1890s Designs- Doucet

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century (and 1890s in particular), it was by no means the only fashion house- there was also Doucet, Pingat, and Paquin, just to name a few, and each was in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look some of Worth’s competitors and illustrate their “take” on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Jacques 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 you have enjoyed this post and stay tuned for yet more…. 🙂

Pingat- Sometimes Less Is More…

When it comes to Victorian Era fashion and especially fashion of the period from 1870 through 1900, people have the idea that a dress with more trim and accents (i.e., “bling”) makes for a more elegant and opulent dress. However, this is not always the case and sometimes too much trim and accents can have the opposite effect with the end result being a mish-mash of details that ultimately do nothing towards creating a unified style or “look.” In some cases, we see little more than a fashion trainwreck.

However, this wasn’t always the case and often designers utilized more simple designs, relying on the use of the fashion fabric alone to achieve results. One example of this can be found with this 1880s dress designed by Emile Pingat that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:

Emile Pingat 2a

Dress Ensemble, c. 1880s; August Auctions

Emile Pingat 2

Emile Pingat 3

Emile Pingat 2

Emile Pingat 5

According to the website, the dress is from the 1880s and we suspect that it was made sometime in the mid-1880s. Also, although the dress is described as having both a “day bodice” and a ballgown bodice, there was no picture of the ballgown bodice thus at a minimum, this dress was probably meant as a visiting or reception dress. However, that said, our interest is that there is no trim on this dress and it only uses the fashion fabric itself.

The vertical stripes serve to accentuate the length of the dress and give a nearly cylindrical appearance. Also, at the bottom, we see two layers of narrow knife pleating separated by ruching, all from the same fabric. Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the dress from the direct front and it’s hard to get a full idea of the bodice’s appearance but it’s evident that the strips on the fabric do accentuate the curves of the bodice. Although this dress looks fairly “plain,” the manipulation of the fashion alone does the work and gives the dress an overall sense of aesthetic uniformity. In short, “less is more”.

And here’s a view of the hem detail:

Emile Pingat 4

Now, admittedly, aesthetics and style are a very subjective matter and we all have our preferences but nevertheless, we see that designers utilized various methods to achieve their visions. While unfortunately we do not have a formal treatise on Emile Pingat’s design philosophy, it’s evident that he was flexible in his approach.

Many of Pingat’s designs involved clean lines and the use of the fashion fabric as the central focus. Here is another example that’s perhaps a bit more elaborate than the above example but still exhibits the same characteristics:

Pingat1 1885

Emile Pingat, Dinner Dress, c. 1883 – 1885; Smith College Historic Clothing Collection (1989.1.3ab)

Pingat2 1885

Rear View

What’s interesting here is that like this first dress above, Pingat uses only two colors as a combination only this time there are two separate fabrics, blue silk and white silk.

For a bit of contrast, let’s take a look at this reception dress from circa 1874:

1938-18-12a,b (1)

Emile Pingat, Reception Dress, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

In many respects, this dress is a precursor for the above two from the 1880s in that we see a blue and white striped silk overskirt combined with a solid blue silk underskirt and bodice. Also, we see white lace trim used to edge the overskirt and trim the bodice cuffs and front. Finally, we see white silk used along the hem and part of the underskirt for contrast. While we would expect an early 1870s to be somewhat elaborate with several layers of draped fabric, it’s sill relatively simple for the period.

