Change has always been a key characteristic of fashion and the late 19th Century was no exception. While the late 19th Century was seemingly an era of bustles and trained dress designs, in reality that wasn’t the case and there one can see a series of transformations through the 1870s, 80s, and early 90s. Fashion change has always been an endless source of fascination for us and especially the years from 1876 through 1883 and today we return to this theme.
Even as early as 1876, one can see the transition away from the full trained style characteristic of the First Bustle Era to the Mid Bustle or “Natural Form Era.” This transition was a gradual one, gathering steam until coming into full flower by 1878. One of the best sources for documenting fashion change is through mass media and especially fashion magazines. Of course, these do need to be used with a bit of caution in that often they were ahead of their audiences and not everyone would immediately adopt a new style (even if they had the financial means to do so).
To begin, let’s look at this fashion plate from January 1875 of Le Moniteur De La Mode:
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 3, January 1875
Here we see the full train and bustle style in full flower, especially with the one pictured on the right. And here’s a few more examples focusing on day wear:
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 4, January 1875
Some more seemingly transitional styles- note the bodice extends over the hips with the dress on the right. We’re unable to tell with the dress on the left due to the mantle but the mantle pretty much neatly covers the hips. With both dresses, the bustle and train are restrained, making for a smooth silhouette.
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 5, January 1875
The dress on the right maintains the earlier train/bustle style but it’s a bit tucked in towards the middle which acts to control the fullness. On the other hand, with the dress on the left, we see a hybrid of sorts that also maintains the earlier train/bustle style but then maintains a fairly large skirt volume all the way to the hem- to us, it almost seems that this style is trying to create a modified bell skirt style reminiscent of the 1860s. Not the most flattering style, to say the least.
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 46, November 1875
Finally, with this example, we see another attempt to tighten up the silhouette and place a greater emphasis on a low demi-train. It’s definitely a hint at what’s to come. The above plates, along with others from the 1875 issues of Le Moniteur De La Mode show an interesting mix of dresses: some have the extensive trains and bustles characteristic of the First Bustle Era while others show a smoother, more restrained style although the bustle is still noticeable at hip level.
Moving forward into 1876, we see the near-total elimination of any sort of bustle at hip level and an extension of the bodice over the hips. Also, interestingly enough, we see a number of dresses constructed in a princess line style with no waistline whatsoever. At the same time, we see greater emphasis being placed on the lower skirt and the development of a more complex lower train. Below are some examples from the 1876 issues of Le Moniteur De La Mode:
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 33, August 1876
The above dress is especially compelling with its clean princess line that emphasizes a cylindrical silhouette, aided by the stripped fabric that further serves to emphasize the vertical line. At the bottom, there’s a very simple multi-pleated demi-train. The whole effect is drastically different than what was before.
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 40, September 1876
With the above two dresses we see the cuirass bodice in full flower, completely covering the hips. Both dresses also employ extensive pleating and swagged fabric which accentuates the cylindrical silhouette of the Mid-Bustle Era and it combined with extensive trains (well, we’re assuming for the dress on the right).
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 45, November 1876
And without the swagging and pleating except along the hem and train. The dress on the right have a very elaborate train that’s an extension of the over and under skirts and they provide an interesting contrast both in color and texture. On the right, we see a more simple princess line dress that employs a rust brown and blue patterned overskirt over a plain rust brown underskirt. Both examples have no train at hip level and the train has been pushed to the bottom of the dress. No matter if it’s a princess line or not, the emphasis is on a slender “natural” form that’s been sculpted through corsetry and the right underpinnings. 🙂
Le Moniteur De La Mode, No. 47, November 1876
Finally, this dress displays all the attributes of the Mid Bustle Era style with very precise, clean lines. With this dress, the strategically placed striped edging delivers the greatest impact and creates a look that definitely reads “18th Century revival”. Christian Lacroix would be proud. We’ll conclude this post by saying that the above commentary is based on a very small sample of fashion illustrations culled from two years of one fashion publication but it’s still compelling to see an evolutionary process happening right in front of us on its pages. We intend to delve into this a bit more and hopefully gain a better understanding about how fashions evolve and change.