Charles Worth & Textiles

Image result for silk fabrics charles worth

Textiles are a major element in any fashion style and a good designer will always seek to utilize the right fabric so that a specific style looks its best. For Charles Worth, fabrics played a major role in the design process to the point where he would commission textile manufacturers to create textiles for his exclusive use. Drawing on his background as a draper, Worth created relationships with a number of textile manufacturers, most notably the silk weavers of Lyon, France.

Charles Frederick Worth Haute Couture bridesmaid dress gown from American 1896. Probably made from silk and fabric material with contrasting woven flower floral pattern, pearl, bead and lace tulle. High neckline with blown up gigot puffed sleeve, contrasting color for the bodice, dress fully flared with train at the back. #Vintage #Haute #Couture #Fashion House of Worth.

Worth’s opinion of the role of textiles was neatly summarized in an interview quoted in the March 24, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

When a manufacturer invents any special fabric or design, he sends me a pattern asking if I can use it. The fabric may require a severe style of dress, or if light and soft it is adapted for draperies and puffings. If the material pleases me, I order a large quantity to be mades specially for me, and design my dresses accordingly. A purchase by a large firm of a great quantity of material influences other firms, and that material, with the style it is suited to, becomes the fashion. All my models are first made in black and white muslin, then copied in the material and coloring which I select.

Worth notes that with enough yardage and the right design, one can create a popular fashion. In the above quote, Worth notes that the textile manufacturer would come to him in the hopes of an order. However, knowing Worth’s tendency to commission custom fabrics, it was a two-way process in that Worth’s designs often drove textile development. In future posts we’ll be covering this in more detail but it’s interesting to hear from one of the leading designers of the day.

Fashion Push-Back…1890s Style

Today, it’s often said that the fashion industry has way too much influence over dictating what people should wear and that people are far too willing to uncritically follow the dictates of big-name fashion designers. Commentators further advocate that the fashion consumer needs to liberate themselves from the chains created by the fashion industry and be free to follow their own minds as to what’s fashionable and what’s not as they see fit.

The idea of “pushing back” against the dictates of the fashion is actually not a new one as can be seen in this article in the December 19, 1897 edition of the Los Angeles Times entitled “The Triumph of the Crinoline”:

Sometimes, even in fashions, common sense has her own way and every women is chuckling with glee over the defeat of the great Parisians dressmakers dressmakers who wish to do away with crinolines [the term crinoline refers to stiffening the skirt itself rather than wearing an additional appliance]. Two months ago those great and gifted men, Worth, Doucet, Pingot [Pingat] and their ilk, cut a new skirt with with just four straight seams, actually sloped it in at the foot and left the bottom as limp as a wet moldering leaf. Right royally they ordered this to be worn and the secret leaked out that Greek draperies were to be our models for the coming half-dozen years. With one accord the women have flouted, scorned and rejected the new skirt, and until further notice crinoline, hair cloth, or what you please to use as stiffening, will be work to a depth of six inches at every skirt’s foot.

There is no denying, though, that French ruling as to the length of evening costumes is followed everywhere. Great Is the joy among small women over tho arrival of the train, and their stout sisters rejoice with them, for a train makes long lines and equally fervid self-congratulation should stout women express at the marked advance in favor of the black and white gown.

The outrage expressed above is relatively trivial in the scheme of fashion in general but it’s interesting that it sparked push-back. Could this be one of the dresses in question (or just bad staging)?

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Worth, Ball Gown, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.299a, b)

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Side Profile

Worth Ball Gown c. 1896

Three-Quarter Rear View

The specific issue raises as many questions as it answers and it bears a little more research just to what the specifics are. But in any case, it still shows that consumers of fashion were not as passive as one would think. 🙂

In The Works…Mid-Bustle Era Day Dress

There’s always something going on at the Atelier and December is no exception. 🙂 Drawing once again on the Mid-Bustle Era, another day dress design is in the works. One of my first steps was to determine what sort of a dress it would be- in this case, a day dress, or more precisely, a visiting dress. At the same time, I had to determine my color palette. After some thought (and looking at the vegetation in our back yard), I decided that it might be interesting work with the color green and in particular, olive. After some more thought, I worked out a preliminary color palette:

Color Palette Mid-Bustle Dress Design Adam

Of course, this is not set in stone, but rather, it’s just a starting place…

OK, at this point you’re probably wondering about the actual dress design…after all, don’t we need that in order to guide what fabrics we’re going to need? Well, yes…here’s what I have  mind for the moment, starting with this inspiration from an 1879 fashion plate:

Sylvia_s_Home_Journal_1879_3 Mid-Bustle Era Design Fabric  Mid-Bustle Dress Design Adam

However, there’s going to be some details that I’m looking at changing, possibly on the bodice front and possibly the sleeves:

Sylvia_s_Home_Journal_1879_2 Mid-Bustle Era Design Fabric  Mid-Bustle Dress Design Adam

Now that we’ve established the general style idea, here’s some of the fabric I sourced:

Mid-Bustle Era Design Fabric  Mid-Bustle Dress Design Adam

Essentially, I’m looking at two silks in olive, one striped and one solid. I bought 10 yards of the striped and 5 yards of the solid. This should cover the majority of the dress although there’s a little more to do in this area. This is just the start on what should be an interesting and productive project. Stay tuned for more! 🙂




A Little More From The House Of Worth

Judging from all the posts we’ve been putting up lately, it would seem that Charles Worth and the House of Worth have become a hot topic around the Atelier. Well, in truth, Worth has always been a hot topic with us here at Lily Absinthe. 🙂 We never grow tired of examining his legacy- whether it’s just a day dress or one of his exquisite ball gowns, the details and sheer workmanship impress and inspire us. Now, we also have to be truthful in noting that yes, Worth (we tend to use “Charles Worth” and “The House of Worth” somewhat interchangeably) occasionally put  out a few clunkers- dresses with style details that leave you in wondering- but overall, Worth set the bar by which his competition measured itself (and trust me, the competition was often very good).

Given the passing from Fall to Winter, one particular example of Worth’s work, a ball gown/evening dress (depending on your interpretation) from circa 1900 – 1905 stands out with us:

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1900 - 1905

Worth, Evening Dress/Ball Gown, c. 1900 – 1905; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.251.4a, b)

Worth Evening Dress Ball Gown c. 1900 - 1905

Three-Quarter Rear View

This dress is made from a silver/white silk satin with ivory lace sleeves and trimmed decorated with metallic silver embroidery and crystal beads worked into a vine-like floral motif. The decorative patterns are further enhanced with silk flowers that serve to add a three-dimensional texture to the dress. In terms of line and structure, this dress representative of what was characteristic of the early 1900s from 1900 to 1905 with a silhouette that hints at the s-bend corset. But more interesting was Worth’s use of a Rococo Revival style- this is especially evident on the front of the bodice.

As is often said, the devil is in the details so here are some close-up pictures of the decorative patterns found on the dress:

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse at one of Worth’s masterpieces and as we find more of these, we’ll talk about them here. 🙂


Worth’s American Clientele

During the late 19th Century, Americans were a substantial part of the House of Worth’s clientele. With the rise of a new class of monied families arising after the American Civil War, there was now a large class of Americans with a lot of money (aka nouveau riche) to spend combined with the desire to acquire the trappings of wealth and power of which high fashion was an important element. Charles Worth was more than happy to fill this need, especially as he struggled to keep his fashion house financially afloat in the wake of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and overall economic disorder resulting from the fall of Napoleon III’s regime. In fact, not only was American money welcome, but it was an absolute necessity now that there was no longer the built-in clientele that came along with the patronage of the Imperial Court.

Although Worth ultimately licensed some of his designs for production on the American market by third party manufacturers, his primary business model consisted of Americans, typically the wives and daughters, visiting his salon while making the socially obligatory “grand tour” of Europe (seen as a means of acquiring instant culture and refinement). The high point of the grand tour was visiting Worth’s salon where entire wardrobes could be ordered (Worth prided himself on being able to complete any order in one week). In the course of visiting Worth’s salon, custom pattern drafts and a full-scale mannequin of each client were created so that dresses could later be ordered without having to make a return visit but for many, it was the experience of actually visiting Worth’s salon and making their purchases in person and perhaps being granted an audience by the Master himself.

One example of Worth’s American patronage was a dress that was created in 1883 for a one Miss Fannie Farwell of  Lake Forest, Illinois who, at the age of 19, travelled with her cousin Grace to Paris to go to finishing school. Here’s Miss Farwell, cropped from a family portrait:

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883 Fannie Farwell

Fannie Farwell, Date Unknown

The dress itself today resides in the costume collection of the Chicago History Museum. Below are some pictures of the dress:

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Charles Worth, Reception Dress, 1883; Chicago History Museum (1980.256.3a-b)

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Side Prifile

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Three-Quarter Rear Profile View

Style-wise, this dress is firmly in the Late Bustle Era with its high train and bustle. The overskirt and bodice are constructed of an ivory colored silk moire with a blue floral print while the underskirt, train, and cuffs are constructed of a light grey/green silk faille. The bodice is also trimmed in multiple layers of ivory/champagne colored lace. In many respects, the color scheme resembles the Strathearn Ranch Dress that we discussed in a previous post. Unfortunately, the pictures are not as high resolution as we would like but they give a pretty good view of the dress. Below are a few close-up views:

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Three-Quarter Front View

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Three-Quarter Rear View

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Close-Up of Hem

Worth Evening Reception Dress 1883

Upper Bodice Detail

We would love to be able to study this dress in closer detail, the subtle floral print pattern is especially compelling, especially with the light blue color up against an ivory background combined with the grey/green fabric. Overall, it’s an aesthetically pleasing package and it’s nice to be able to trace the dress to a specific person who wore it. Too bad we don’t have a picture of Miss Farwell wearing the dress (one can hope). 🙂 Finally, it’s worth noting that it was because of Worth’s American clientele that there are so many surviving examples of his work, especially in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of Worth and his fashion house.