1880s Style- A Color And Texture Perspective

Color and texture were two major elements in the daytime styles of the mid to late 1880s and often effects were achieved through the use of one color combined by differing fabric textures. The highly sculpted smooth silhouettes of the 1880s further enhanced this effect in that emphasis was placed on the fabrics themselves rather than through the use of trim or draping. Typically, style effects were achieved through the use of contrasting fabrics:

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1890; From Augusta Auctions

“Contrast” could also be a bit more subtle- note how the jeweled texture of the under bodice/underskirt also goes a long way in visually setting the two fabrics apart:

Day Dress 1887

Day Dress, American, c. 1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.2a–c)

Contrasting colors were also employed:

Day Dress 1885-86 1

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

La Mode Illustree September 12 1886

Sometimes, the two ideas of contrasting fabrics and colors could be combined:


Edouard Alexandre Sain, The Red Parasol, Private Collection

With either method, a wide variety of aesthetically pleasing effects could be achieved and the possibilities were nearly endless. However, there was one other way a style effect could be achieved and that was through the use of different fabrics in the same color:

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Day Dress, European or American, circa 1885; Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up Bodice Front

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

Day Dress, European or American, ca. 1885

Side Profile

What is striking about this dress is that it uses two different fabric textures through the use of wine red silk fabrics- a plain silk satin combined with a floral silk brocade. The two fabrics are different but their colors are identical (at least from examination of the pictures); this contrast is very apparent if one examines the front bodice and cuff details:

Close-Up Bodice Front

Close-Up With Cuff Detail

While the style effect of the above dress is not as dramatic as contrasting fabrics and colors, it is still effective although much more subtle. This effect projects a more restrained, conservative image and as such is representative of a more middle class aesthetic that was unaffected and not meant to be fashion-forward (i.e., “we’ve got money but we’re not going to be too ostentatious about it.”).

Here is another example of the same type of effect, only this time the contrast in textures is achieved through patterns of soutache:


Day Dress, c. 1880 – 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.2.1a, b)


Side Profile


Rear View

The contrast in textures is achieved through soutache which is most prominent on the front and neck of the bodice and at the tops of the overskirt on both sides. Here’s a better view of the bodice:


Close-Up Of Bodice

Four our final example, we now view a court dress that was made for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria circa 1885:


Court Dress for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Fanni Scheiner, c. 1885; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. MD_N_123)


Full View With Train


Rear View


Full View Of Dress And Train

With this dress, we see the texture of the base fashion fabric, in this case a silk moire, create the major style effect- the Moire catches the light at different angles and creates a three-dimensional effect that is further enhanced by the black-gray lace trim.The Moire effect is further brought out with the large court train and overall, this is a dress that  readily catches the viewer’s eye. Truly the fabric speaks for itself. 🙂 In each of the three above examples, each dress is of a single color and depends on either the construction of the fabric or the addition of soutache to create texture and depth. Brocades and Moires can provide some striking effects that transform an otherwise flat surface into something more. In the case of the blue dress with matching soutache, the end effect is also the same.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into 1880s fashion effects and it’s clear that there were an almost unlimited range of design by possibilities and we hope that this will serve as an inspiration in recreating styles of the 1880s.

Wedding Dresses of the 1890s

For wedding dresses, the late 19th Century was a time of change in terms of what was considered proper for a wedding. In the 1870s, weddings tended to be small affairs held at home with little or none of the trappings that we today associate with weddings. But at the same time, marriages among the wealthy elite began to grow into large scale affairs that were meant to be more of a public spectacle/social “happening” than an intimate affair centering around getting married.

John Henry Frederick Bacon, The Wedding Morning, 1892

Also, with the rise of the mass market consumer culture, companies offered a wide variety of wedding goods to include wedding rings, wedding dresses, specific wedding gifts, et al. In order to stimulate demand, efforts were made to generate business by creating traditions and then marketing them, spurred along by the increasingly elaborate weddings staged by the wealthy. In many cases, marketing centered on the idea that an elaborate wedding was essential towards maintaining social status. Of course, this was the ideal and not always followed; it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the bridal industry truly began to take shape and develop into what we know today.

Charles Dana Gibson, The Night Before Her Wedding

The 1890s saw a continuation of wedding dress trends that developed during the 1870s and 1880s. Wedding dresses still came in both colors and white but the trend towards the white wedding was we understand it today continued, spurred along by the development of a mass consumer economy.

Wedding Party, c. early 1890s

Below is an interesting example of a non-white wedding dress in a gray-green. This dress was made by a Mary Molloy, a local dress maker in Saint Paul, Minnesota for Martha L. Berry (nee English) for her wedding day on July 6, 1891:

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Wedding Dress, 1891; Minnesota Historical Society (9444.10.A,B)

Side Profile

The above wedding dress is fairly restrained and it’s obvious that it was meant for use long beyond the wedding date. The construction appears to be mostly likely silk with silver beading; the lapels are wide so as to permit an elaborate silver beading pattern. Also, there is further beading along the bottom of the bodice. Finally, one can see a small, vestigial bustle.

