereas the 1880s skirts were characterized by draping and bustled trains, 1890s skirts were characterized by gored skirts that were wide at the bottom and culminated in a narrow waist, emphasizing free movement. To balance the wide skirts, bodices were also cut full. Of course, there was a variety in the individual details but the ultimate silhouette was still there.
Fashion plates can be informative but only go so far in helping to understand style. As with the 1870s and 80s, there were several basic styles that could be worked in a seemingly infinite combination of fabrics and trims. As with all late 19th Century styles, while the overall silhouette tended to remain the same, choices in fabrics, cut, and trim often varied, ranging from the very plain and utilitarian to the elaborate on a scale suitable for the most formal of day affairs.
Below are a few different examples:
Naturally, the one is first attracted by the striking effects of the silk overskirt with its pattern of waving stripes in light and dark gray (or light and dark silver, depending on your interpretation); it’s an incredible weave. What is also interesting is the juxtaposition of velvet sleeves and collar and bodice trim, all in brown- you have the cold grays combined with a warm brown. The center is the bodice is a bit busy with a lace front but is framed by more light gray silk that matches the light gray stripes. Finally, the bullion soutache adds further embellishment that further adds to the dress’s overall effect. The use of fabrics and trim all combine to create a three-dimensional effect of various textures.
In terms of silhouette perspective, the use of the over and under skirt combination would seem to be a throw-back to the 1880s (it wasn’t for the the sleeves and bodice which are definitely characteristic of the 1890s). It’s an interesting anomaly and one can see a few examples in fashion plates- perhaps this is more of a transitional style but definitely not the norm.
Now for a something more plain:
1890s style for day dresses was often relatively simple with little trim and often monochromatic. Here we see a more developed set of gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves, narrow waist and full, untrained skirt with multiple gores. The bodice is designed to mimic the waist and jacket combination only all in one color.
Finally, here’s another common style based on the jacket/waist combination:
Here are a few more views:
The walking suit was a popular style and features a wool check pattern skirt and outer jacket combined with a navy blue waist complemented with wide lapels in the same color. Often, the jacket featured wide lapels which carried over in to the early 1900s, the lapels growing even more extravagant in size.
From the above examples and those in the previous post, we can see the emergence of the classic wasp waist or “X” silhouette of the Mid-1890s. In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look of this classic 1890s style and especially the “leg-of-mutton” sleeve style so stay tuned. 🙂