We began our first full day in Bath with a trip to the Fashion Museum Bath for a special viewing some select items from the museum’s collection. First up, is this evening dress/day dress made by the House of Worth either in the early or late 1890s (the official date is 1890). We’ll start with some general views:
For some basic details, the dress appears to be constructed from a black silk velvet with a lighter gray floral pattern created by burning out the velvet (or so it would seem). Supplementing the floral pattern decoration on the bodice are crystals (probably Swaroviski since they were a major supplier to Worth). The official date on this dress is 1890 but to us, there may be some play in the dating- it’s hard to determine the precise silhouette since this dress is not on a mannequin but our best estimate is either early or late 1890s since the sleeves are relatively restrained, lacking the gigot sleeves characteristic of the mid-1890s. Of course, we could be wrong and if so, we graciously concede. 🙂
So far, this dress seems fairly conventional within the range of Worth and we guess that this is either a better afternoon/receiving dress or even a reception dress (probably less likely). However, once we we were able to get a better view of the skirt, the beauty of the dress was revealed:
The front of the skirt is divided by a black silk velvet panel running down the front with a string of decorative flowers running down the center. Below is a close-up of the flowers:
The flowers themselves are created by long metallic beads combined with ribbon. If you look closely around the flowers, you will notice what appears to be white spots or collections of lint; but they’re not. Actually, these are discolored worn down spots in the velvet plush where the beads had pressed down hard into the velvet. It appears that this dress was stored folded up for a long time. Now, here’s a view of the back of the skirt which really shows off the decorative pattern. Notice how it grows as it gets towards the hem. The skirt, incidentally, appears to be either a five or seven-gored single skirt characteristic of the 1890s.
Here’s some more close-up views of the burnt velvet itself:
This picture is especially interesting in that is shows that the floral pattern had subtle outlines around the individual leaves and it was hard to tell if it was burnt-out velvet or if another process was at work. The backside of the skirt offered no clues since it was completely lined with a fairly sturdy cotton.
Although this is a bit blurred, note how it’s actually two pieces of fabric coming together in the middle. Also, it’s been sewn in on the bias since the floral pattern narrows as it moves towards the top. This is also illustrated below:
Turning to the bodice, here are some views:
Closures consist of hooks and eyes and the top of the bodice and neck were lined with lace. Below is a picture of the bodice back:
The bodice back is decorated in the same way as the skirt with the floral pattern completely covering the bodice back. Also, there’s a v-back with a plain black velvet fill and the a tail at the base of the bodice that provides a natural beginning for the pattern seen on the back of the skirt. The eye is naturally drawn up and down. 🙂 Next, here are close-up views of one of the sleeves:
Note the crystals that add to the overall effect. 🙂 And just to be complete, here are some interior views:
The bodice interior. It’s lined with what appears to be a black polished cotton. Note the three eyes- these attached corresponding hooks that are set in the back of the skirt to prevent any separation between the skirt and bodice. Here’s a view of the interior stitching:
The back and front of the bodice are lightly boned on top of the major seam lines to maintain their shape (a corset was worn underneath to maintain the basic silhouette (body contouring, if you will). Also, note that the seam allowances are all finished by overcast stitching, which was standard for the time, and tacked down to the lining. Compared to some Worth dresses we have examined, this is actually pretty tidy. Below are some more interior views:
In all the Worth dresses we’ve examined, the seam allowances are notched with gentle edges which allows the fabric to follow the bodice curves with no bunching or bubbles. Also, note that the bodice is NOT constructed as what’s referred to today as a “turn and flip.” Rather, the pattern pieces were flat-lined with each piece of fashion fabric stitched to it’s corresponding lining pattern piece BEFORE the pieces are sewn together.
Overall, it’s a fantastic dress and is a good example of Worth’s later work and illustrates the construction techniques that were utilized during the period. The design is elegant and definitely catches the eye, leading it up and down the dress to admire the complete floral decorative effect. It’s simply brilliant. 🙂 We’re honored that we had the opportunity to view it in person- merci beaucoup to the museum staff!
(To be continued…)
2 thoughts on “A Trip To The Fashion Museum Bath, Part I”
What a beautiful work of art! I’m curious of there is a way to do the burn-out technique yourself? Or better yet, find some already that gorgeous. I’m a sucker for black dresses and this one is frosting on the cake.
Good question on burnt velvet- unfortunately, the process involves caustic chemicals on an industrial scale. It’s not something readily done at home. It would be nice to find something like that in the market… 🙂 Worth usually commissioned all his fabrics and was instrumental in keeping the textile industry going in Lyon for many years.