Black- Not Just For Mourning

Mourning wear was a major element of Victorian clothing, governed by elaborate protocols that dictated style, color, and material. Naturally, the use of the color black was central in mourning wardrobes and early on, the color was for the most part co-opted for this express purpose. However, by the end of the 19th Century, we see some relaxation of the “rules” and the color black started to make it’s appearance in more everyday wear and especially with evening wear. Below is just one example that was created by the House of Worth sometime in the 1897 to 1899 time frame:

Worth Evening Gown c. 1897-99

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1897 – 1899; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy (00000113)

Worth Evening Gown c. 1897-99

Three-Quarter Rear View

The use of the term “evening gown” is a bit misleading in that this dress would have worked either as an evening dress (any event that was not a ball) or a ballgown. The sleeves are relatively restrained, lacking the gigot silhouette. The bodice has a deep wasp-waist and the skirt has a minimal train. Although it’s hard to see with the lighting, the skirt front is decorated in two patterns of jet beading using a vine motif. For the skirt back,  we see beading on an overlayer of net. The bodice front is also decorated with floral bead patterns that extent to the neck line. Along the front neckline, the black fabric has been cut out so as to create the appearance of leaves rising up on their own combined with a lighter silk/net inset. To complete the look, there’s a strip of ivory/cream lace running along the rear neckline.  Overall, the beaded black fashion fabric combined with artful cutting has created a very dramatic effect using a minimum of color- this dress definitely depended on the ambient light to create its effect.

As with many of the examples we find online, there always seems to be a lack of information and close-up pictures. We would have been very interested in seeing the details of the beadwork and the bodice inset panels. So, there it is- black can be used in ways that are by no means limited to mourning so why not give it a try? 🙂

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