And Now For Some 1890s Outerwear…

Today we take a look at an interesting coat from circa 1895-1900 made by Marshall & Snelgrove Ltd.:

Marshall & Snelgrove Ltd, Coat, c. 1895-1900; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.49-1962)

The coat is constructed of a dark purple silk velvet with the decoration being described by the V&A Museum as “a spray of an English wildflower called Sweet Cicely hand-embroidered in yellow and green silk, with petals of white felt.” With a Medici collar, the effect is magnificent and the coat must be gorgeous to look at in person. Here’s a close-up of the shoulders and collar:

The coat provides a large canvas for the decorative floral pattern and the deep rich purple velvet provides the period background for the floral embroidery and this coat would be exquisite to replicate. 🙂



Fashion Transition- The Late 1870s

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.



1890s Day Wear & Poplin

From the July 16, 1899 issue of La Mode Illustree, this elegant yet functional walking suit style described as a toilette de visites ornee d’applications (roughly translated as a “Visiting outfit decorated with appliqués”):

This style features a simple wrap-around multi-gore fan skirt characteristic of the 1890s and decorated with a large floral design on the outer corner of the wrap skirt. The bodice is interesting in that it’s a jacket-bodice that’s intended to mimic a jacket over a vest although if you study the illustration, it seems that the vest blends into the jacket revers but you can just barely make out a faint line dividing the two- talk about optical illusion. 😉

Here’s some more details from the description: The dress is made from a bottle-green summer-weight poplin.  Also, the skirt is decorated with a large white lily appliqué on the right front of the skirt and white trim run along the edge of the skirt. On the jacket-bodice, the lily theme is taken further with a white decorative lily motif trim on the sleeves and bodice front- it’s also noted that the appliqués are edged in bottle-green silk to match the overall dress color.  At the top of the vest portion of the jacket-bodice, there’s a silk green plastron covered by white ecru lace.1This is an extremely rough English translation from the description in the original publication.

This is an interesting style and it would have been nice to see fully created. What really sticks out is the use of a poplin fabric. During the late 19th Century, poplin was a plain weave fabric that usually combined silk warp yarns with wool weft yarns and often given a moire finish.2Dictionary of Textiles, 8th Edition; today, Poplin is woven from a variety of fibers, mostly cotton and the finish is often flat. Often confused with Broadcloth, Poplin is heavier. Although the fashion illustration doesn’t really provide any clues in terms of finish, it still bears more investigation as a fabric for spring and summer garments.



Doucet & 1890s Style

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century, it was by no means the only one. Couturiers such as Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, and Jeanne Paquin, just to name a few, were in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at Doucet and his take on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet was one of Worth’s leading competitors and like Worth, he utilized a number of marketing techniques that are now standard in the fashion industry to include dressing celebrities (and especially actresses). Doucet’s creations tended to have a softer silhouette, utilizing large quantities of lace, tulle, and chiffon as well as metallics and lame.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

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

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

The above ballgown, made sometime between 1898 and 1900, is made from what appears to be a silk chiffon backed by layers of lame. Unfortunately there are no close-up pictures available- it would be very interesting to have a close look at the fabric. With the exception of some tulle at the top of the bodice and leaf garlands on the shoulders, there is no trim and the dress relies on the richness of the materials themselves.

However, Doucet’s designs were not always so “simple”. Here we see one of Doucet’s more iconic work, a ballgown made sometime in the 1898 – 1902 time frame:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

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

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Side Profile

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Rear View

Here once again we see the fabric itself as the central focus of the dress style only this time there is an elaborate floral pattern created by leaves and foliage appliques on a gold lame background backed by what appears to be a silk chiffon underlayer. The upper bodice and sleeves are lace the overall effect is of shimmering gold.

So what about day wear? Here’s one example:

Day Dress Doucet c. 1890

Doucet, Day Dress, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC10445 2001-4AC)

The fashion fabric for this dress is a silk crêpe de chine with a stencil print pattern of bamboo stalks and the sparrow motif has been hand-painted separately. The fabric was most likely made in Japan for the export market and is an excellent example of the Japonisme theme that was often utilized by fashion designers during the 1880s and 90s. One again trim is minimal, limited to the hem, sleeves and collar finished off with a silk chiffon fichu.

However, designers could also works against type as with this ballgown that Doucet made sometime around 1890:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890sDoucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Close-Up of Bodice

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Rear View

The use of black and white stripes, artfully cut and blended together (especially on the bodice) reads “modern”, something we would expect to see from the 1950s. The black and white chevrons on the skirt front are especially bold and they immediately draw the eye. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this dress (at least from what I could tell from the museum website) and it raised some interesting questions in regard to provenance- it reads so differently than the majority of Doucet’s work that we almost wonder if this is a dress that’s been mislabeled- it certainly bears further study.

Although we can see two different approaches to design by Worth and Doucet (with a bit of overlap), it’s evident that there was an increased emphasis on making using the dress itself as a canvas for creating the design’s major effect. By this time, the use of trim is completely secondary and does little to distract the eye from the main attraction of the fabric design and this can be especially seen with Doucet’s two very different ballgown designs. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief excursion into some of Doucet’s designs. Stay tuned as we bring you more in the future.



Pattern Licensing From Maison Worth

Charles Worth is famous for being a pioneer in the world of haute couture and his impact on late 19th Century was immense. Although Worth’s designs are well known, the business aspects of Worth’s fashion empire are relatively unknown, aggravated by a lack of substantial documentation and a natural reticence on his part to discuss the topic. What we do know is fascinating and offers insight into Worth as a designer and below is just one small element for consideration.


One fascinating aspect about Charles Worth was that although he positioned himself as an exclusive couturier, he also licensed printed paper patterns of some of his designs. It’s well noted that Worth himself shied away from any overt publicity this to and you really have look hard for the evidence but it’s there. One example of this is this Redingote style was offered for sale for as a printed pattern in the 1882 edition of The Ladies Treasury:

And here’s the accompanying commentary:

Redingcotes are most popular in Paris. M. Worth makes them for summer dresses instead of polonaises. They are made in grenadines, over contrasting colours, for evening dresses. A mauve grenadine, on which are moons of black satin, two inches in diameter is made plain, over a lining of maize yellow satin. The grenadine is turned off in the front, to the sides, and is outlined in jet embroidery, black. A full frill of thread lace goes round the neck, and continues down the centre of the bodice. The petticoat of black satin has a pleated flounce of satin, and a front breadth of yellow satin, which is nearly hidden in jet embroidery, and bows of moire ribbons.

This style is M. Worth’s protest against the bunched-up paniers at the back, which it is said he detests.

Worth’s licensing of patterns is an interesting aspect of his business and is an area that’s not well documented. Of course, it would be interesting to locate the actual pattern but so far, our efforts to do so haven’t been successful. What’s also interesting is that even though Maison Worth was doing very well financially, it’s interesting that he would even bother with such pattern licensing- the revenue from pattern licensing could not have been much when compared to sales of his haute couture. Unfortunately, details about business side of Maison Worth are thin and we may never know the precise answer but it’s interesting to speculate on. As we find out more, we’ll be posting it here. Enjoy!