Turning towards more specific wedding dresses, here is an example from 1892 that was made by the Fox Dressmaking Company of New York (a concern that was actually run by four sisters, catering to an exclusive clientele):


Wedding Dress, Fox Dressmaking Company, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.115.1ab_F)

Side View

Rear View & Train

Close-Up Of Bodice

Close-Up Of Left Upper Sleeve

Close-Up Of Trim Design

Close-Up Of Neckline

Close-Up Of Fashion Fabric; If one looks very closely they can see that the stripes are straight and that embroidery has been added to create a swirling effect.

Maker’s Label

The base fashion fabric for this dress consists alternating stripes of silk satin and faille in an ivory/gold. The difference in the weaves of the satin and faille makes for a difference in lusters and this in turn gives the dress an interesting visual effect: while the satin gives a right, lustrous appearance, the faille provides a duller luster, each one complementing the other. Considering that most weddings during this time were held in the morning (and especially society weddings), a dress completely made of satin would probably been too bright thus the faille tones it down a bit. Of course, this is just conjecture on our part. 🙂

In contrast to the sleeves and skirt, and train, the bodice is covered in lace and pearls combined with silk ribbon ruching along the neckline and ribbon trim along the hem of the bodice. The pearls and lace definitely take center focus, drawing the eye of the viewer. Combined with the fashion fabric, this dress reads opulent and it’s certainly the rival of Worth and Doucet.

Wedding dresses could also be restrained such as this one made in 1896 by the House of Worth:

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Wedding Dress, Worth, French, 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.1)

Close-up of the bodice.

Close-up of the upper left sleeve and shoulder.

Close-up of the lower sleeve.

Here we see the height of wedding fashion for 1896 with the characteristic leg of mutton sleeves. The dress is constructed from an ivory silk brocade with a minimum of lace at the cuffs and pearl trim on the neckline. The look is relatively restrained with clean lines. The dress gets its impact from the symmetrical floral leaf pattern running down the front of the dress and skirt, a look facilitated by the one-piece princess line design. The sleeve design is reminiscent of late Medieval styles.

The above has only been a small sampling of what is out there but we think that it provides some interesting wedding ideas. At the same time, it also demonstrates that wedding traditions are never set in stone, as much as the marketers would like us to believe, but rather they are constantly evolving.

Patterning A Worth Gown

I‘ve been quietly studying and lifting a pattern from one of the many Worth gowns in our collection. It’s harder than one would think, because I have to take fangirl breaks! She’s an 1881 silk voided velvet on faille polonaise and skirt, in mint condition…it’s like Himself is whispering in my ear, saying…”Do it!” Hmmm… 🙂

The basic fashion fabric it “voided” silk velvet on silk faille. It’s also pattern matched everywhere on the seams. It’s one of the few gowns that we own that is closed lined and not with open seam allowances. It’s completely lined with silk moire, except for the sleeves.

Revisiting The Natural Form/Mid-Bustle Era

Aa you have no doubt discovered by now, the Mid-Bustle Era or Natural Form Era is one of our most favorite periods of the late Nineteenth Century and it has been a constant source of inspiration for many of our designs, especially because it runs counter to the popular perception of what characterized the “typical” look of the Bustle Era. At the risk of being redundant, we offer some further observations about this relatively short-lived period.


Edmond-Louis Dupain, Elegant Lady Walking Her Greyhounds on the Beach

The early 1880s were an interesting time in the fashion world in which we see the bustle silhouette style characteristic of the early and mid-1870s give way in the late 1870s to a slim, upright, cylindrical silhouette. Often referred to as the “natural form era” or Mid-Bustle Era, the period from roughly 1878 through 1883 saw a dramatic reversal in dress styles: where once the style focused on draping and gathering of varied fabrics over a bustle, the emphasis was now on the controlled use of fabrics and trim to create a style with clean, sharp lines.

Petersons_Sept 1880

Peterson’s Magazine, September 1880

Below are some examples, albeit idealized, of the basic style which could be found for both day and evening wear:

Journal Des Demoiselles 1880

Journal Des Demoiselles, 1880

Revue de la Mode_1880_1

Revue De La Mode, 1880

Journal Le Printemps October 1881

Journal Le Printemps, October 1881

Journal Le Printemps June 1881

Journal Le Printemps, June 1881

Journal Des Demoiselles 1881

Journal Des Demoiselles, 1881

In examining this relatively short-lived period, it must be noted that “natural form” is somewhat of a misnomer in that the term refers to the ideal of the reform dress movement which centered around the idea that clothing should enhance the body’s natural form rather than constrict and re-shape it. The styles of 1878-1883, like there predecessors, relied on structured undergarments to modify the body’s appearance- something that dress reformers did not have in mind.

So with that said, let us explore a bit…

We start with this reception dress from the early 1880s:


Reception Dress, French, c. 1881 – 1883; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.38.61a, b)


Close-Up Of Front


Side Profile


Three-Quarters Rear View

Rear View

 Just for completeness, here’s some details:

Detail of bodice.

