Mantles- 1880s Style

When building a period wardrobe, outerwear such as mantles are often overlooked even though they were a key element in just about any lady’s wardrobe. Broadly speaking, mantles are a lineal descendant of cloaks and shawls and as such, are basically a more refined version of these loose garments, designed to follow the lines of the underlying dress. One of the most distinctive characteristics of 1880s mantles was that the front was cut significantly longer than in the read in order to accommodate the bustle/train of the dress. To begin, here’s an example from circa 1875 made from a Kashmir/Paisley shawl:

Mantle, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.85)

Kashmir/Paisley shawls were extremely popular as outerwear during the 1850s and 1860s but were not always the easiest to wear due to their large size and especially with a trained dress. Many of these older shawls were converted to more manageable mantles during the 1870s. The above example is relatively loose which goes together with some of the exaggerated bustles/trains characteristic of early 1870s styles. Here’s an example from circa 1884 that continues this trend:

Mantle, c. 1884; Victoria and Albert Museum (T.43-1957)

But the choice of fabric was not limited to Kashmir/Paisley; other fabrics were utilized with velvet being a major favorite:

Mantle, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.50.36)

The above example is a more loosely fitted example with wide sleeves and a lot of ease in the front. In the example below, we see a more tailored version with a peplum running along the bottom. In this profile, one can see that the back is cut to accommodate the prominent bustle characteristic of the later 1880s. Also, one can see a more structured, rigid sleeve setting the lower arm at a 90 degree angle; this was often referred to as a “sling sleeve.”

Mantle, c. 1885; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.299-1983)

The mantle front often had a long length as with this example:

Pingat, Mantle, c. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.337)

Pingat, Mantle, c. 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.337)

To get a better idea of scale, here’s a picture of the mantle being worn over a dress:

View of mantle worn over a dress.

And for something a little different, here’s an illustration from the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Here we see a mantle with the cylindrical silhouette characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any actual extant examples so illustrations will have to do. Here’s a couple more variations on the basic design:

The above is just a mere fraction of the possibilities with mantles- with just one or two basic shapes, one can create a wide variety of mantles utilizing all manner of fabrics and trim and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in the future. 🙂

A Trip To The Fashion Museum Bath, Part I

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:

General view of the bodice and skirt front. It’s kind of hard to capture the magnitude of the dress because it was on a table and the room was small.

The front of the bodice and upper skirt.

The bodice back.

Close-up of the bodice.

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.

And the iconic Worth label.

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…)

Off To The V&A For A Little Dior, Part III

Image result for dior 18th century inspiration v&a

As you have no doubt discerned from our past two posts, the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the V&A Museum has exerted quite a powerful influence over us- it’s a rich treasure trove of ideas and inspiration to us even though it’s got nothing to do with the late 19th Century. Or does it? Well, fashion has always been influenced by history and the fashion cycle itself is a constant movement of styles, inspired by the past (as well as the present) and the House of Dior is no exception. Here are just a few examples from the exhibition:

Ancient Egypt, anyone? 🙂 Designed in 2004 by John Galiano, this one is definitely more of a couture “concept piece” than anything else. Here’s another view of it in action:

Image result for dior display v&a room with light show

Or, perhaps, the 18th and Centuries:

The coat could almost work for pure 18th Century dress… 🙂

This one just has us thinking “panniers”…

With this one, we see a melding of 18th and 19th Century influences, especially with the corset bodice and draping.

With this dress, it’s more about the fabric than anything else- The fabric and trim detail could easily have been seen on either an 18th or 19th Century dress and especially something by Worth. Next, we see an 18th Century silhouette that inspired this creation by John Galiano for the House of Dior:

The beading and trim on this dress are simply exquisite. Here’s a close-up view:

Or perhaps some Chinoiserie…

And then there’s the grand finale, there’s a ball room displaying various evening wear, complete with a rotating center display combined with changing light to simulate day and night (the full rotation takes about five minutes of so) and the effect is stunning! What’s especially interesting is that the colors of some of the dresses dramatically changed as the light changed from day to night (Note: in full disclosure, I was unable to get good pictures of the ballroom that capture the magnitude and sweep of the room so I borrowed a few pictures from the web).

