Looking Underneath The Dress- The House Of Worth

Haut couture has always been an extremely personal experience for the client and this was especially true during the late 19th Century. Garments were designed to precisely fit the individual and constructed of the finest fabrics and trim; one could not help think that the garment in question had been exclusively designed for the client from the ground up. However, the reality was quite different: underneath all the exquisite fabrics and glittery trim were the garment’s basic structure- a structure that gave a particular garment its shape and that structure was based on common pattern pieces. The fabrics and trim might change from garment to garment but their basic structure utilized the same slopers or basic pattern blocks that could be modified as needed for a particular client and style (De Marly, Diana. Worth: The Father of Haute Couture. Holmes & Meier, 1990).

The House of Worth was generally acknowledged as the leading couture houses in Paris (and by extension, the world) and as such, its designs reflected this. However, underneath all the exquisite fabrics and trims, the dresses made by Charles Worth often used the same basic pattern blocks (albeit modified for the individual client). It’s often all too easy to get lost in all the exquisite details found on Worth dresses and especially with ball and evening gowns. For example, let’s take a look at these two ball gowns:

Ball Gown Worth c. 1895 - 1900

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1895 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1290a, b)

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Both of the above gowns were made during the late 1890s and both have the same silhouette and share identical lines. Only the fabrics and trim change. Here’s another pair of evening dresses made during the mid 1890s:

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown

Worth, Ballgown, c. 1894; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4799 84-9-2AB)

Evening Dress Worth c. 1895 - 1896

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1895 – 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (35.134.2a, b)

Similarities could also be found in a variety of dress styles:

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Worth, Dinner Dress, 1897; Costume Museum of Canada

Worth Evening Dress c. 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1897; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.638a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Worth Day Dress, c. 1875; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1100a, b)

Day Dress Worth c. 1875

Side Profile

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Worth, Dinner Dress, c. 1877; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.69.33.3a, b)

Worth Dinner Dress c. 1877

Side Profile

Surface treatments might differ (i.e. smooth fabric versus ruched fabric) and trains an sleeve lengths and trim can vary but at the root, these dresses share many of the same internal structural components. When one thinks about it, it only makes sense- while haute couture may have only been worn by a narrow segment of the market, within that specific market segment there was a heavy demand and it could only be met by utilizing various industrial production practices. Of course, the client was blissfully unaware of this, their only concern was getting the desired garment. In short, one could term it “mass production luxury goods” which is almost a contradiction in terms.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into what was going on underneath the dress, so to say, and we hope to be making more posts about this in the future.

1890s Style- Evening Wear, Part 4

ball gown fashion plate 1899

By the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeve trend was in full bloom and while perhaps not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, it did exert an influence on evening dresses.
Fashion Plate Ball Gown 1897 Evening Gown

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Morin-Blossier, Evening Gown, c. 1894; Vintage Textile sales website

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Close-Up Of Bodice

Maison Felix Evening Dress 1895

Maison Felix, Evening Dress, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.16.1a–d)

Evening Gown c. 1895

Evening Gown, c. 1895; The Museum at FIT (2007.27.1)

The above are just some examples of the gigot sleeve trend going on during the mid 1890s. Although not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, we still see greater attention paid to this area than before.

Evening Gown Ball Gown Worth c. 1896 - 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion

However, as with all fashion trends throughout the ages, a particular style will be developed to an extreme and a subsequent reaction will arise in opposition. This was the situation with gigot sleeves and by the late 1890s, sleeves had once again acquired become slender proportions. Fixing a precise date as to when this shift began is not easy but even as early as late 1896, there were rumblings in the fashion world as detailed in this passage from the September 13, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

The world may stop wondering now, for at last Mrs. Fashion has consented to speak about autumn and winter modes. The gist of her talk, however concerns skirts and sleeves (after all the two vital points of dress) both of which are to grow beautifully smaller and narrower until the reaction against width has been satisfied.

Already indeed, the circumference of the smallest skirt is reduced by more than half of what it was in the spring while a skirt  with godets all around is to midish opinion, almost as old fashioned as overskirt and paniers [sic].

