By the late 1890s, the House of Worth was a major institution and the cornerstone of the fashion world. While there were many worthy competitors such as Doucet, Pingat, and Paquin, Worth had the cachet and anyone with pretensions of social standing (and the financial means) made Worth their primary fashion destination. That said, there was little dispute that Worth produced some of the most fabulous fashions and was a trend-setter for half a century. One of Worth’s major strengths was its materials, many of which were custom commissioned from various vendors and most notably, the silk weavers of Lyon, France, and this is evident in the many extant examples that exist today (the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one of the largest collections of worth dresses in the world).
Although easily overlooked, the styles of the 1890s provided a fresh approach to style in that the visual effect of the garments relied more upon the fashion fabrics rather than trim, a trend facilitated by a shift towards an upright, cylindrical silhouette and the use of a single gored skirt rather than the underskirt/overskirt combination. For bodices/tops, we see an increased use of either jacket styles or unadorned one-piece (a trend that started in the 1880s). In short, we see the dress itself being the focus. Of course there were exceptions and influences from past decades lingered on but nevertheless it was clear that fashion was evolving.
OK, theory aside, let’s take a look at this reception/day dress that we found quite by accident (as usual, we were looking for something else… 🙂 ):
The silk brocade fabric has a relatively large pattern/repeat which is only workable on a large surface and this bodice answers to this purpose perfectly, especially with the gigot sleeves. Looking at the back of the bodice, one can really appreciate the full magnitude of the fashion fabric and especially with the large flowers. Also, it must noted that that the flowers on the center back of the bodice have been perfectly matched and joined from two pieces of the fabric. Finally, the use of matching plum color for the underbodice also helps to emphasize the pattern itself, bringing it into sharp relief.
Now, it must be noted that when looking at the pictures of the rest of the dress, it appears that the pattern color is more of a red and it looks like a completely different dress. However, on closer examination it IS the same dress- no doubt the lighting of the photography changed the color, a phenomena that we have noted in previous posts. Also, the staging of the dress is not optimal, it’s simply photographed flat which is a shame because we believe that it diminishes the aesthetic impact of the dress. So here’s the rest of the dress:
We would certainly love to view this in person because it does raise interesting issues as to skirt construction and, of course, color values.
Fashion trends rarely have neat beginning and end points, rather they tend to bleed into each other and there’s seldom uniformity and styles of the 1890s were no different. However, it’s fair to say that the evolution of styles during the 1890s did permit fabric design to become more prominent while reducing the influence of trims- in short, a more simplified style that would eventually come into its own decades later. We’ll be examining these style trends in more detail in future posts so stay tuned. 🙂