1890s Style- A Quick Overview

Probably one of the the most iconic fashion styles is 1890s style with its leg-of-mutton sleeves and the wasp waist. One of the basic rules of fashion is that fashion will emphasize a particular body part until it reaches a point of excess and a reaction sets in and the emphasis then shifting to another body part. For 1890s style, we see it developing in reaction to the excesses of the bustle era and in particular, its last flowering in the mid to late 1880s with the “shelf” bustle:

Evening Dress, American, c. 1884 – 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

And, invariably, a reaction set in and the bustle silhouette with its emphasis on the derriere (ok, buttocks, let’s just get it out there 🙂 ) now shifted towards a more slender, upright silhouette with emphasis on the shoulders and waist in the form of the leg-of-mutton sleeves combined with an extremely narrow waist (i.e., the wasp waist).

Le Moniteur de la Mode. September 1895

Naturally, these changes do not occur overnight (at least back then) and during the early 1890s, we a see a gradual fashion shift towards the new look (which we discussed previously). By 1895, more extreme versions of the new silhouette were developing with the sleeves and waist. Below are a few examples of this “new look” in fashion plates, as interpreted by the French:

La Grande Dame_1895

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

La Grande Dame_1895_2

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

La Grande Dame_1895_5

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 31, 1895

In the above examples, we see the classic hourglass figure which is created by an A-line skirt combined with a seemingly unstructured bodice that balloons out at the shoulders. The bodice front seemingly gives an impression of a billowy blouse/shirt-waist (another style that began to take hold during this period).

Compared to 1880s and some early 1890s styles, the lines dresses depicted have much softer lines and everything appears to be very free-floating. However, it must be noted that this silhouette is in reality a structured design that relies on a corset to achieve that ideal hourglass figure.

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Assorted Corset Styles, c. 1880s & 1890s

Now that you have seen the basic silhouette as depicted in fashion plates, let’s take it a bit further with some extant originals:

Day Dress, c. 1890s; Museu del Disseney de Barcelona (MTIB 88108-0)

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Day Dress, c. 1895; Augusta Auctions; Black Cotton with raised red and yellow pin stripes.

Maison Felix, Day Dress, c. 1893-1895; FIDM Museum (2008.5.51AB)

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above are only a small sample of what was out there- while the silhouette for each of the above dresses is the same, each differs in the materials, trim, and design elements thus creating unique dresses that are still part of a specific style. What is also interesting is that bodices could be open or closed and the open ones continue trends of the 1880s and early 1890s in creating a jacket bodice/skirt combination used with a waist and/or vest.

Day Dress, c. 1895, French;

Day Dress, c. 1895; Fashion Museum Antwerp

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Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1895; Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM; 2006.870.19AB)

The above examples vary in materials and trim but they all embody the basic 1890s design aesthetic. The Jacket/bodice dress style was also embodied in the more informal waking suit, a practical garment for daytime wear in public.  Below are a few extant examples:

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Walking Suit, c. 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)

Doucet, Walking Suit, c. 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.15&A-1979)

Constructed of wool, linen, or cotton, these suits incorporate the hourglass figure but in a muted form with an A-line skirt and a tailored coat with the characteristic leg-of-mutton sleeves, although the sleeves are somewhat muted in the earlier examples.

In conclusion, it is clear that there was no lack of variety in dress styles during the mid-1890s. With daywear, the hourglass silhouette was kept somewhat within limits but as we will see in future posts, this was not always the case with evening wear and the finer forms of daywear and we will see examples of this in future posts. 🙂



Early Princess Style…

It’s generally accepted that the princess dress style began to gain traction around 1876-1878. However,  as with most fashion trends, the princess dress didn’t just spontaneously appear but rather it was a product of an evolutionary process that we’ve managed to trace back to at least 1874.  One of the more logical places for the princess style to develop was with house dresses because of their simple, relatively loose construction. Below are two designs that were offered for sale as patterns in the October 1874 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

The Griselda Polonaise is described as:

The recent styles, however furnish a concession to the rage for jackets, and by a clever addition of a “basque,” or “jacket ” back, give the effect of two separate parts to the costume. A stylish example of this is illustrated in the “Griselda” polonaise, one of the prettiest, and at the same time, one of the most practical designs of the season. It is long, straight around, with just enough fullness to make it graceful, and is fitted with a slashed basque, which comes far enough forward to furnish the jacket effect. The revers collar extends into square tabs at the back—tho ends of which are finished with woolen ball, or tasseled fringe to match the basque. Plaitings may be employed if the design is used in the making of an alpaca suit, but the whole amount of fringe required, will not be over a yard and a-half.

