Trending- Outerwear for December 1890

In today’s post, we turn to outerwear, specifically jackets trending for December 1890. According to the December 1890 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine, jackets:

Decidedly the most popular outdoor garment this season is the jacket, which is worn by ladies of all ages, whether of petite or portly figure. All styles agree in having the fitted back, differing only in the use or omission of plaits or lap at the side-form and back seams, and the majority have tight-fitting fronts, either single or double-breasted, the loose fronted “Reefer,” and the open, rolling fronts displaying a vest, being the exceptions.

Here’s some examples of styles pictured in Demorest’s:

One of the more interesting and eminently practical is the “Reefer” Jacket:

Here’s another view of the jacket style as part of a complete outfit from the December issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

Finally, just to round things off here are some pictures of extant originals:

Jacket, c. 1891; Auction in

Skirt Suit Jacket, c. 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.173&A-1969)

Afternoon Jacket, Emile Pingat, c. 1885 – 1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.76)

Jackets were an integral part of any wardrobe of the period, ranging from the purely functional to the extremely fashionable, and there’s a wide range of possibilities for those recreating historical fashions.

And For More On Waists…

In our last post, we discussed the development of the waist (or shirtwaist) during the Mid 1890s and how waists were more than just simple blouse-like garments. Today, we take a step back where we find that even in the late 1880s, the waist was developing as part of a complete outfit. One example of this can found in the March 1889 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine where a pattern called the “Sybil Waist” was offered for sale:

According to the description:

The least expensive washable goods, cashmere, veiling, and other light qualities of woolens, surah and India silks can be made up after this model, which will be very popular for summer wear either with various skirts, or with one made of the same goods. It is the same back and front, and, if preferred, the part below the belt can be worn under the skirt, which can be lifted high enough to make the waist as short as desired.

Surah in light colors, sometimes striped in two colors. as pale blue and pink, or cream with pink, or blue, is now being made into waists of this style for summer wear with different skirts. Some have fine tucks, as illustrated; others have the spaces shirred; and still others are smocked, or honey-combed. The pattern will admit of either of these arrangements. For simpler materials and washable goods, the tucks are preferable; and a full skirt of straight breadths, with a broad sash tied in a large bow at the back, combines nicely with it. Though most effective, it is not essential that velvet should be used in combination.

The above style is interesting and reinforces the idea that the waist was not simply a separate fashion item but also, it was part of an integrated outfit. Here is an example of extant dress similar to what was envisioned with the Sybil Waist:

Day Dress, Cotton, c. 1890s; Augusta Auctions

The waist’s style is very similar to the Sybil Waist- collars, cuffs, and decorative details can vary but the basic style is pretty much the same.

The above example was found on the Augusta Auctions website and while the dating is imprecise, it seems to fit into the early 1890s pretty nicely. The dress and waist/bodice are made of a cotton fabric and it definitely leaned more towards “casual wear.” In a similar vein, below are two more extant waist examples:

Shirt Waist, c. 1890s; FIDM Museum (2003.793.7AB)

Shirt Waist, c. 1890s; Museum of Fine Arts Boston (2006.1180)

Waists are an interesting element in 1890s style and the idea of entire dress outfits that incorporates the waist as an integral element represented a new and interesting fashion development and provides a fertile field of reconstructing historical fashions.

Trending For March 1895- Waists

In this post, we move forward a few years to 1895 to take a look at some of the latest fashion trends that were now in full flower.  One of the most noteworthy trends was the waist and skirt combination. As noted in the March 1895 issue of Demorest’s Family Magazine,

The most important feature in woman’s dress now is the convenient separate skirt with its variety of plain or fancy waists, with which its owner can adapt it for almost any social function. A skirt of black moire, satin, or crépon, and one of white satin, with half a dozen corsages [bodices], high and low, are the most useful gowns a woman can have for a short visit to gay social centers during the season.

All the ingenuity which was formerly expended on the whole gown is now lavished on the corsage; and while the main features—greatly expanded sleeves and drooping blouse front—are similar in all, the skillful modistes yet contrive to make no two alike. They have the advantage of fabrics and trimmings which were never before approached in beauty. There are silk crêpes and crépons in every conceivable weave and in all evening shades, at prices that bring them within the reach of all; and they are much to be preferred to chiffon unless it is accordion-plaited.

The plaited chiffon waists are extremely chic, and must remain exclusive because of their cost; but the puffed ones do not approach
them in elegance, and are fragile in the extreme, even looking mussed in the shops, before they are worn. Some of the handsomest waists are of white or pale-tinted satin or silk, veiled with jetted or spangled black lace. Worn with black or colored skirts they are suitable for the theater or receptions.

As indicated above, the waist and skirt combination offered added flexibility in wardrobes that hadn’t previously existed while giving full scope to creativity in terms of fabric and trim choices as well as construction details. In short, the waist could be as plain or as elaborate as the wearer desired.  To better visualize the possibilities, the same issue of Demorest’s provides us with some illustrations of waist patterns which Demorest’s offered for sale:

No. 4, The Theater Waist, is especially interesting in its construction:

…velvet, white or cream lace, and mousseline de soie of any light.becoming color. The back is entirely of velvet, and the lace is carried entirely around the arm holes.