Perhaps we’re reaching here a bit but it’s still interesting to consider the idea that Pingat tended to be more restrained in his designs and that he was firmly in the center- being neither too fashion forward or too regressive. Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion through some of Pingat’s designs. 🙂

More Pingat…

Fashion often draws upon the past for inspiration and this was especially true during the late 19th Century. Like Doucet, and others, Emile Pingat often drew inspiration from 18th Century designs, using them as a backdrop for his own unique style in which he blended elaborate decoration with exquisite fabrics:


Promenade Dress, Emile Pingat, c. 1885; Shelburne Museum (2010-75)


Close-Up Of Front


Three-Quarter Rear View

The bodice is a polonaise with vest that provides a feminine version of an 18th Century men’s coat and waistcoat. The cutaway style of the polonaise provides for displaying the vest’s gold bullion embroidery to its best advantage and it complements the elaborate embroidery running down both revers of the polonaise. The jewel toned claret colored velvet of the polonaise and skirt provide a deep background for the ivory white vest and combined with the gold embroidery, the look is sumptuous yet not overdone.  Further embroidery is used on the side pocket flaps and the back of the polonaise with restraint and claret is allowed to show through clearly.

Pingat employs the velvet polonaise/skirt/vest combination again in this creation that was made a little later circa 1888, only this time in green tones:

Pingat 1

Pingat, Promenade Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.7758a, b)

Pingat 4

Rear View

Pingat 2

Right Side Profile

Here we see a polonaise and skirt constructed from a deep bottle-green velvet combined with a vest of a lighter shade of green. The embroidery appears to be a combination of gold bullion and another shade of light green that complements the polonaise, vest, and skirt. As with the first example, the embroidery is used with restraint, mostly trimming the front revers, rear, and side pockets of the polonaise. Colorwise, the first dress provides more of a contrast while the second dress works more in a single color pallette.  For both of the above dresses, large expanses are unadorned with just the velvet showing. Overall, the effect is elegant and sumptuous but restrained.

The above is just a small sampling but it demonstrates Pingat’s mastery of design in that his combinations of fabric and decorate treatments are carefully contrived for maximum effect- nowhere does it feel like he simply piled on fabric and trim as often was the case with Worth. Finally, while many believe that today’s fashions are completely divorced from the past in terms of inspiration, such as not the case as with this design from Dior:

As it is often said, nothing is really new in fashion. 🙂

Jacques Doucet, Part 4

Next to Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet was one of the most prolific designers and his influence was felt far and wide in the fashion world. Bolstered by a legion of wealthy clients both in Europe and America, Doucet set the standard for luxury, using the finest materials and craftsmanship in the construction of his designs. Doucet’s clients valued his designs for their dignity and luxury rather than novelty.


Some of Doucet’s art collection.

Viewing himself as more of an artist rather than a clothing designer, Doucet incorporated his artistic sensibilities into many of his designs, drawing on his extensive art collection and this was especially evident in the use of 18th Century style elements. Doucet often used flimsy translucent fabrics in his designs combined with pastel colors and trims to create looks that were ethereal and delicate. Also, throughout his designs, one can see his extensive use of gold and silver lamé and metallic trim. Finally, there is also no doubt that Doucet was influenced by the fact that he was born into a family operated a concern selling lingerie and linens.

Although Doucet tended to favor gold tones in many of his designs, he also worked in other colors as this example from 1911 demonstrates:


Jacques Doucet, Evening Dress, c. 1911; Unfortunately, not much is known about the provenance of this dress.





Front Close-Up

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doucetbluecoralgownupsd doucetbluecoralgownx doucetbluecoralgownzUnfortunately, there is not a lot out there in regard to the provenance of this dress. The basic style of the dress is empire, a style characteristic of the teens. The S-bend corset with its characteristic mono-breast had been left behind in favor of the smooth upright lines of the empire style; fashion had finally come full circle. The red and silver grey colors combined together stand in contrast with each other yet they do harmonize, helped along by the red trim and jeweling. The only part that seems somewhat discordant is the use of gold- it seems that Doucet just could not stay away from using this color. Finally, the use of the translucent sheer fabric over a base of silver grey silk creates gives the dress depth.

