Some Commentary on Walking Dresses & Walking Suits From the 1880s

O

ne of the more interesting styles to develop during the 1880s was the walking suit/walking dress and they were both practical and stylish, incorporating both a wide variety of cuts, fabrics, and colors and were intended for wear while out in public. Just to preface, from what we’ve seen in the research we’ve done, the terms “walking dress” and “walking suit” seemed to be used somewhat interchangeably and it doesn’t appear that the concept was fully formed until the early 1890s with its characteristic jacket-waist-skirt combination. However, looking at this style in the 1880s, it would appear that first and foremost, the skirt was untrained and the hem tended to be a off the ground. Also, to a great degree, the bodice tended to be styled as a “jacket-bodice” in which the bodice was constructed to mimic a jacket over a visible vest or some sort of decorative treatment- often shirred chiffon. But, as mentioned above, the concept doesn’t seem to have been fully formed and the boundaries could get hazy at times (no doubt influenced by marketing concerns since much of the fashion press of the times was owned by various pattern-making concerns such as Butterick).

File:Woman walking, carrying a child and turning around; another child holding on to the woman's dress (rbm-QP301M8-1887-052a~11).jpg

The walking dress in action…

What ultimately became the distinct walking suit of the 1890s seems to have gotten it’s start by 1884 as a walking dress that was meant as a more practical garment. Below is some commentary from the December 1884 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine:

In opposition to these dazzling house toilettes are the sober, neat street costumes which are almost universally worn. The material is usually some dark shade of cloth. Heavy serge and bure, a thick worsted goods with a coarse, shaggy surface, are especially popular for walking suits. The skirt is almost plain, simply a plaiting around the bottom, but a broad band of fur encircles it about a quarter of a yard from the bottom. A full overskirt drawn up high over the hips, and a little tight fitting fur-trimmed jacket complete a costume rich in its quiet simplicity. To be worn with it is a little bonnet fashioned from the same material, with plume 3 or tips of some contrasting color and velvet strings.

One suit is of dark-brown cloth, the skirt consisting of bayadère stripes {fabric]1A fabric with bayadère stripes is a fabric with horizontal stripes in strongly contrasted colors. of a lighter hue mingled with a grayish blue traversing the ground. No trimming except the foot plaiting of plain brown. Drapery and corsage are also of plain brown. The latter opens at the side beneath the full plaits of the waist proper so as to leave the striped vest unbroken in front. Cuffs and close collar are of the striped goods, and a band of the same about two inches wide reaches down the shoulder seam from the collar to the insertion of the sleeve.

The above passage defines the walking outfit as streetwear that is plain with an emphasis on darker colors and plain woolen fabrics. Skirts are meant to be simple and untrained with a minimum of gathering. At the same time, it’s noted that that the underlying vest is somewhat more colorful and loud and that the bodice is to be arranged to show it off to the best advantage. Finally, it must be noted that the skirt could be in a contrasting material, striped in the above example. The above points are further discussed in this passage below from the same issue:

The newest winter walking suits consist of skirt, jacket basque, and vest, real or simulated, and street-coat or cloak. The walking-jacket is not at all so indispensable a part of them as formerly. The jacket-basque, with vest, is cut in such a way that it completes a dress fit for the street; and when the temperature demands additional clothing, a longer, more protective. and adjustable garment is found necessary to meet varied requirements.

This is really an improvement, but a greater one is the getting rid of looped and bunched-up drapery from heavy cloth materials. “Tailors” proper—what are known as “ladies’” tailors—would have served a really good purpose, if they had strictly adhered to the original idea, maintained a certain standard, and not endeavored to copy the follies of tulle in solid cloth.

Redfern, the great Isle of Wight tailor, has done this less than others. He gets up astonishing contrasts in colors; his “yachting ” suits, his “men of war” costumes for girls, and his cloth “gowns,” are original and striking, but they are useful and suitable; his coats are full of inside pockets, and his traveling costumes seem made for the “road” and to have a satchel, or lorgette slung across them.