The above dress illustrates several elements of the Mid-Bustle Era style and in particular, the silhouette which is slim and cylindrical with a minimal bustle. Day dresses tended to have either no train or at most, a demi-train while evening dresses and ball gowns retained a longer train. However, either way, the train was low, flowing from the bottom of the skirt rather than off of an elevated bustle.

The use of rows of vertical pleating on the rear of the skirt combined with rows of flounces trimmed with embroidered leaves on the front help emphasize the vertical lines. Finally, the ruching on the bodice front also reinforces the idea of vertical lines.

And because we just can’t resist, here is Charles Worth’s take on the wedding dress:


Wedding Dress, Charles Worth, c. 1879 – 1880; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.62 to B-1976)

The dress silhouette is characteristic for a formal dress of the Mid-Bustle Era. Also, while it is not easy to make out, the trim on the front and sides also helps to emphasize the vertical lines. Here’s one more from Worth, circa 1880, where the trim pattern on the front can be readily seen:


Finally, one more example to illustrate some of the trends happening in the late 1870s – early 1880s:


Day Dress, c. 1878 – 1883; McCord Museum (M2003.76.1.1-3)



Note in the above example that the bodice extends over the hips and that there is no bustled train. At the same time, there is a train extending out, above the hem of the skirt; an train extending out at a low level was one style variation found during this period and in extreme cases was known as the “mermaid tail.” This was probably meant as more of a reception dress and a dress meant for everyday activity. Also, note that these dresses often came equipped with a “train hook,” a small loop attached to the end of the train that allowed the dress’ wearer to pick up end of the train so it would not drag on the ground.

In terms of color, we see the use of two shades of red with silk for the lighter shade and velvet for the darker shade that read as a jewel tone. The use of velvet for the dark burgundy red provides a contrast to the lighter silk in that the velvet traps the light while the lighter silk provides a more reflective luster. This is a common effect used during much of the late 19th Century but a beautiful one nonetheless.

No discussion of the Mid-Bustle Era would be complete without some discussion of the princess line style. The princess line style further refined the era’s trend towards a more upright, slender silhouette. The primary characteristic of the princess line style was that the bodice and skirt were one unified body which provided a large, continuous space for decoration.  Below is one example of the princess line style:


Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878 – 1880; Victoria & Albert Museum (CIRC.606-1962)


Close-Up Of The Front


Rear View

The dress design attempts to create the effect of a contrasting bodice/outer skirt and under skirt; the lines are somewhat reminiscent of an 18th Century coat worn with an outer and under skirt. The dress itself consists of a top and rear train made from a blue silk woven in the Jacquard manner combined with a white ruched silk running along the complete and at the bottom of the train. Running along the hem are rows of white silk knife-pleating and the top is trimmed with white lace around the neck. Finally, there is a minimal trailing “tail” on top of the train. Finally, what is striking is the contrast between the silk floral leaf top and train combined with rows of ruching providing a contrast between smooth and textured fabrics as well as color and fabric.

Here is another example, only this time it employs contrasting colors while keeping the same fabric type:

Princess Line Dress c. 1878

Day Dress, Princess Line, c. 1878; National Museum, Prague (H2-193316)

Czech Dress3

Three-Quarter Side View

Czech Dress4

Three-Quarter Rear View

Style-wise, this dress is simpler than the first example in that there is simply two contrasting colors with little added except for rows of knife-pleating along the hem and some ribbon trim on the front and shoulders and some lace around the neckline.

Ultimately, while the Mid-Bustle/Natural Form Era style strove to create a silhouette that was more “natural” to the wearer’s body (as opposed to the bustle/train), it was still a product of sculpting and shaping through the use of foundation garments, principally the corset and various underpinnings such as these:

Le Moniteur De La Mode 1876

We hope you have enjoyed this small tour through the late 1870s/early 1880s and it helps illustrate some of the basic Victorian ideas about fashion and style.

A Quick Look At A Worth Ballgown…

In the course of doing photo dress research, it’s sometimes easy to miss interesting details because of the way that the garment is staged as in the case of this circa 1899 ballgown made by Maison Worth for Margaret Georgina Curzon, the sister of George Curzon, Viceroy of India:

Dress, 1899; John Bright Collection

Dress, 1899; John Bright Collection

The skirt is constructed of an ivory silk satin decorated with a wheat motif with turquoise velvet ribbon and jeweling. And below is the bodice. According to the John Bright Collection website, the bodice is too fragile to be placed on a mannequin for display, hence why it’s flat in the pictures.

It’s easy to overlook this ballgown since the bodice is displayed flat but one can make out the turquoise silk velvet trim and jeweling against an ivory silk satin fashion fabric combined with white lace and dark turquoise netting. Here’s a view of the bodice interior:

This ballgown is very similar to this one that was made by Maison Worth in 1900:

Worth, Ball Gown, 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1250a, b)

Close-Up Of Skirt Design