Trending For November 1918…

And for something a little different today, below is a fashion plate, or rather a cover illustration, from the November 1918 issue of The Delineator. One of the truisms about fashion is that it reflects the zeitgeist or spirit of the times and the First World War was no exception. The First World War saw the recruitment of large numbers of women into the military for the first time (although the numbers were small compared to the Second World War) and naturally, some sort of uniform was required…pictured below are female uniforms appropriate for both the Navy and the Army. Also, even where uniforms were not involved, the war years witnessed an evolution in women’s fashions where they became much more simplified with a focus on comfort and functionality. This is an area that we hope to explore in future posts so stay tuned. 🙂

What Is Old Is New Again- Classical Grecian Influences And The Tea Gown

Tea Gowns were popular for wear at home, increasing in popularity during the 1880s and 1890s. The tea gown was a simple loose-fitting garment that was essentially an elaborate dressing gown/wrapper and as such was meant to be worn at home in the company of immediate family and close friends and especially if one was dining or taking tea. The tea gown was meant to be worn without a corset (although some women wore them anyway) and was never worn outside the house. One interesting variation on the tea gown design can be found with these two Classical Grecian-inspired designs that were offered for sale as patterns in the November 1891 issue of the Canadian edition of The Delineator:

Both of the above gowns were princess-cut and shaped by a combination of darts and gores. From the above illustrations, both garments were structured yet gave the illusion that the wearer was wearing a chiton. The loose sleeves go a long way towards enhancing this illusion. Of course, wearing an actual chiton would have been considered to be way too extreme for the time… 😉

We don’t know just how popular these patterns were but at a minimum, they would have been perfect for a fancy dress ball or the like. 🙂 It’s fascinating to see how Victorians interpreted prior periods in their dress and the above is just one instance of this; too bad the pattern isn’t available today. We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into these tea gown variants.

Fashion In Transition- The Late 1870s…

Happy New year’s from Lily Absinthe! Here’s a little post that should help pass the time on New year’s Day. Enjoy!

The late 1870s were a time of transition as styles moved away from the full bustled trains characteristic of the First Bustle Era and evolved towards the cylindrical silhouette of the Middle Bustle Era or Natural Form Era. The transition to the Middle Bustle Era could be said to have begun as early as 1875-76 although it wouldn’t come into full flower until 1878-79. The June 1877 issue of Peterson’s Magazine notes that:

There are three popular styles now, the Princess polonaise, basque bodices, with upper and lower skirts, and Princess dresses. The prominent points in the best polonaises are the long seams in the back, the plainness of the tournure, and sufficient length to give a slender effect. Fringes and wide galloons are the trimmings universally used, and the galloon is very generally arranged in sloping lines, or a long V down the back from shoulders to waist; small fichus, or mantles or the same material, complete the costume. The aim appears to give the costume the effect of a Princess dress; and in most cases, the merest glimpse of the under-skirt is all that is visible; therefore it is made both narrow and clinging, and is usually trimmed all round alike. The drawing-string across the back breadths is always added, no matter how closely the skirt is cut to the figure.

In these new dresses the shoulder-seams are very short, the neck is cut very high at the back, and the tight sleeves have the upper half slightly gathered on the elbows, to fit the arm more perfectly.

From the above commentary, it would seem that there are three styles at work: the older conventional basque bodice and skirt combination dress; the princess line dress; and the princess polonaise which appears to be somewhat of a hybrid between the first two styles.

Le Moniteur De La Mode, 1877

So how do these styles appear? Well, to begin, here’s one princess dress design that was marketed as a pattern in the October 1877 issue of Peterson’s:

Here’s another princess dress style, this time from the April issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, that was also marketed as a pattern:

The above design is described as a:

A short, tight-fitting “Princess” dress, with the front opened at the left
side in “Breton” style, side-forms front and back extending to the shoulders, and side gores under the arms. A wide sash is draped across the front, and tied loosely in a knot at the left side, and the edge of the skirt is finished by a side plaiting. The back piece is full, being crossed by three clusters of shirred tucks, and is finished by a deep flounce that is, in its turn, ornamented with three side plaitings [pleats]. Two back pieces are given with the pattern,the full outer piece extending the entire length, and a shorter plain piece to which the shirred tucks are to be secured. The sleeves are trimmed to match the back. The collar may be of the same material as the dress, or be of lace, to suit the taste. The design can be suitably made up in a variety of dress goods, excepting perhaps the heaviest, and is especially desirable for thin fabrics, and a combination of colors or materials.

The above description pretty much hits all the high points as to what characterizes the princess dress design and there was a lot of variation in terms of fabrics and trim. Below are a few images of extant princess dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1870 – 1880; V&A Museum (CIRC.606-1962)


Day Dress, c. 1876 – 1878; Manchester City Galleries

Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Next, there’s this design for a house dress in the “Princess polonaise” style that was also marketed as a pattern:

In the description of the dress, it’s noted that “the polonaise is trimmed to correspond with the skirt and that it’s princess in form and slightly draped at the back where it’s caught up in a row of ribbon to match.” Essentially, this dress consists of a skirt and polonaise with the polonaise cut in single long pieces in the princess style, with no sewn waist.