What is interesting about the “Griselda Polonaise” is that it’s not referred to at all as a princess dress but rather focuses on the faux jacket style that serves to create an illusion that there are two separate parts the dress. Of course, one look at the dress front illustration makes it clear that this is a one-piece garment.

The Camilla Gabrielle as:

A new style of the princess dress will be found in the “camilla” gabrielle, a very dressy design, easily arranged however, and adapted to a wide class of materials…it forms a ladylike indoor dress for either city or country, requires a comparatively small amount of material, and but little trimming to make a stylish dress.

Both of the above styles are very elegant versions of the indoor house dress while at the same time emphasizing that they don’t require a lot of expensive materials.  Here’s an extant example of a house dress from circa 1875:

House Dress, 1875; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

This dress has a princess silhouette and is constructed from a combination of lavender and dark purple/eggplant silk taffeta. This style is very similar to the above engravings from Demorest’s with a few  variations on decorative treatments. What’s striking about this dress is the use of contrasting dark and light panels, a feature that would become common into the late 1870s. Also, we can see that with this style, it wasn’t too far of a leap to migrate into a full-blown day dress suitable for wear outside the house as can be seen with this example:

Another interesting feature about the earlier princess style dresses is that we can also see an evolution from a long polonaise into a more proper dress and this is evident with the these two dress styles that appeared in the June 4, 1876 and August 2, 1876 issues of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

In the above two fashion plates, one can see very visible underskirts that are more than simple hems but rather suggest that the style started with a two-piece skirt and polonaise with the polonaise becoming longer to the point where an underskirt was either no longer needed or remained in a vestigial form with an elaborate hem and train.  Now, just to throw some other elements into the princess dress style, there’s this plate, also from an 1876 issue of Le Moniteur de la Mode:

Here we see the princess line combined with an outer redingote combined with the suggestion of an underskirt and waist/vest (we believe that much of this would have actually been of a one-piece construction.  The redingote, combined with the wide lapels and elaborate tails, definitely reads Directoire; whether this was solely a concept piece only depicted in a fashion plate or actually makes for interesting speculation. In the end, the only major takeaway from all of this is that fashion evolves while at the same time combining other style elements in a seemingly endless variety of combinations and it can be said that there’s definitely a lot to consider in designing a recreation of the princess style dress, whether it’s a house dress, tea gown, or full-blown day/afternoon dress.



Stepping Back To 1878…

And for a change of pace, we step back a few decades to circa 1878 with this wonderful Mid-Bustle Era/Natural Form day dress that’s identified as a wedding dress1This dress is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection and on their web site, the dress as identified as a “Wedding Ensemble”, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/156665. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any information on how they arrived at that conclusion so this has to be taken with a grain of salt.:

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Wedding dress, c. 1878; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.18a, b)

Below is a nice close-up showing details of the fashion fabric and some of the details.

Side Profile

This dress is constructed of an embroidered wine colored stripped silk satin for the overskirt and bodice combined with a purple silk satin for the underskirt, bodice front and cuffs. Finally around the cuffs, there’s a think band of the purple silk sating that’s been pleated and finished off with white lace. In terms of silhouette, this one is cylindrical, characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era and has no train. The bodice is a cuirass style, falling over the hips. The decorate effect on the underskirt hem is interesting, employing a combination of pleating, ruching, and use of the stripped fashion fabric in the form of vertical tabs running along the upper hem.