In reaction, evening dress sleeves began to become somewhat simplified with an emphasis on decorated straps or sleeves constructed with loose layers of gauze/tulle. Of course, there was a wide degree of variation in the sleeve style but nevertheless, one can see a movement away from the over gigot style.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Worth Evening Dress 1896

Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

Worth Ball Gown 1899

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Aside from the sleeves, there was little else to distinguish evening dresses during the 1890s- all were designed in a distinct hourglass style with narrow waists and large multi-gored skirts with trains of varying length. Finally, although the pronounced bustles of the late 1880s had disappeared, padding was still used as a means of maintaining  a smooth silhouette and providing support to the train.

Transitions in fashion styles is not always clear-cut and direct, rather it’s often more of a blur as an older style gives way a newer one. Fashion change came at a much slower pace than what we see today and changes that were measured in years are now measured in months, if not weeks and days. By no means to we profess to have the last word when it comes to evening fashions of the 1890s but rather, we try to point out some of the salient featured. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1890s evening wear and we look forward to posting more about this in the future.

Selections From The FIDM Museum 3

 

W

hile the the 26th Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition at the FIDM Museum was a bit of a disappointment, there were some items in the Museum’s permanent collection that made up for it immensely. One such item was an evening gown designed by Maison Félix, a couture house that was a contemporary of the more well-known houses such as Worth and Doucet:

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Evening Gown, Maison Felix, c. 1893; FIDM Museum (2016.5.26A-D)

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Below are some more detail pictures:

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

The Train

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Sleeve Detail

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Trim Detail

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Close-up of the bodice

Evening Gown Maison Felix c. 1893

Close-up of the front bodice neckline

This dress dates from 1893 and as such, lacks the gigot sleeves that were to come into vogue during the mid 90s. It has a train which is characteristic of formal evening wear but the rigid bustle/train effect of the later 1880s has clearly been discarded. The brown velvet paired with the gold/champagne silk are analogous warm colors and harmonize very nicely. The trim is relatively restrained, limited to the neck and skirt and the gold silk fabric has an embossed pattern that makes for an interesting dull/shiny contrast in the fabric’s luster. Overall, this is a design that reads elegance and restraint as opposed to a making bold statement.

This dress was one of the high points of our visit to the FIDM Museum and we look forward to viewing more from the Maison Félix in the future.

Fashion Push-Back: Tailormades

Walking Suit

It’s pretty much a given that fashions change but it doesn’t mean that change is necessarily accepted and there’s often push-back. One interesting example of this phenomenon was in during the 1890s with the increasing popularity of suits for women (aka “tailormades”). According to one commentator, a one Comtesse de Champdore, in the April 5, 1894 issue of Vogue (the precursor to today’s Vogue Magazine):

The great Parisian couturiers, with Worth, Laferriere, Felix and Doucet at their head, have put down their foot and at length carried out their threat of declaring war against tailor-made garments,which in future they will oppose tooth and nail. You may take it for granted that they would not have ventured upon such a momentous step unless they had previously assured themselves of the sanction and support of our principal leaders of fashion.

Inasmuch as the latter, at least those who influence La Mode, are no longer in the first bloom of youth it is perhaps only natural that they should have agreed to the proposal of the couturiers, since the severe simplicity of the tailor·made gowns requires a young face and figure to carry them off well, whereas beauty of a more mature type looks best when enshrouded in all kinds of flounces and furbelows. There is to be a complete change of fashion. We have done with 1830 and are back again in the Louis Quinze [Louis XV] epoch.

The balloon sleeves, the flounced skirt, the brimmed hat with feather tufts are from to-day obsolete, and the painters whom the couturiers’ designers are now studying at the Louvre are Boucher, Watteau, Lancret and Nattier. We are to come back to the paniers [panniers]; the genre Pompadour is to prevail, materials are to he transparent, colors are to be light, plenty of lace, plenty of guipure [Guipure lace], and, above all, plenty of essentially Parisian frou·frou. To use the words of Worth, “Woman is once again to become woman, and fashion is to find its task in giving emphasis to feminine form instead of concealing it. Masculine modes are to be abandoned.”

(Note: I have broken the original passage into several paragraphs for clarity.)

Well, that’s a pronouncement. 🙂 Getting past the concept of “designer-as-dictator,” this passage is interesting in that we see a style being rejected out of hand not only do we have primarily on the basis that it’s a “masculine mode” and as such, fashion’s primary objective is “giving emphasis to feminine form instead of concealing it.”