 

Image result for dior dresses v&a exhibit

And here’s my favorite that I took:

With that, we conclude our tour of the Dior exhibit at the V&A. Overall, the experience was excellent, especially since we were there in the morning when it first opened so we didn’t have to contend with heavy crowds. There was a lot more than what we’ve posted, we focused on some of the highlights that we were particularly struck by. This is definitely worth a visit but if you were unable to view it in person, we highly recommend getting the book:

 

Image result for dior display v&a book

We hope you’ve enjoyed these posts! 🙂

Off To The V&A For A Little Dior, Part I

We’ve arrived in London and we’re ready to roll! Today, it’s off we go to the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit at the V&A Museum. Opening in January, this exhibit has been especially popular and has been extended from May to September 2019 and currently is sold out (we were lucky to have bought our tickets online back in January). The exhibit is a retrospective of Dior’s work along with his successors who designed under the House of Dior name following Dior’s death in 1958.

It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!

– Carmel Snow, Editor-in-Chief, Harper’s Bazaar, February 12, 1947

So where to start? The volume of garments on display, along with other supporting items,  is simply staggering…well, let’s start at the beginning. 🙂 First up is the quintessential “Bar Suit” or “New Look” dress from Dior’s 1947 collection that put Dior on the map:

While it may seem pretty ho-hum by today’s mega-event standards, the New Look marked the beginning of a new era of fashion and a major departure of the war-influenced styles that had dominated most of 1940s fashion. It also marked the re-emergence of France as the fashion capital of the world, free from the deprivations of the war years (at least in theory). Officially named La Ligne Corolle by Dior, it was more often referred as the “New Look Dress” and that’s how it’s known today. Also, Dior referred to this outfit as the “Bar Suit” because it was intended to be worn in elegant public places such as bars (at least, that’s the best definition that we’ve been able to find). Just for some context, here’s a picture of the Bar Suit in action:

Live Model

Also, here’s some “official” photos of the suit itself:

Christian Dior, Skirt Suit, 1955 (V&A Museum; T.376&A-1960); Interestingly enough, this particular example was made in 1955.

As can be seen from the above, this suit was based on extreme curves characterized by  a wasp waist created by a waist cincher combined with a skirt supported by a large petticoat. In this design, one can see several elements that were part of 1880s and 90s styles and all share the common characteristic that they were sculpted over rigid underpinnings. OK, admittedly we’ve gone a tad overboard with the Dior Bar Suit so we’ll pause at this point…but stay tuned for more!

Painted Silk…

One of the more interesting methods of embellishing skirts during the late 19th Century was the use of hand-painting floral decorate motifs primarily on silk. Although not as common as other methods such as taking on silk flowers or using fabrics with various types of woven-in patterns and motifs, painted silk did offer a somewhat easier, more inexpensive method of of creating decorative embellishment. Below is nice example from  the Fashion History Museum of Ontario of a mid to late 1880s day dress (it’s hard to tell from the staging):

Day Dress, c. 1880s; Fashion History Museum Ontario

It’s difficult to tell an exact date for the dress since there was no information on the museum website but judging from the silhouette, such as it us, it appears to be mid to late 1880s . The bodice and skirts are constructed from a pale blue silk satin which provides the perfect “canvas” for the detailed floral motifs which we see on both the bodice and the overskirt. The floral motifs provide an interesting range of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds all set against a cool blue background that’s reminiscent of water. Definitely just the thing for Spring. 🙂

Somewhat more restrained, here’s a wedding dress, from 1888:

Wedding/Day Dress, 1888; Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection (HCT.1999.19.1a-d)

This dress bodice and skirts are constructed from an ivory wool with silk side panels and lace covers the front underskirt. Visually, the eye is first attracted to the two panels with the painted floral motifs and then drawn upward to the silk plastron on the bodice. Here are some close-ups of the painted floral motifs:

The use of painted flower motifs on silk is an interesting, subset of decorative effects that were used on fashions of the late 19th Century and it bears further study and hopefully we’ll unearth some more examples for your consideration in the near future.