Carefully wrapped in acid free tissue and a hard case, our 1890s Felix ballgown is being taken to match up bead sizes and silk matched. Very special cargo, with an upcoming blog post tonight.
When building a period wardrobe, outerwear such as mantles are often overlooked even though they were a key element in just about any lady’s wardrobe. Broadly speaking, mantles are a lineal descendant of cloaks and shawls and as such, are basically a more refined version of these loose garments, designed to follow the lines of the underlying dress. One of the most distinctive characteristics of 1880s mantles was that the front was cut significantly longer than in the read in order to accommodate the bustle/train of the dress. To begin, here’s an example from circa 1875 made from a Kashmir/Paisley shawl:
Kashmir/Paisley shawls were extremely popular as outerwear during the 1850s and 1860s but were not always the easiest to wear due to their large size and especially with a trained dress. Many of these older shawls were converted to more manageable mantles during the 1870s. The above example is relatively loose which goes together with some of the exaggerated bustles/trains characteristic of early 1870s styles. Here’s an example from circa 1884 that continues this trend:
But the choice of fabric was not limited to Kashmir/Paisley; other fabrics were utilized with velvet being a major favorite:
The above example is a more loosely fitted example with wide sleeves and a lot of ease in the front. In the example below, we see a more tailored version with a peplum running along the bottom. In this profile, one can see that the back is cut to accommodate the prominent bustle characteristic of the later 1880s. Also, one can see a more structured, rigid sleeve setting the lower arm at a 90 degree angle; this was often referred to as a “sling sleeve.”
The mantle front often had a long length as with this example:
To get a better idea of scale, here’s a picture of the mantle being worn over a dress:
And for something a little different, here’s an illustration from the January 1880 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:
Here we see a mantle with the cylindrical silhouette characteristic of the Mid-Bustle Era. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any actual extant examples so illustrations will have to do. Here’s a couple more variations on the basic design:
The above is just a mere fraction of the possibilities with mantles- with just one or two basic shapes, one can create a wide variety of mantles utilizing all manner of fabrics and trim and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in the future. 🙂
Dior has always been a source of inspiration for us, both in style and color. Today, we came across these views from Dior’s Fall 2018 Couture Collection:
The color palette is simply exquisite, consisting of a series of cool shapes of green, and here’s the requisite palette:
All of the above colors are appropriate for the late 19th Century and here’s just a few examples from extant dresses:
Now that’s some color inspiration! 🙂
The second dress we viewed at the Fashion Museum Bath was a complete contrast to the first: this time we were looking at an ivory-colored evening dress/day dress that was also made by the House of Worth either in the early 1890s (unfortunately there’s not a precise date). Once again, we’ll start with some general views of the entire dress:
The two above views really show off the skirt front and because it’s lying flat, one can readily discern the longer trained skirt back. The lining is a rough cotton and from what we could tell, the pieces have been flat-felled (although we can’t be 100% certain).
Unfortunately, given the close space I was working in, I was unable to get a good full-length picture so these will have to do. The dress is constructed of an ivory/pink blush silk moire fabric with both bodice and skirt having vertical stripes with alternating pink blush and ivory strips of which the ivory strips have the watered silk appearance characteristic of moire. The bodice sleeves and neck are three-quarter and trimmed with silk lace and ribbons. Here are a few more views that show off the fashion fabric better, in the bright morning light the pink blush was almost lost to the naked eye.
Here’s a closer view of the bodice:
The above two pictures give a good view of the bodice front. The buttons are fully functional and it appears that the buttonholes were sewn in by hand, utilizing strips of gimp. Below are two views of the bodice back:
The bodice has the characteristic back “tail” that laid over the train and one can get a good look at the fashion fabric itself. The pink blush stripes are very subtle and faint in some places- possibly a product of sun fading. Below are some more views of the skirt:
The above two pictures give a good view of the hem on both sides. On the outside, one can see a combination of pleating combined with small bows. On the inside, the hem is a simple double-fold with a hidden catch stitch. Below is a detail view of one of the sleeves:
And here’s the bodice opened up to reveal the interior:
As with most bodices of the period, the interior is lightly boned on top of the major seams to give the bodice structure. The bone casings are made of a gauze silk/cotton(?)-like fabric and have been stitched into the lining and seams allowances.
And, if you have ever wondered just what sort of stitching was used for finishing the interior of the bodice, here’s a good close-up view:
Judging from the skirt and the bodice, we’d date this one from the early 1890s. The longer skirt back suggests that a bustle appliance of some sort would have been worn, most likely probably a pad (small pads were still in use during the 1890). Because of the bodice’s fragility, I was unable to get a good look at just how large the sleeve caps are but there’s definitely some room there. It’s definitely not the full-blown gigot sleeves of the mid 1890s but the style of the bodice is definitely headed that way. The skirt is composed of multiple gores, at least five to seven (we were unable to get an exact count).
