1890s Style- A Quick Overview

Probably one of the the most iconic fashion styles is 1890s style with its leg-of-mutton sleeves and the wasp waist. One of the basic rules of fashion is that fashion will emphasize a particular body part until it reaches a point of excess and a reaction sets in and the emphasis then shifting to another body part. For 1890s style, we see it developing in reaction to the excesses of the bustle era and in particular, its last flowering in the mid to late 1880s with the “shelf” bustle:

Evening Dress, American, c. 1884 – 1886; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

And, invariably, a reaction set in and the bustle silhouette with its emphasis on the derriere (ok, buttocks, let’s just get it out there 🙂 ) now shifted towards a more slender, upright silhouette with emphasis on the shoulders and waist in the form of the leg-of-mutton sleeves combined with an extremely narrow waist (i.e., the wasp waist).

Le Moniteur de la Mode. September 1895

Naturally, these changes do not occur overnight (at least back then) and during the early 1890s, we a see a gradual fashion shift towards the new look (which we discussed previously). By 1895, more extreme versions of the new silhouette were developing with the sleeves and waist. Below are a few examples of this “new look” in fashion plates, as interpreted by the French:

La Grande Dame_1895

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

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La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 32, 1895

La Grande Dame_1895_5

La Grande Dame: Revue de l’Élégance et des Arts 31, 1895

In the above examples, we see the classic hourglass figure which is created by an A-line skirt combined with a seemingly unstructured bodice that balloons out at the shoulders. The bodice front seemingly gives an impression of a billowy blouse/shirt-waist (another style that began to take hold during this period).

Compared to 1880s and some early 1890s styles, the lines dresses depicted have much softer lines and everything appears to be very free-floating. However, it must be noted that this silhouette is in reality a structured design that relies on a corset to achieve that ideal hourglass figure.

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Assorted Corset Styles, c. 1880s & 1890s

Now that you have seen the basic silhouette as depicted in fashion plates, let’s take it a bit further with some extant originals:

Day Dress, c. 1890s; Museu del Disseney de Barcelona (MTIB 88108-0)

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Day Dress, c. 1895; Augusta Auctions; Black Cotton with raised red and yellow pin stripes.

Maison Felix, Day Dress, c. 1893-1895; FIDM Museum (2008.5.51AB)

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1890 – 1893; Kerry Taylor Auctions

The above are only a small sample of what was out there- while the silhouette for each of the above dresses is the same, each differs in the materials, trim, and design elements thus creating unique dresses that are still part of a specific style. What is also interesting is that bodices could be open or closed and the open ones continue trends of the 1880s and early 1890s in creating a jacket bodice/skirt combination used with a waist and/or vest.

Day Dress, c. 1895, French;

Day Dress, c. 1895; Fashion Museum Antwerp

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Day Dress, c. 1894 – 1895; Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM; 2006.870.19AB)

The above examples vary in materials and trim but they all embody the basic 1890s design aesthetic. The Jacket/bodice dress style was also embodied in the more informal waking suit, a practical garment for daytime wear in public.  Below are a few extant examples:

Walking Suit, 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.72.9a–c)

Walking Suit, c. 1892; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.82.6a, b)

Doucet, Walking Suit, c. 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.15&A-1979)

Constructed of wool, linen, or cotton, these suits incorporate the hourglass figure but in a muted form with an A-line skirt and a tailored coat with the characteristic leg-of-mutton sleeves, although the sleeves are somewhat muted in the earlier examples.

In conclusion, it is clear that there was no lack of variety in dress styles during the mid-1890s. With daywear, the hourglass silhouette was kept somewhat within limits but as we will see in future posts, this was not always the case with evening wear and the finer forms of daywear and we will see examples of this in future posts. 🙂



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! 🙂

And For Some More Edwardian Daywear…

We’ve been hitting Edwardian style pretty heavy lately and we’re not stopping…today’s feature is another circa 1906-1907 walking suit design from AH Metzner of New York:

Walking Suit, c. 1906-1907; Antiquedress.com website

This walking suit consists of a skirt and coat constructed of  a dark green wool trimmed with geometrical green-blue tape and soutache patterns on both the coat and skirt. Also, the coat is trimmed with a dark bottle-green silk velvet on the neck, front shoulders and cuffs. Also of note is the inset faux vest that’s reminiscent of an 18th Century waistcoat. Below is a close-up view of the coat back with its design:

And now for some close-ups of the coat front:

And here’s some more detail of the underlying faux vest:

The above pictures are illustrate the detailed geometrical trim patterns which utilize a number of materials and techniques to include soutache work, embroidery, and various passementerie. Here’s a close-up of the cuff detail with the bottle green silk velvet and embroidered insets:

And here’s the skirt and waist:

The waist is constructed from a green silk satin with a v-neck with a embroidered lace inset. The waist sleeves are composed of horizontal layers of the fashion fabric ending with cuffs trimmed with white lace and embroidered passementerie. The above picture also gives a good view of the skirt and its decorative trim. One can also see a dark silk sash at the waist that finishes the look.

The above side profile pictures illustrate the layered horizontal sleeve patterns.

And here’s some detail of the waist cuff:

OK, we’ve thrown a barrage of pictures at you so let’s try to make some sense of it…first, this is an amazing suit ensemble that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to decorative effects and this extends to the waist and skirt, exclusive of the coat. It’s clear that this outfit was meant to be worn either with or without the coat and as such, it’s perfect for a variety of social occasions, both indoor and outdoor. In terms of silhouette, this was meant for wear with the S-bend corset and and the style is characteristic of walking suits of the first decade of the 20th Century.