Below is another example from 1910 that illustrates Doucet’s design principles but at the same adds something different- fur:

Jacques Doucet, Evening Dress, c. 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1154)

Side Profile

Three- Quarter Rear View

Once again we see the empire line and from casual observation, it appears to be far less structured and more simple than Doucet’s previous designs from the early 1900s. The basic fabric is a white/silver silk satin covered in heavily embroidered lace and with the cuffs trimmed in fur; this look definitely makes this a winter dress., Towards the bottom, the embroidered lace gives way to a lighter lace netting that falls away from the front of the dress. Also, while the layers of embroidered lace and netting are a major feature of the dress, the underlying fabric is also given prominence in the front and back. It is clear that the era of the lingerie dress had passed.

Evening Dress by Doucet, Les Modes, June 1909.

Doucet was one of the most influential of the designers that worked out of Paris during the Fin-de-Siecle and while his name is less known than Worth, it could be argued that he was as equally influential, if not more. Later designers such as Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet got their start working for Doucet and while his designs became dated after the First World War, they are still used for inspiration by modern designers.

In the past installments I have attempted to show a range of Doucet’s work from the 1880s through the Teens and while the silhouettes and basic designs evolved with the times, the use of layered sheer materials, metallic trims, and pastel colors are a constant. However, there were exceptions and it is evident that Doucet was capable of designing in a wide range of fabrics and styles to include tailored coat and skirt sets and outerwear. This survey is by no means an exhaustive one but it should hopefully serve as a starting point for further study.

Jacques Doucet, Part 3

In this post, we look at some more facets of Doucet. One interesting area that Doucet excelled in was designing outfits for famous actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt and Gabrielle Réjane and especially in the early 1900s. Not only did his designs enhance these actresses but it also served as a form of advertising, a practice that continues to this day. The timing could not have better with the growing trend of the lingerie dress, a fashion inspired by the earlier chemise a la reine, a style that arose in the 1780s.

Doucet Rejane 1902

Dinner Dress for Rejane, c. 1902

Doucet_Rejane 1903

Rejane, c. 1903

Below are some examples of Doucet’s day dresses:

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_1jpg

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1900 – 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.579a, b)

Doucet Afternoon Dress 1900 1903_2jpg

The above dress is made from silk chiffon that has a printed pastel-colored floral design finished with delicate ivory-colored lace trim. As a counterpoint to the ethereal effect of the silk chiffon is a bright aqua/teal-colored velvet sash that drapes down the back of the dress with matching velvet bands on each sleeve and the collar. The overall effect was one of Doucet’s signature looks and during the early 1900s, it became increasingly prominent in his day dress designs.

This dress neatly fits in with the lingerie dress trend developing in the early 1900s, a trend that took its inspiration from the late 18th Century chemise dress or chemise a la reine. Of course, the fact that Doucet was enamored of 18th Century designs no doubt influenced Doucet’s design is no surprise. At the same time, one could also argue that in Doucet’s case, his design was simply a continuation of pre-existing ideas. 🙂

In any event, Doucet’s design, and lingerie dresses in general, represents a break from earlier styles in it’s emphasis on the light and airy, in much the same way the chemise a la reine represented a break with previous styles. Below is one example of the earlier style:

Anna Maria and Thomas Jenkins, by Angelica Kauffman, 1790. National Portrait Gallery (London)

The fact that  and there is no doubt Doucet drew inspiration from the chemise a la reine (although it could also be argued that this was merely a continuation of Doucet’s pre-existing design tendencies). At the same time, however, Doucet’s design was somewhat more sophisticated in his use of colors and fabric.

Below is another example:

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1153a, b)

Three-Quarter Front View

Here we see the use of a layered tomato red-colored silk chiffon ribbon trim on the bodice. The sleeves and the collar are an ivory lace trim and a silk satin sash at the waist complete the outfit. Further trim details in the same red color run in rows around the skirt. In terms of silhouette, one sees the pigeon breast characteristic of early 1900s dresses.  This dress is somewhat more restrained than the first example and its effect stems from the laying of fabrics and the use of trim.

With its characteristic pigeon breast silhouette and the use of sheer materials, lace, and ribbons, the lingerie dress served to define women’s day wear for almost a decade. In the next installment, we will continue our look at Doucet moving into the Teens.

To Be Continued…