The above comments on Redfern are also interesting in that we see tailors trying to incorporate elements in their work that are more in the area of dressmaking, much to Demorest’s disapproval. Below is an illustration from the April 1885 of Demorest’s that illustrates some of the ideas expressed in the above passages in regard to the utility of the walking suit/walking dress. In the right figure, the skirt is simple with a minimum of gathering and the pattern provides a nice contrast to the solid colored skirt front and bodice sides and back. The jacket/bodice is also faced in the same material as the underskirt and helps create the appearance of a long waistcoat reminiscent of early 18th Century styles.

And just to show some of the variations in jacket/bodice styles, here’s another illustration, this time from the May 1885 issue of Demorest’s:

And lest we think it was just Demorest’s that was presenting this style to the public, below is an illustration below from the October 1886 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Below are some extant walking dresses from the 1880s, starting with this one from circa 1885:

Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.295.8a, b)

And below is another example from circa 1884-1885; and yes, it’s labeled as being a day dress and that’s true but it also encompasses elements of the walking dress style.

Day Dress, c. 1884-1885; Museum of London (32.26/2a)

Finally, we have this circa 1885 walking dress from Worth:

Worth, Walking Dress, c. 1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.771a, b)



The Advent of Sportswear- 1880s Style

During the 1880s, sportswear became increasingly prevalent in women’s wardrobes as women increasingly spent more time outside the house and participated in various sporting activities. Cycling, tennis, and yachting were some of the more popular outdoor pastimes and while these started with women from affluent backgrounds, they gradually began to trickle down to the middle class.

Tennis costyme1881 - 1880s in Western fashion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

As mentioned in an earlier post on John Redfern/Redfern & Sons, one of Redfern’s specialties was designing sports clothes and in particular, yachting dresses. Below is a plate from the July 31, 1887 issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Yachting and Tennis Dresses from Harper_s_Bazaar_1887

Moving from left to right, each dress is described:

Fig. 1- This youthful gown has a red serge Eton jacket, a white cloth waistcoat with gilt cord and buttons, and navy blue serge skirt with white cloth panels and a short apron. Gilt anchors of cord are on the white cuffs of the red jacket and anchors trim the skirt on the hips and at the foot. The red straw sailor hat has a white ribbon band and bow.

Fig. 2- This pretty dress for either tennis or yachting is of blue and white stripped serge or flannel, with a blouse-waist of dark blue India silk or of surah. The jacket is of simple sacque shape, quite short behind, pointed in front, open from the collar down. The lower skirt has wide pleats, and the apron is deep and pointed. White cloth sailor hat with blue ribbon band.

Fig. 3- This costume has a blue jacket, skirt, and cap, decorated with red anchors. The draped bodice is of white washing silk or of white wool, with a gilt belt and gilt buttons. The jacket is short and adjusted behind, but falls open in front in square tabs; it is lined throughout with red silk, which shows at the top when turned back.

Fig. 4- This gown is of white wool, with surplice belted waist and plastron, belt, sash, and borders of blue and white striped wool or of washing silk. It can also be made of navy blue with jersey webbing of blue and white stripes. Quite dressy toilettes of white nuns’ veiling or of challi are made by this simple design and trimmed with Pompadour-stripped silks, or those with Roman stripes or metallic stripes, or else with the silk tennis scarfs that have tennis bats, stripes, etc. wrought in them.

The first three dresses feature a jacket over a shirtwaist (or “blouse-waist”), a look that was characteristic of the 1880s and 1890s.1The Eton jacket was especially popular. The fourth dress is somewhat more formal and features a plastron bodice. Combined with masculine hats such as boaters or flat cap, the first three dresses give an air of casualness and ease of movement that is tempered somewhat by the bustled skirts. The fourth dress stands in contrast to the first three.

women-in-victorian-dress-playing-tennis-1880s

Of all the sporting activities women participated in, tennis was probably one of the most strenuous, requiring freedom of movement. Naturally, dress styles followed and here is just one example:

60.38.7a-b_front_CP4

Sports Dress, c. 1885 – 1888 ; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2477a, b)

60.38.7a-b_back 0002

Back View

60.38.7a-b_side 0004

Side Profile

60.38.7_front bw

While the above dress gives an air of vigor and free movement, it is still anchored to the 1880s in that the bustle still remains, thought to be an aid to stabilizing the frail female body. At the same time however, we do see a shortening of the skirt to ease movement and a minimum of trim.

