1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 3

The high 1890s- that period from 1895 through 1896 when enormous gigot sleeves, acres of lace, and multi-gored skirts ruled the fashion world and evening wear was no exception. In this post, we continue our survey of 1890s evening wear with a focus on ballgowns in particular; also, as noted in the last post, in the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeves trend also affected evening wear but to not as great extent as was the case with day wear.

So, what was the mid-1890s ballgown like? Here’s a brief description from the September 14, 1895 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

To approach the new. ball dress from a technical standpoint is to talk at once of the cut or its skirt. ‘Tis sliced out of taffeta in two straight front and three wedge-shaped back pieces, for in these days of undivided skirt patterns all the fullness goes to the rear. Underneath it Is braced by a lining of stiffly starched muslin and inside up to the knees are mewed a great many overlapping flounces of silk muslin edged with lace or rows of little variegated palettes.

As was the case for daywear, the basic style centered around creating an “X” or hourglass silhouette through a combination of corsetry, gored skirts, and wedge-shaped tops. Gigot sleeves helped accentuate the top but they were used in varying amounts of fullness and in some instances were minimal such as with these examples:

Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1895 Worth

Worth, Evening Gown, c. 1895; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2003.288.1-2)

Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1895 Worth

Ball Gown Jeanne Paquin 1895

Jeannie Paquin, Ballgown, c. 1895; Staatliche Museen Berlin (2003,KR 424 a-c)

Evening Dress Ball Gown 1897 Worth

Worth, Evening Dress, 1897; Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation via Europeana (2006.6.0416)

And now for some with more elaborate sleeve treatments:

Evening Dress c. 1895

Evening Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.59a, b)

We would be inclined to say that the above dress is more of an evening dress than a ballgown but sometimes the dividing line can be fluid. And here’s a ballgown with a bit more sleeve:

Evening Gown Ball Gown Worth c. 1896 - 1897

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeana Fashion

Doucet Ballgown 1897

Doucet, Ballgown, 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (49.3.26a, b)

From most of the extant examples, it would appear that when it came to mid-1890s ballgowns, their design pretty much followed the general trends of the time with the exception that the sleeves which tended to not be as extreme as was found with daywear. On the other hand, evening gowns (a more general term for dresses that were worn for formal occasions other than balls) tended towards daywear in sleeve style. In the end, it’s logical that ballgowns would diverge some from sheer practicality:- ballgowns placed an emphasis on bare arms and a low cut bodice (a continuation of the earlier 1870s and 80s style), and gigot sleeves worked against this.

It’s easy to get lost in all the details and that especially with evening wear. In the next installment, we’ll delve more into the late 1890s. Stay tuned!

(To Be Continued…)


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