The velvet back is not something one would normally associated with a waist and it could be argued that this was more of a transitional garment that offered the convenience of a waist while having more substance found in bodices. This may be an exception but it still introduces an interesting idea, especially when the waist/skirt combination was being touted as an alternative outfit suitable for wear at a variety of social occasions.

How elaborate could a waist get? Well, pretty elaborate as demonstrated by this pattern offered for sale in the April 1894 issue of the The Deliminator:

And the waist itself:

In the pattern description for the above waist, it’s noted that a variety of fabrics can be utilized to include “all varieties of fancy plaid and changeable silks, woolens of any description, and such fashionable cottons such as gingham, percale, chambray, and crépon.” To us, this garment is bordering on an unstructured bodice (the structure, no doubt, supplied by the corset) and while it may be a matter of semantics, there’s definitely been a blurring of clothing definitions.

It would appear that the characterization of the waist as being a simple blouse-like garment is not the case but instead, was much more refined garment that often mimicked the bodice and as such was considered a complete upper garment in its own right, acceptable wear for a variety of social occasions. Also, while more simple waists were worn in combination with a short jacket, it would also appear that many of the more elaborate waists were worn as outerwear in their own right (although a coat no doubt would have been worn in colder weather).

Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate any extant waists of the elaborate type so the search will have to continue but clearly these garments were work- it’s doubtful that the trouble and expense of creating and printing the necessary patterns would have been undertaken if this hadn’t been the case. In the end, the idea of the waist as a near-bodice is a thought-provoking one and bears more study.

Directoire Style Returns…

One of the more interesting micro fashion trends that were occurring during the late 1880s/early 1890s was the revival of Directoire style. Originally a reaction to the overly-ornate aristocratic fashions of the late Eighteenth Century, the Directoire aesthetic focused on simplifying fashion, initially drawing upon Classical antiquity for inspiration. As with the original, the Directoire style of the 1880s/1890s was a reaction to the highly structured styles of the late 1880s and it also sought to introduce a less structured style (although this was a matter of degree). So what was this style, as reinterpreted? According to the January 1889 issue of Peterson’s Magazine:

In gowns, the Empire and Directoire styles are the novelties. The Empire gowns have a simple basque back, while the front is rounded and quite short, being covered from tho armpits with the draped Empire belt. The belt is of the dress-material, or one of its combinations. The back of such basque is in box-plaits. The skirts of both the Empire and Directoire gowns are all in straight lines, owning over an underskirt, in front, the whole length. Rich brocades, combined with satin peau-de-soie, are mostly used for dressy occasions.

Gowns for the street are made in the same style in cloth. The long continuous breadths of the redingote are well adapted for these cloth costumes. One of tho novelties of the season is for combining black with a contrasting color. The short broad revers on the front of the bodice, in Directoire gowns, are generally of the same color as the
front of the gown. All sleeves are full; that is, either puffed, for lace or dinner dresses, and for cloth, silk, or woolens. The coat-sleeve is large at the top, and pushed up at the armhole.

What’s interesting in the above commentary is that there’s an emphasis on straight vertical lines. Jackets were definitely a key element, principally with revers in bodices combined with tight sleeves with large sleeve caps. Let’s see how this is looks…



As it can be seen from the above illustrations, jackets were a definite style element, and were either short jackets or, in some cases, cut-away versions. The Redingote was often blended in and it was sometimes difficult to tell where outerwear ended and inside dresses began:

The above style was available from Butterick’s as a sewing pattern.

The late 1880s take on the Directoire style is an interesting in that it emphasized the skirt and jacket/coat combination and that a tidy silhouette while at the same time avoiding the severity found with a closely-fitted bodice. Also, with the skirt, we see a de-emphasis on the train, the elaborate bustle structure that was in style just a couple of years before; at best there was a minimal bustle mostly consisting of some sort of pad. When viewed across several decades, this represented a seismic style shift that was to ultimately play out through the 1890s. We hope you have enjoyed this little excursion into one of the more little-known byways of late Nineteenth Century fashion and we hope to be posting more soon. 🙂

Trending For January 1890- The Leg Of Mutton Sleeve

Sleeves are a major style element on every garment and was given special emphasis during the 1890s with its signature leg of mutton sleeves which grew to fantastical proportions by mid-decade. But as with all fashion trends that go to extremes, their origins are more modest and that was the case when it came to sleeve style. Here’s an illustration that from the January 1890 edition of Peterson’s Magazine:

This illustration was part of a sleeve pattern that was included in the January issue but unfortunately it’s not available as part of the electronic file (perhaps one day we’ll be able to locate an original issue of the magazine itself and scan an electronic version). What’s interesting here is that it’s got a gathered sleeve cap but definitely nothing extreme. Just to provide some context, here’s a few fashion plates:

Godey’s Fashions, September 1890

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1890

Fashion Plate, Winter 1890

Now fashion plates can be a bit deceptive in that they portray the ideal concept but they’re a good starting point. Let’s now look at some extant dresses…

Day Dress, c. 1888 – 1890; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (60.897a-b)

The sleeves in the above day dress are towards the fuller side and there’s a gradual tapering towards the wrists. Here’s another example:

Reception Dress, c. 1890; Goldstein Museum of Design (2013.004.012)

The small sampling shown above only gives a hint of the shift in styles that was happening during these years. Stay tuned for more in future posts. 🙂