Now, as for the dress being a wedding dress, this is a very possible. Unfortunately, there’s no documentation posted online at the Met Museum website and we can only assume that there is documentation but that it didn’t make it online for reasons unknown. But nevertheless, this dress could have been used as a wedding dress in that during the late Nineteenth Century, the use of white as THE wedding dress color was not a rigid convention; a wedding dress was often a bride’s best dress and was meant for wear long after the wedding. Moreover, the idea that one would have a specific dress to be worn only on the wedding day and then put away was also not the norm and in fact, was simply not feasible for most people, not to mention that it was viewed as wasteful. The idea of the one-use wedding dress would start to develop towards the end of the Nineteenth Century but only by the very rich.2For a more complete discussion of wedding dresses, check these posts HERE, HERE, and HERE. Ultimately, this dress presents a classic late 1870s/early 1880s day look and works for a variety of social occasions. 🙂

Tea Gowns…Early Edwardian Style

Today’s fashion feature centers around the tea gown. While we’ve had some extensive coverage of this topic in past posts, today we shift focus to the early 1900s with a few examples starting with this design from Maison Rouff that was featured in the July 1902 issue of Les Modes:

And here’s another gown by Rouff from circa 1900:

Rouff, Tea Gown, c. 1900; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.87-1991)

As with earlier tea gowns, there were a variety of individual styles available to the fashion consumer but the one thing that’s striking about the above examples is that they combined soft layers with a distinctive decorated vertical front that ran the full length of the garment that served to draw the eye. Also, we see the the empire waist style being used as a style element as can be seen in the above gown. Below is a little more unstructured design from Maison Worth:

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1900-1901; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2498)

The black and white photography really shows off the floral and stripe pattern on the outer robe portion of the gown.

Rear View

Like the other gowns, Worth’s tea gown also features a train. On the other hand, lace is de-emphasized, only being used for the sleeves and trim around the neck. But what about tea gowns that weren’t made by high-end couture houses? Well, for those of lesser means, paper patterns were available for the home sewer and dressmaker such as this one that was featured in the January 31, 1901 issue of Vogue Magazine:

And then there’s this pattern featured in the July 24, 1902 issue:

The above images give a glimpse of tea gown trends during the early 1900s. From what we’ve seen, the one thing that stands out is that in contrast to the 1890s, the upper sleeve and shoulder were de-emphasized and lace seemed to play a more prominent role in sleeve design. In this post, we’ve painted with some pretty large brush strokes and in future posts, we hope to refine this a bit more, However, in the meantime, use these images as a source of inspiration. 🙂


And For Some More Edwardian Day Wear…

Today we feature some more examples of the variety that existed in daywear from the first decade of the 20th Century. Like the 1880s and 1890s before, there was a wide variety of styles available. Below are just a few examples, starting first with a lingerie dress featured in the May 1902 issue of Les Modes designed by Redfern:

And then for something just a bit different is this house dress in somewhat of a Directoire style:

And for a little more Directoire style, there’s this circa 1905 princess line day dress:

Jeanne Hallée, Day Dress, c. 1905; Royal Museums of Art, Brussels

The decorative effect is very striking with the use of trapunto embroidery:

And for some day dress style- typically a skirt, waist, and jacket combination or some variation. Here’s just one possible style depicted in the July 1901 issue of Les Modes designed by a one Blanche Lebouvier:

The jacket is bolero jacket with large points along the bottom. This is just one of many variations for jackets. Below is an afternoon dress designed by Redfern featured in a 1903 issue of Les Modes:

The above dress illustrates some of the more common characteristics of the day dress of the early 1900s to include jacket/bodices that had layers to often include a lace capelet. The silhouette reflected the distinct “pouter pigeon” shape created by the S-bend corset. Below, we see another day dress style created by Paquin and featured in a 1903 issue of Les Modes:

Here we see a less structured look (at least externally) with a loose waist acting as a bodice trimmed with passementerie and lace cuffs. This could be considered a lingerie dress although it’s a bit less fluffy than what’s normally associated with the lingerie dress style (one could easily argue both sides). Below is a similar style that was featured in the July 1902 issue of Les Modes:

This dress style nicely illustrates the ideal silhouette of the early 1900s created by the S-bend corset and could be classified as a more structured lingerie dress. Draped and layered lace was frequently employed as a decorative device as with this circa 1903 afternoon dress designed by Doucet:

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1557a, b)

Lace applique was also utilized as  a design element:

Day Dress, c. 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1973.46.2a, b)

Here’s a close-up of the back:

The above is just a brief, broad-brush overview of day dress styles of the first decade of the 20th Century but it’s a good place to start when considering styles for recreation. Stay tuned for more! 🙂