The fashion fabric, as stated previously, is an ivory/pink blush silk moire fabric with both bodice and skirt having vertical stripes with alternating pink blush and ivory strips of which the ivory strips have the watered silk appearance characteristic of moire. This is an interesting choice of fabric and it’s pretty subtle. Although it’s hard to say with 100% certainty, this dress reads “bridal” and it would certainly work for that purpose although it could just as easily answer as a better visiting/afternoon dress or even a reception dress, depending on the event. Well, this pretty much wraps up our visit to the Fashion Museum Bath and we want to thank the staff for their assistant and patience. We hope to return in the near future and view some more dresses from their collection. Merci beaucoup! 🙂
We began our first full day in Bath with a trip to the Fashion Museum Bath for a special viewing some select items from the museum’s collection. First up, is this evening dress/day dress made by the House of Worth either in the early or late 1890s (the official date is 1890). We’ll start with some general views:
For some basic details, the dress appears to be constructed from a black silk velvet with a lighter gray floral pattern created by burning out the velvet (or so it would seem). Supplementing the floral pattern decoration on the bodice are crystals (probably Swaroviski since they were a major supplier to Worth). The official date on this dress is 1890 but to us, there may be some play in the dating- it’s hard to determine the precise silhouette since this dress is not on a mannequin but our best estimate is either early or late 1890s since the sleeves are relatively restrained, lacking the gigot sleeves characteristic of the mid-1890s. Of course, we could be wrong and if so, we graciously concede. 🙂
So far, this dress seems fairly conventional within the range of Worth and we guess that this is either a better afternoon/receiving dress or even a reception dress (probably less likely). However, once we we were able to get a better view of the skirt, the beauty of the dress was revealed:
The front of the skirt is divided by a black silk velvet panel running down the front with a string of decorative flowers running down the center. Below is a close-up of the flowers:
The flowers themselves are created by long metallic beads combined with ribbon. If you look closely around the flowers, you will notice what appears to be white spots or collections of lint; but they’re not. Actually, these are discolored worn down spots in the velvet plush where the beads had pressed down hard into the velvet. It appears that this dress was stored folded up for a long time. Now, here’s a view of the back of the skirt which really shows off the decorative pattern. Notice how it grows as it gets towards the hem. The skirt, incidentally, appears to be either a five or seven-gored single skirt characteristic of the 1890s.
Here’s some more close-up views of the burnt velvet itself:
This picture is especially interesting in that is shows that the floral pattern had subtle outlines around the individual leaves and it was hard to tell if it was burnt-out velvet or if another process was at work. The backside of the skirt offered no clues since it was completely lined with a fairly sturdy cotton.
Although this is a bit blurred, note how it’s actually two pieces of fabric coming together in the middle. Also, it’s been sewn in on the bias since the floral pattern narrows as it moves towards the top. This is also illustrated below:
Turning to the bodice, here are some views:
Closures consist of hooks and eyes and the top of the bodice and neck were lined with lace. Below is a picture of the bodice back:
The bodice back is decorated in the same way as the skirt with the floral pattern completely covering the bodice back. Also, there’s a v-back with a plain black velvet fill and the a tail at the base of the bodice that provides a natural beginning for the pattern seen on the back of the skirt. The eye is naturally drawn up and down. 🙂 Next, here are close-up views of one of the sleeves:
Note the crystals that add to the overall effect. 🙂 And just to be complete, here are some interior views:
The bodice interior. It’s lined with what appears to be a black polished cotton. Note the three eyes- these attached corresponding hooks that are set in the back of the skirt to prevent any separation between the skirt and bodice. Here’s a view of the interior stitching:
The back and front of the bodice are lightly boned on top of the major seam lines to maintain their shape (a corset was worn underneath to maintain the basic silhouette (body contouring, if you will). Also, note that the seam allowances are all finished by overcast stitching, which was standard for the time, and tacked down to the lining. Compared to some Worth dresses we have examined, this is actually pretty tidy. Below are some more interior views:
In all the Worth dresses we’ve examined, the seam allowances are notched with gentle edges which allows the fabric to follow the bodice curves with no bunching or bubbles. Also, note that the bodice is NOT constructed as what’s referred to today as a “turn and flip.” Rather, the pattern pieces were flat-lined with each piece of fashion fabric stitched to it’s corresponding lining pattern piece BEFORE the pieces are sewn together.
Overall, it’s a fantastic dress and is a good example of Worth’s later work and illustrates the construction techniques that were utilized during the period. The design is elegant and definitely catches the eye, leading it up and down the dress to admire the complete floral decorative effect. It’s simply brilliant. 🙂 We’re honored that we had the opportunity to view it in person- merci beaucoup to the museum staff!
(To be continued…)