Why the resistance? The most obvious answers are simple: resistance to change in the status quo; it challenged established norms; and resistance to the changing role of women as more they began to enter the workforce in many Western countries for this first time in large numbers. It’s also interesting in that the style that the couturiers are advocating was the “Louis XV” style, a style that drew upon elements from the early to mid- 18th Century characterized by pale colors, silk brocades, lace, and elaborate trim.

Walking Suit c. 1896

Walking Suit, c. 1896; Nasjonallmuseet, Norway (OK-1962-0073)

But there’s also another interpretation: economics:

The decision meets with universal approbation alike on the part of our mondaines [worldly] and their tradesmen, for the Louis Quinze style is perhaps the most luxurious of all, and necessitates no end of jewelry and trimmings of every fashion and kind, all of which will help to revive trade, and perhaps render our fournisseurs [suppliers] less inclined to torment us for the payment of our bills on the time-worn pretext that “times are bad.”

Elaborate styles require more trim, expensive fabrics, and of course, accessories to include jewelry and that would keep the suppliers employed, an argument often heard today in regard to haute couture and the fashion industry in general.

Of course, one must ask if this is the opinion of just the writer or did this represent a major sentiment? Although a cursory online search yielded nothing helpful in this regard, there are hints scattered about that trends in Great Britain and America during the 1890s were going in the direction of simpler outfits for daywear as exemplified by the tailormade suit and skirt/waist combination. Yes, more conventional day dresses were also extant but what we see is greater variety of styles that were becoming available to women and especially those who were middle class.

1896 Waist Skirt Fahsion Plate

One element that would give this idea some weight is that going back to the early 1870s, Redfern, a house that had gotten its start in Britain, had built a thriving business offering women’s suits of various types aimed at women who were of the same class that also patronized Worth, Doucet, et al.

The idea of clashing trends between simpler styles and the traditional has always been a constant throughout fashion history and in many instances, it also symbolized conflicts between social and cultural ideas and in extreme instances, symbolizing seismic shifts in social and cultural attitude (the 1960 provide a prime example of this). Or perhaps we’re reading way too much into this… 🙂 In any event, it certainly reveals some cracks in the wall of seeming Victorian Era uniformity when it came to fashion and that bears further examination.

A Trip To The V&A Museum, Part 2

received_10155164599647693.jpeg

And now on to the high point of our visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum (besides the bookstore 🙂 ). While there were a number of interesting garments, here are a few that caught our eye. First up is this excellent example of a Mid-Bustle Era princess line dress:

20180423_123802-1.jpg

This one is often cited as a good example of Mid-Bustle Era style. Here are some better pictures from the V&A website:

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

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

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

Rear View

Here are some closer views:

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

One of the most striking features of this dress is the ruched ivory silk front along with the ruching and knife pleating along the rear hem. The net-covered blue Jacquard silk fabric provides an interesting color counterpoint that makes for a nicely unified design.

Next is this 1885 cotton print day dress:

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And here are a few more views:

Day Dress 1885

Day Dress, 1885; V&A Museum (T.7&A-1926)

Day Dress 1885

Side Profile

 

This dress is a good example of the Mid-1880s day dress and it captures the styles of the era quite nicely with a minimum of trim and detail.

Here’s some of the other interesting garments that were on display:

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Bustle Pad

This bustle pad is often seen in Pinterest and in various costume books. It’s functional simplicity at its best.

20180423_123936.jpg

Bodice Interior

This bodice interior gives a nice view “under the hood” of a late Victorian bodice. All the seams are finished either by pinking or whip stitched along the edges. Boning has been carefully installed as well as a petersham belt for added stability and shape.

And outside of the late 19th Century were these items of interest:

20180423_123511-1.jpg

Above is an Mid 19th Century French pannier dress. Although it’s not obvious from the picture, this dress was roughly 8 feet wide or so and built for a very small person, say in the 5’3″ to 5’5″ range.

Next is this ribbon corset from circa 1895:

20180423_123724.jpg

 

Finally, there’s the iconic “wine glass dress” designed by Elsa Schiaparelli:

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Evening coat Place of origin: London (made) Date:1937 (made) Materials and Techniques: Silk jersey, with gold thread and silk embroidery and applied decoration in silk

Is it a wine glass or two people? You be the judge. 🙂

Overall, it was a very illuminating visit and it was nice to see some of the garments that I have only seen in books up to this point. In the next post, we’ll tie everything together with some commentary so stay tuned…. 🙂

To be continued…