Below is a tennis dress, circa later 1880s:

4f2f02f53c4fc66e1a07aaa69fd3e4bd

Tennis Dress, c. 1880 – 1890; Powerhouse Museum (1880 – 1890)

tennis2

The 1880s version of sportswear was not the most practical by today’s standards but it was a start and it represented a major departure for women in the way they lived their lives. No longer did life center around the home but it now included other spheres of life. During the 1890s, sportswear was to evolve even further and especially with the growth of cycling and this trend would ultimately combine with other trends that propelled women into playing a greater role in public life, thus giving rise to the “New Woman.”

This post only gives a taste of what was to come later in the 1890s but it’s interesting to see how it got its start. What is especially jarring to modern eyes is how the bustle still remained a style element even though it hindered the body’s free movement. But nevertheless, the die was cast and there were going to be changes in the role of women, changes that are still playing out to this day.



Seaside Fashion…

During the late 19th Century, there was an increase of interest in outdoor activities and in particular going to the beach. At the same time, there was a corresponding interest in having the right look for such occasions. For beachgoing, yachting, or simply spending time at the seashore, designers were quick to respond and by the 1890s, there was a plethora of styles available to women.

Beach 1890s

Sometimes bathing costume was not available…

It could probably be argued that the first seaside fashions per se where those created for yachting, an activity that was decidedly limited to the upper classes. John Redfern was one of the first to popularize Yachting costume in the 1870s, being conveniently located on the Island of Cowes, the site of the Cowes Regatta which was one of the largest yachting events in Europe. Yachting costume pretty much followed regular day fashions with the only difference being an incorporation of nautical themes derived from naval uniforms, both officer and enlisted (i.e. sailors). Because of the nature of sailing, fabrics tended towards wool, cotton, and linen and trim and ornamentation tended towards the more minimal (although there were always exceptions).

Redfern Yachting Fashion Queen 1887

Some of Redfern’s “boating” or yachting fashions in the July 16, 1887 issue of The Queen.

Here is one example of yachting dress that’s possibly attributed to Redfern (according to the auction website) from c. 1895:

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Yachting Dress, c. 1895 (originally made in 1890, sleeves have been modified); Kerry Taylor Auctions Website.

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Full Front View

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Another Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Close-Up Of Bodice

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Side Profile

Yachting Dress c. 1895

Rear View

This dress is constructed from a cream-color wool with matching upper sleeves made from a silk “grosgrain”- we suspect that it might be a silk bengaline or faille but the picture quality is not good so it’s hard to determine. It would be interesting to know how it looked in its original configuration before the leg-of-mutton sleeves were installed but we can only assume that the sleeves would have been fairly close to the shoulders with perhaps a small “kick-out” at the top.

Here’s another example from 1897 constructed of a cream-colored linen:

Yachting Fashion c. 1897

Yachting Dress, c. 1897; Preservation Society of Newport County

This yachting dress was part of the wedding trousseau for Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (née Natalie Bayard Dresser) who had the dress embroidered with the insignia of the New York Yacht Club in 1897.

And as an aside, we have always wondered just how women managed to get on or off of a yacht, given the somewhat confining nature of late 19th Century fashion… 🙂

e6c8016d72f56b74bef014d6a546d733

But it wasn’t all about yachting dress, the nautical theme was carried over into dresses intended simply to be worn at the seashore, whether on the beach or close by:

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, American, c. 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.171.3a–c)

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Close-Up Of Front

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Front Three-Quarter Profile

Day Dress 1900 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

This dress is made of a mocha or dark khaki-colored linen and was made around 1900; based on the full blouse silhouette (suggestive of the pigeon-breast style), we believe it dates from the early 1900s. With its free-flowing lines, this dress allowed freedom of movement and the linen material was the perfect choice for wear in warm weather.

Taking the nautical theme further, here’s a similar dress from c. 1895:

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Day Dress, c. 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.150a–e)

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Side Profile

Day Dress 1895 Linen Nautical Theme

Rear View

Like the first dress, this one is also constructed of linen, also in a shade of khaki. This dress is a little more fitted than the first with a slightly longer, narrow skirt and a more fitted blouse but is still practical for wear on the beach on hot summer days. 🙂

Finally, here’s another dress from 1895 that employs a different color combination:

Day Dress 1895

Day Dress, American, c. 1895; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York ( P84.25.2)

The above dress is made from a white cotton pique with salmon-colored cotton trim that’s utilized on the hem, cuffs, belt, and collar. In contrast with the first two dresses, this one is a more structured and definitely has a typical 1890s silhouette (of course, the difference between the dresses may be simply be a matter of staging).