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, July 1877

Here’s another take on the princess polonaise style that was offered for sale as a pattern in the February 1878 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The description for this style is given as:

A “Princess” polonaise, having drapery in folds across the front, and revers turned back from the sides and joined over a full platting added to the short back pieces somewhat in the manner of a train. The design is tight-fitting, has a seam down the middle of the back, and is cut with side-forms carried to the shoulders; darts are taken out under the arms, and the fronts are fitted with the usual number of
darts on each side and buttoned down their entire length. The design is adapted to all classes of dress goods, and may be trimmed in any manner that will correspond with the material chosen.

Just for reference, here’s another illustration of this style:

Image result for princess polonaise

Finally, the basque bodice and skirt combination style was predominant during the early to mid 1870s and it could take a number of different forms. Below are a few examples from 1876-77:

Day Day, c. 1875 – 1877

Worth, Ensemble-Reception Dress, c. 1877 – 1878; Cincinnati Art Museum (1986.1200a-c)

Dinner Dress, c. 1876; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1975.227.3)

Day Dress, 1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1969-147-1a,b)

The above examples of all three styles are just a fraction of the wide variety of styles that were out there but it does convey that there were a number of different styles in circulation during the mid to late 1870s. Ultimately, the basque bodice and skirt combination would be left behind and by 1880 we see an almost complete transition in styles. Of course, as with every style shift, there were hold-outs who clung to older styles but as a mass movement, it was clear that styles were evolving. In future posts, we’ll attempt to further document fashion changes that occurred during the late Nineteenth Century so stay tuned! 🙂

1886 Style- A Caution Against Tight-Lacing

The topic of tight-lacing corsets is one that provide constant fodder for discussion in both mainstream and social media. In more mainstream media, tight-lacing is often a source of both titillation and negative commentary and the concept leave people aghast, especially when applied towards historical dress of periods such as the late Nineteenth Century, a situation not helped by movies such as Gone With The Wind and the like. Ultimately, the most pernicious belief is that late Nineteenth Century women (or women of any corset or stay-wearing period) were at best masochistic, or worse, simply too stupid to realize the harm that they were doing to themselves.

However, it’s been proved by a number of authors and researchers that this was not the case and that the dangers of tight-lacing were well recognized by people of their respective eras. One example from the 1880s cane be found in this editorial published in the July 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine. While noting that while tailor-made suits are extremely useful dresses for street wear, Peterson’s also states that:

We fear, however, that. they have done some, perhaps much, hard to our thoughtless young women. Nothing tends to set off a “good figure” so well as these tight-fitting garments, and the consequence is that a vain woman is tempted to compress her waist and bust out of all natural shape by tight lacing, in order to get a “good figure”; and, further, to have her sleeves made so close fitting that the circulation is almost stopped in the arms; and still more, to increase the size of the bustle to ridiculous extent, in order to decrease the apparent size of the waist. If one of these tightly-laced women only knew how badly she looked, with her tight-sleeved arms thrust out from her waist, and how badly she walked, with her tightly-compressed hips, perhaps there would be a reformation in the way of wearing her corsets.

Peterson’s then goes on to detail the ideal corset fit:

The first rule to be laid down with regard to the corset, by the bye, is always to have it, if possible, a well-fitting one; the second is, never to lace it too tightly. It should always be made as pliable as possible Too many corsets are so stiffened up with whalebones or steels that the poor flesh seems to be incased [encased] in armor, and the person can scarcely move. Some support to the figure seems to have become a necessity in modern times…

The corset should always have the gussets, which support the bosom, made so deep and broad that the bust will not be pushed out of its natural place (almost up to the throat, as we see it sometimes), but fail easily to where the bosom ought to be. it is corsets of this kind that are indelicate. Neither should the gussets be stiffened with whalebones, as they sometimes are, for that will almost always show through the dress. The length of the waist will depend, of course, upon whether the wearer is long or short-waisted; but, in the present style of long-waisted dresses, the corset is usually cut so as to give the desired appearance without; detriment to the figure.

The corset should fit comfortably over the hips, never compress them. Few of the women of the present day have the free springy walk of the young Diana. This defect is owing to tight lacing. Nothing injures the grace of motion so much. A corset should be large enough to be evenly laced, with a space of about three inches between the sides at: the back. But it must be remembered that it should not be just too tight to bring it to this space, or it will not be a well-fitting one.

Peterson’s then concludes:

But we wish it could be impressed on our young girls that health means beauty, and that, therefore, tight-lacing is a mistake, even aesthetically. If the digestion is impaired, or the vital organs pushed out of place, by tight-laced ill-fitting corsets, the health, and consequently the appearance, must under; the girl gets a red nose, her complexion falls off, she can no longer walk easily and gracefully; in short, she loses in real beauty with every day.

Personal vanity and attempting to meet unrealistic fashion expectations seem to the be the main reasons behind tight-lacing and they show the negative side to fashion which in turn can lead to harmful ideas of one’s self-worth, something that concerns us greatly. At the same time, the above editorial’s description of how a corset should fit gets to the heart of a related issue: the reason that corsetry has gotten a bad reputation to a large degree also stems from poorly fitting corsets, something that we’ve seen all too much throughout the years. We strongly advocate that when building an historical wardrobe, it is essential to start first with a well-fitted corset and all else stems from it.

Body-modification is not unique to the late Nineteenth Century and every era had some version but if taken too far, the effects can be harmful. The key is to exercise good judgement and find the styles that work for you and give you the most satisfaction. In terms of the late Nineteenth Century, tight-lacing and other extreme practices are not needed to create the period and in fact, are the sheer antithesis. That said, there’s more than enough room to work with and we would be more than happy to assist in this endeavor.