Beach 1890s

And sometimes one had to improvise at the beach…

Whether or not people wore the right look, the seashore never failed to attract people and especially on a hot summer day. Enjoy your summer! 🙂

 



And For Some More Edwardian Day Wear…

Today we feature some more examples of the variety that existed in daywear from the first decade of the 20th Century. Like the 1880s and 1890s before, there was a wide variety of styles available. Below are just a few examples, starting first with a lingerie dress featured in the May 1902 issue of Les Modes designed by Redfern:

And then for something just a bit different is this house dress in somewhat of a Directoire style:

And for a little more Directoire style, there’s this circa 1905 princess line day dress:

Jeanne Hallée, Day Dress, c. 1905; Royal Museums of Art, Brussels

The decorative effect is very striking with the use of trapunto embroidery:

And for some day dress style- typically a skirt, waist, and jacket combination or some variation. Here’s just one possible style depicted in the July 1901 issue of Les Modes designed by a one Blanche Lebouvier:

The jacket is bolero jacket with large points along the bottom. This is just one of many variations for jackets. Below is an afternoon dress designed by Redfern featured in a 1903 issue of Les Modes:

The above dress illustrates some of the more common characteristics of the day dress of the early 1900s to include jacket/bodices that had layers to often include a lace capelet. The silhouette reflected the distinct “pouter pigeon” shape created by the S-bend corset. Below, we see another day dress style created by Paquin and featured in a 1903 issue of Les Modes:

Here we see a less structured look (at least externally) with a loose waist acting as a bodice trimmed with passementerie and lace cuffs. This could be considered a lingerie dress although it’s a bit less fluffy than what’s normally associated with the lingerie dress style (one could easily argue both sides). Below is a similar style that was featured in the July 1902 issue of Les Modes:

This dress style nicely illustrates the ideal silhouette of the early 1900s created by the S-bend corset and could be classified as a more structured lingerie dress. Draped and layered lace was frequently employed as a decorative device as with this circa 1903 afternoon dress designed by Doucet:

Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1557a, b)

Lace applique was also utilized as  a design element:

Day Dress, c. 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1973.46.2a, b)

Here’s a close-up of the back:

The above is just a brief, broad-brush overview of day dress styles of the first decade of the 20th Century but it’s a good place to start when considering styles for recreation. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

Some 1890s Bodice Styles

In the course of researching some 1890s dress designs, we came across some interesting bodices that stretch the limits of mid-1890s style. First up is this bodice that utilizes the silhouette to create a floral display:

Bodice, c. 1895-1897; Minnesota Historical Society (9520.11)

While it’s not easy to determine from the picture, this bodice is made from a silk floral brocade combined with inset silk satin insets on the bodice front. What is most striking is that the gigot sleeves have been utilized as a canvas to show off the floral design to its greatest effect. Next is this example that utilizes the bodice’s asymmetrical design to show off the embroidery pattern to it’s best advantage:

The embroidery pattern follows the line of the edge of the bodice’s front opening  along with accents on the bodice bottom and sleeves. The bodice’s black silk satin also serves as a neutral background that further shows up the bright colors of the embroidery. Here’s a close-up of the embroidery pattern:

Another interesting 1890s bodice style was the bodice jacket; this was essentially a bodice that was worn in combination with a waist. Here’s one example from Redfern:

Redfern, Bodice Jacket, 1892; National Gallery of Victoria- Melbourne (D187-1974)

This example is pretty spare, its only decoration is black floral embroidery running along the wide white-colored lapels. Definitely illustrates the idea of “less is more”. The next, example takes the wide lapel idea even further, combining it with an enlarged ivory silk faux waistcoat/vest that overshadows the bottle green velvet jacket. This is interesting in that we see an inversion where the inner garment is larger than the outer garment. Definitely an interesting effect although rarely seen.

Close-up of front.

Detail of front bottom corner of bodice.

The above examples are only a small illustration of the variety of bodice styles that were available during the 1890s and should certainly serve as a source of inspiration for those who desire to recreate the fashions of the 1890s.